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Love Island is a reality show that can be roughly described as a cross between The Bachelor and the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Now in its fifth season in Britain, it is one of the highest-rated prime-time television programs in the country.

It was only a matter of time before this sensation would be exported to the United States.

Here's the premise: Women and men are paired off and corralled inside a luxury villa on a beautiful island (the British version takes place in Mallorca, the American version in Fiji). As the days pass, they are eliminated in a variety of ways--sometimes by audience vote, sometimes by introducing a gender imbalance that forces the contestants into a game of musical chairs, but for heterosexuality.

The last couple standing gets a smallish cash prize (it's around $62,000 in the British version; the American prize has not been revealed).

But after subjecting themselves to constant surveillance, most will end up "dumped" over the next four weeks. "It's so easy to forget the cameras are there," goes the common refrain, when contestants are eliminated and trotted out in front of a live audience, often to review a highlight reel of their greatest hits and most reviled misdeeds.

Trapped in an extravagant vacation house where all the clocks are purposely set to the wrong time, the contestants have nothing to do all day but eat, sleep, drink, gossip, or become the subject of gossip. Forbidden to read magazines, watch television or surf the Internet, the contestants increasingly gravitate toward generating drama, propelled by an intolerable vacuum of boredom.

As the weeks wear on, some of the contestants seem to resign themselves to their total lack of privacy, going as far as to have sex in the common sleeping room.

As contestants are eliminated, they emerge before a cheering (or booing) audience, slightly stunned and blinking rapidly in the bright lights, the memory of life on "the outside" rushing back to them.

Love Island serves as a cautionary tale of how quickly the expectation of privacy will erode in the face of ubiquitous monitoring.

The Love Islanders eventually get to go home. We should fear how our liberties and our own behaviors will be warped by the proliferation of cameras on every street corner, on every car dashboard and in every pocket.

But we should be more afraid of how impossible it will be to tell that we've changed. There will be no "outside" for us to leave for, no surveillance-free home to return to. In a real surveillance state, even the surveillants must live under the all-seeing eye. What's worse--being watched by Big Brother, or being watched by your fellow increasingly crazed and desperate comrades?

Editorial on 07/11/2019

Print Headline: Lesson in surveillance

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