Love it or hate it, you’re likely well aware that season four of Love Island launched on Monday night. The media frenzy is impossible to escape.
Traditional and social media are a-buzz about the contestants, the couplings, and the budding drama that is bound to escalate in coming weeks. But the first episode had its critics – and I’m not just referring those who think the sexual escapades of Brits on holiday shouldn’t be at the top of the news agenda.
One of the contestants received particularly intense backlash from the public – presumably not for the same reasons the ladies didn’t step forward to choose him, but because of his job. Or rather, a job he’s put on hold.
Alex George is an A&E doctor in the National Health Service, who has taken eight weeks off to 'look for love'. According to the Daily Mail, Alex was able to jet off to Majorca thanks to a 'zero-hours contract' through which he is employed (which we can assume amounts to locum work within the NHS).
While Alex was deeply worried about what his colleagues might think when they see him on the show - 'When my work people see this, oh my god!' – he was probably less prepared for what the public reaction would be to his two month sabbatical.
Alex is facing some scathing attacks for his decision to prioritise a reality TV programme over his commitments in A&E. Viewers at home are expressing deep anger that a doctor would consider leaving his job for Love Island during a time of staff shortages and other structural failures within the NHS.
ITV’s The Wright Show featured the frustrations on its programme this morning, asking viewers what they make of a 'highly trained NHS doctor…taking eight weeks off A&E duties to compete in TV sex-fest?'
It seems clear-cut to me that this is not a question up for public discussion. Alex should be left alone to do what he likes. Yet public anger is hardly surprising, when you consider the NHS’s 'sacred cow' status, and the centralised way we resource and fund the health service.
A relatively low estimate of what it costs taxpayers to train an NHS doctor amounts to roughly £163,000 per head. Taxpayers on average are contributing over £4,500 each year to fund the NHS. What’s worse, their money is not a lump sum they can bring with them to access healthcare where they choose or on their own terms; it is invested directly in the state monopoly, which all except the extremely wealthy must rely on to access care.
It is these kinds of set-ups – where crucial services are funded by the taxpayer and run by the state – that create an environment in which people feel they have the right to criticise and control how others choose to spend their time and live their lives.
Alex does not have the luxury of simply being a contestant on Love Island. To many, he is a doctor they have paid, trained, and his jolly to Spain is not one he can take without considering what their tax money has paid for him to do.
Heavy investment of one person’s money into another can create a dangerous feeling of ownership – especially when constructed by the state. The more collectivist public services become, the more legitimate it becomes in some minds to treat people like property.
I struggle to imagine enjoying any experience that involves 24/7 surveillance, as I eat, sleep, and make terrible attempts to flirt. But if that’s Alex’s idea of a good time, he’s full-well entitled to pursue it.
It’s not just Alex who thinks Love Island is worth his time – twice as many people applied to be on the programme this year than the number of people who applied to Oxford and Cambridge combined. And for the 85,000 applicants that wanted to take part of the show, another 2.95 million wanted to tune into the season’s first episode, shattering records for ITV2’s audiences.
Unsurprisingly, how others – particularly powerful others – would structure our lives or set our TV channels is not what we would choose to do ourselves. Whether it’s choosing careers, or what to watch on a Monday night, no one else should have ownership over other people’s decisions.
Perhaps Love Island has more to teach us than the majority of us would like to admit. Don’t let the bikinis and the kalua distract from an important lesson about self-determination and the primacy of the individual.
Kate Andrews is news editor at the Institute of Economic Affairs