Has Ibiza Really Become a Shithole? Or Does it Just Have a Massive Public Image Problem?

'Ibiza Shore' is nothing new, TV shows have been ruining Ibiza's reputation for years.

by Angus Harrison
24 July 2015, 12:35pm

Screenshot via YouTube

This week MTV announced it'd commissioned Ibiza Shore, the next in a series of shows alongside Jersey Shore, Gandia Shore, Acapulco Shore and of course Geordie Shore. The show will put together a group contestants from different international versions of the series, whose Ibizan escapades will be documented, genital warts and all. The thing is though, even with that relatively sub-par genital warts joke I've just made, I'm both responding to and perpetuating the effect Ibiza Shore will most likely have: furthering Ibiza's reputation as a one-stop shop for booze, promiscuity, dodgy pizza and 3am curbside meltdowns.

If you were to play a game of word association, and throw "Ibiza" into the mix, it would be interesting to see what the results were. Sure, with a minority of people the return would be "Balearic", "Amnesia", "Alfredo", or "Carl Cox"; but the likelihood is, if you played this game with the majority of the population the return would sound more like "stag-do", "vomit", "mankini", or "binge-drinking".

Neither group are wrong, but it says a lot about perceptions of the White Isle that it is now more comfortably associated with dodgy tattoos than it is sun-kissed terraces. Part of this is undoubtedly down to seismic shifts that have taken place on the island across the past couple of decades, yet it is also the result of an ongoing battle the island has had with its own public image. Since the 1990s a string of on-screen representations of Ibiza have pushed one side of the island over its richer heritage. That's not to say the side being presented doesn't exist, but it has quickly become the front-page story.

With MTV's announcement, Ibizan politicians have actually responded with a call to block the show from happening. The Ibizan section of Spain's leftwing Podemos have spoken out against the series, saying they don't want another television programme reinforcing stereotypes of "degrading and uncivil behaviour" that are attached to the island. This isn't the first time part of the Shore franchise has come under this sort of heat. Even its first incarnation, Jersey Shore, faced criticism from New Jersey's governor at the time Chris Christie, who argued the show was "negative for New Jersey" as none of the cast members were even from the state, suggesting the programme "takes a bunch of New Yorkers and drops them at the Jersey Shore and tries to make America feel like this is the real New Jersey" — much like Ibiza Shore is about to do for Spain.

But Ibiza's problems run deeper than that. Since Ibiza Uncovered first aired in 1997, televised understandings of the White Isle have documented the most debauched characters on offer. This can be pin-pointed geographically to the island's West End — the lurid strip of San Antonio that's the epicentre of cheap drink deals and novelty t-shirts. Surrounded by a mass of hotels that largely favour group bookings tied in with ticket deals, it is the section of the island that has become a hotbed of "living it large", closely resembling lesser-esteemed destinations like Zante or Magaluf.

There's no doubt that Ibiza Uncovered is an entertaining watch, and obviously being a documentary in a much purer sense, there can be no argument that the antics featured were constructed. The world of holiday reps, and stag and hen parties descending on the island are a huge part of the island's culture. A facet Balearic purists have been bemoaning for years, essentially watching as the far more hippyish foundations of Ibizan culture was gradually corrupted by, in no uncertain terms, the British. Yet what Uncovered did was package this corner of crowd and flood it into the mainstream consciousness, significantly warping the perceptions of people who didn't have a fully realised understanding of Ibiza in the first place.

Ibiza Uncovered wasn't alone. Kevin and Perry Go Large is another example, albeit a fictional one, of an on screen Ibiza typified by excess and moronic hedonism. Yes, it's a comedy, so intrinsically it was geared towards caricature, yet the resting joke at movie's core was an ethos of chaotic binge-culture. Kevin and Perry's plan to go to Ibiza and become DJs in order to finally have sex is a pretty allegorical example of just how the original ideals of island shifted in modern culture.

The issues Ibiza Shore look set to stir are ongoing. ITV2 has run Ibiza Weekender, a show that essentially does exactly what MTV's new pitch will do, not to mention the ongoing sagas of Sun, Sex, and Suspicious Parents. Perhaps crucially, the biggest issue is the characters themselves. Integral to the success of these series is sex, excess, and melodrama. As a result the people featured are invariably in Ibiza in order to get fucked up. While Ibiza Uncovered at least split its time between lager-necking lads, and the owners of super-clubs, no current variation expresses any interest in legitimising club culture. This is a harmful trend both ways, not only are the island's qualities neglected, but the programmes also perpetuate the shittiest side of modern, largely British, youth culture.

The trouble is, eventually these narratives become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you broadcast enough TV insisting Ibiza is place to get fucked up and behave like a tosser, then people who want to do just that will start to see it as home. Over time Ibiza's image as a home for mindless wreck-head-ism has given birth to a flood of exactly that.

Of course, there is an argument for saying the problem goes much further back, to the original Balearic pioneers, and that even they were responsible for setting the wheels in motion for harming the reputation of a previously idyllic Spanish haven. Yet if we specifically consider Ibiza as a clubbing destination, then there is no doubt that the island's continuing power as a home to some of the greatest clubs in the world, along with the ongoing presence of most of the greatest DJs in the world, is massively missing from the public domain. Obviously, if you take clubbing seriously, or at least know how to enjoy it properly, then you will know that Ibiza isn't a shithole, but for the understanding of people like your parents, Daily Mail writers, people who think clubbing is all about throwing up in gutters, people who refer to pingers as "ecstasy pills", then the gradual dilution of the island's image is hugely damaging.

Ibiza isn't a paradise, and it absolutely should be critiqued, documented, discussed and analysed. Yet the narrative has swung too far in one direction. The challenge now is reminding people that Ibiza still offers next level clubbing experiences. It is a place where dance music can be experienced in the most affecting way possible. If stories like that can penetrate the mainstream more often, then perhaps the White Isle can become a little bit more Padilla, and a little less Pauly D.

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