There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that reality TV is horrible. It’s suicide-inducing, painfully narcissistic and uncanny in its ability to draw out the worst parts of human nature. But it’s also one of the only occasions in which regional British accents receive public airtime. It’s strange to admit, but ITV’s producers, when it comes to casting for this over-subscribed and widely-cherished reality contest, have a fairly nuanced appreciation of diversity. They get the fact that reality TV thrives off relatability with its audience, and unlike the BBC’s tired and London-centric dramas, they’ve remembered that there’s a world beyond the Capital and the Home Counties. To this end, creds to them.
Besides reality TV, the UK’s most-watched dramas of the past few years are nigh-on all based in London and its cultural peripheries. Unforgotten, Collateral, Fleabag, Line of Duty, The Bodyguard, Luther, Silent Witness, Killing Eve. The list goes on. The only marginally regional thing about any of these shows was Richard Madden’s Scottish accent – but not even that salvaged an otherwise unforgivably insular, boring and repetitive display of London’s cultural and political allure. Each of these performances – acting aside – are deeply annoying in their desperation to appeal to international, and specifically American, audiences. In doing so, mainstream producers fail to recruit, feature or acknowledge the rest of the UK.
Meanwhile, you’ve got Love Island, which is so British it hurts. There’s no risk of alienating American viewers here, because this is all about engaging the domestic populace after dreary summer days spent in the office. When considered from a regional perspective – as diversity drives seldom are – Love Island is one of the only truly representative domestic television features. Its hetero-normative comprehension of gender and sexuality is grossly antiquated – and yes, the idea that young, often vulnerable individuals are willingly subjecting themselves to intense public scrutiny is conceptually bizarre. But does it discriminate based on accent, region or linguistic idiosyncrasy? Definitely not.
What did Twitter have to say about this year’s conglomerate of regional voices? This is an important question to ask, because many people who watch Love Island are also prone to giving their feedback on Twitter. Audience interaction – via tweets, hashtags and polls – is woven into the fabric of the show itself. So, when Twitter’s overwhelming response is to ignorantly ridicule the non-London portion of accents featured on this series (of which there are a fair few), you can best believe that that’s what most people think. (Fyi, just type ‘Love Island Accents’ into Twitter and have a browse over the last week: the responses I feature below aren’t anomalous).
‘They honestly need to make a Londoners only Love Island season… these accents are too much’, said one Twitter user, followed by a similar tweet that ‘Love Island should be Londoners only because all these accents are giving [me] a headache’. Many talked about ‘needing subtitles’ to understand what people were saying. Another read: ‘Tonight’s show taught us that we must never raise our kids outside London because these accents are all the way backwards’. Echoing this statement, a heavily-favourited tweet asked whether Love Island’s producers were ‘refusing to let people from London onto their show? Because [he] was sick and tired of hearing all these shit accents.’ To clarify, there are three people from London currently in the villa.
Evidently, ‘linguistic profiling’ is something which we fail to acknowledge as a form of discrimination within the national media (but which also affects people in their daily lives, at university and within the workplace). According to an ITV investigation, 80% of employers admit they discriminate against applicants based on accent, while 28% of Britons feel discriminated against because of their regional identity. It’s obvious why: because the general perception is that a standardised British accent makes you sound smarter, posher, more middle-class and more recognisable at a global level.
On this front, again, Twitter users didn’t hold back. ‘Where the fuck does Love Island find these dirt accents every FUCKING year’, said one woman, adding that she ‘still hadn’t forgiven them after they let a Birmingham accent on National TV last year.’ Someone else asked whether ‘it’s just that Scottish lad on love island’, or if ‘all Scottish accents sound fucking horrific on TV.’
Many tweets struck up a more serious tone. “When we said we wanted more diversity we meant more ethnicities, not accents’, said one female user, while another bemoaned that ‘Love Island’s idea of diversity is white people with different accents.’
This gets to the heart of the matter. Regional diversity, for whatever reason, is not perceived as ‘real’ diversity. While it’s undeniable that those of BME status are underrepresented in the media, leading national institutions and higher education, so are the regions (particularly the heavily ‘accented regions’, such as the South-West, North-East, North-West and Wales). To therefore recruit ‘diversity’ based solely on ethnicity completely diminishes the reality of this fact and the division it perpetuates. Ideally, all forms of under-representation need to be addressed for society to function at its maximum potential.
Of course, siphoning off ‘regional’ accents to the reality-TV portion of our small screens is dangerously self-reinforcing. Shows such as Love Island, which actually so often champion the regional accent, end up construing non-standardised voices as spectacles or novelties. Until mainstream dramas begin incorporating regional accents into their work, shows like Love Island remain the only source by which non-standard accented citizens can ‘relate’ to individuals on screen, allowing linguistic prejudice to continue unobstructed.
For now, though, it’s quite nice hearing voices from Newcastle, or Liverpool, or Wales or Manchester, garnering more attention at 9pm on ITV 2 than the contestants with more ‘standardised’ accents. What exists in Love Island – so far at least – is an accented microcosm of the nation in true voice: a visible, audible reminder that different ways of speaking mutually co-exist. The fact that people should consider hearing accents offensive, disconcerting or abnormal in any way undermines diversity in one of its most basic forms. It’s also just heart-breaking for those who live and talk in those very regional voices, and don’t want to have to change to fit in.