This past week, millions of Brits—and reality TV-obsessed Americans—tuned in to watch the newest season of Love Island UK. Last season’s winners, Ekin-Su and Davide, have just ended the press tour they’d been on since the show’s finale in August. Now, Ekin-Su is the new face of fast-fashion brand Oh Polly. She follows in the footsteps of Love Island alumni Molly-Mae Hague and Gemma Owen, who both inked deals with PrettyLittleThing after their stints on the show. Davide, refusing to be outdone by his girlfriend, started a clothing line in collaboration with BoohooMAN. When the collection launched, there were no clothes featured on the Times Square billboards, just white text on a black screen: “BoohooMAN x Davide.” The company, in other words, wasn’t selling clothes. They were selling Davide. The human—body, Italian accent, and all—was transformed into a product.
And while this commodification of personhood is hypervisible after the show, it begins on Love Island. This is unsurprising. Practically everything broadcasted on the show becomes a commodity. Monogrammed plastic water bottles, which the islanders lazily sip from, are sold online,with customers’ names stamped in hot pink cursive on clear plastic. Phrases that islanders have uttered—often in unintelligible Geordie accents—including “you’re my type on paper” and “can I pull you for a chat?” have been stylized in bright, bold letters and are available on greeting cards. When islanders have sex, the show includes their voices and video of their rustling duvet covers, chasing profitability at the expense of privacy. Love Island’s relentless commodification and drive for wealth reveal that it is not an isolated paradise, but an integrated panopticon, entrenched in and benefitting from capitalism.
Is love when everything is a commodity, including ourselves? Couples on Love Island rarely ever get married. They normally break up within the year, but never before they’ve both snagged brand deals—a happy couple is something we all buy into. I wonder how long Ekin-Su and Davide have left. I wonder if they bought into each other. We are in a new era of reality TV, one where winning happens after the show. So when we see Davide’s name on a digital billboard, lighting up Times Square, we see a man with his prize: personhood turned into a product.