Love Island Narcissists

Annie and I speak often. Normally, she phones me, but I have noticed now she calls slightly earlier in the evening and the calls are stopped abruptly just before 9 pm. She had joined the viewer numbers of Love Island.

After the World Cup, Love Island has become the must-watch TV. With all the scheduling skills you would expect it is literally after the World Cup. Whether England wins or loses this evening, whatever mood we are in, Love Island will be there.

What is Love Island? Here is my quick summary. A dozen or so, twenty-somethings are pitched into a villa in sunny Spain, so we can watch if and how they pair off. The final couple receives a prize of £50k and general social media adulation. In this quest for love and money contestants are voted on or off by the viewers.

The villa is full of beautiful people. The men’s bodies are as ripped as the girls are endowed.

If you are also a Love Island novice and need a throwaway, water cooler line, just to let others know you are not a total dinosaur, just say it is Big Brother in the sun.

My fascination is why the contestants have applied and then why we watch.

There is no shortage of applicants. There were over 65,000 for the current series who wanted to have their bodies and lives exposed nightly on TV. Male or female you need to be sure, certain and confident of yourself and probably the right to have anyone you want. You probably have an Instagram account littered with selfies of shining teeth, confident poses, bared torsos, plunging necklines, tiny bikinis or designer swim shorts.

Anywhere else than Love Island they would be called narcissists, and that is also why we watch.

As a personality trait narcissists tend to be self-centred, vain, grandiose who need the admiration of others. At its extreme, it is considered a personality disorder alongside psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

Now, we need a little narcissism to survive the 21st Century and social media, where fame and wealth can be made (think Kardashians) from little more than capturing and publishing your reality life.

Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, from Queen’s University Belfast, is a researcher looking at narcissism and he says, if we could abandon conventional social morality – and just focus on what is successful, then narcissism can look like a very positive trait. If you are a narcissist you believe strongly that you are better than anyone else and that you deserve reward.

He says that because the research shows that narcissists are often socially successful and undeterred by rejection and their craving for attention can make them charming and highly motivated.

In short, narcissists overachieve.

They do better at school and work and have more partners. They’re quite charismatic. If you spend a lot of time trying to be charming and persuade other people, it might well make you more attractive.

While it may be a good modern surviving strategy the negatives persist. Because as Dr Papageorgiou says narcissists can be absolutely destructive for those around them.

We have all met and known the narcissist and know exactly how infuriating they can be. They have a certainty that can intimidate and a core belief in their own perfection beyond what is real. However, their need to be admired makes them charming. As always it is a balance.

And that is exactly why we watch Love Island.

Just as we can’t understand the Kardashians we are fascinated by them. So it is with Love Island. There is a nagging jealousy for these over-confident contestants while we are waiting for the inevitable car-crash as they try to be just like us.

They are fighting narcissism to create a perfect, loving, fairytale romance while we are fighting our humdrum to be just a little bit like them. It is television just right for our times.