Love Island’s Thatcherite contestant – and what her comments exposed about meritocracy in the 2020s

13 Feb

This week there was huge outrage on social media about the fact that an influencer called Molly-Mae, who emanated from the ITV show Love Island, has been given her own book deal, Becoming Molly-Mae, at the tender age of 22.

Molly-Mae, to explain her relevance to a political blog, has recently evoked comparisons with Margaret Thatcher for advocating the value of hard work. In a Youtube series called The Diary of a CEO, Molly-Mae told listeners that she “worked her a**e off” for her wealth, advising them: “You’re given one life and it’s down to you what you do with it. You can literally go in any direction.”

She continued on her Conservative streak, saying: “I understand we all have different backgrounds and we’re all raised in different ways and we do have different financial situations, but I think if you want something enough you can achieve it.”

Since then, Molly-Mae has proven as divisive as – well – Thatcher. For every conservative delighted to find their poster girl, others reacted as though discovering that their milk money had been taken away. I dare Molly Mae to tell some of the UK’s lowest paid workers that they’re less hard working tha(n) someone who takes Instagram for a living”, wrote one user on the Twitter-sphere, echoing the sentiment of countless others.

Is Molly-Mae in the “right”? (literally). I should add that I have no specific interest in Molly-Mae, although I dislike the type of Twitter pile-on she has been subjected to, but it is interesting that her comments sparked such backlash; that the concept of meritocracy has now become heresy when espoused by a young person.

Maybe, though, part of the reason people were so cross is that the very formula of Love Island flies in the face of conservative values; that the show, along with the whole Instagram model of finding fame, has become symbolic of wider societal ills – leaving many less than impressed with the advice to “try harder”.

Love Island, should you not have had the pleasure, has always been a troublesome show. It is well known that a number of former contestants, and its host Caroline Flack, have died from suicide.

Its format, as far as I can tell, centres around the idea that love can be induced by the same processes seen in Stockholm Syndrome; that if you put two people in a close space together long enough, they will fall for each other. Year after year, a collection of hot young things go to Mallorca – the “Love Island” – in their bikinis and swimming trunks, to see if this effect can take place, earning big bucks from modelling deals afterwards.

At the risk of sounding like Mary Whitehouse at this point, I should add that it is, of course, no secret that young, attractive people have always enjoyed being able to make money from their looks. Power to you – if you have the body of a Baywatch star.

But I also think there have been signs that contestants were uncomfortable with having to do this. Molly-Mae, for instance, quickly dissolved her lip and jaw fillers – which had presumably helped her get a place on Love Island – after the show, and many have gone into completely different careers, distancing themselves from it. 

There’s Dr Alex George, a physician, who has become a mental health ambassador to the Government; Liam Reardon, who revealed plans to quit fame and become a property developer; and Faye Winter, who’s launched a homeware brand and also gone into property. Most have bought expensive houses and some have started families, enjoying the quiet life.

In other words, these contestants appear to have seen Love Island as no more than a launchpad to do what they actually want to do. They have taken advantage of what you might call a “short-cut” economy, finding the financial security that perhaps would have been difficult to achieve before.

It’s not very surprising they might have concluded this is their best option. In the current climate, what could any of these contestants look forward to if they tried to earn capital through more “normal” means, based on the experiences of their peers? A lifestyle of eating baked beans in a shared flat somewhere in London, spending over a third of their income on rent? You get the picture. 

Sadly, the traditional models to “making it” – financial security and a house – have rapidly depleted for people in their 20s, 30s and even older. For all the Government’s talk of “levelling up”, the movement has no generational feel. So why not “level” oneself up through the quick-fix solutions?

In essence, Love Island, in a strange way, should act as a wake-up call to politicians about the current confines of the economy. Far from hard-earned skills paying off, fillers and plastic surgery have become means to a better livelihood. Youngsters are absorbing a worrying message. “If you want something enough you can achieve it”… “if you can show some skin on the way.”