It’s hard to believe, but the first Twilight movie came out just under three years ago, on November 21, 2008. In that time, the juggernaut of glittery vampires and stammering girls has become a cultural force, enchanting squee-prone fans and enraging others.
With The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1 on the horizon, that divide is bound to get even bigger, especially given the movie’s oh-so-ridiculous plot highlights. In a nutshell [Spoilers for the whole story ahead!]: Vampire and teen girl get married, go on honeymoon, and have sex for the first time. She gets knocked up with a half-human, half-vamp super-baby who attempts to bite and kick her way out of mom’s stomach, only to be ripped out by dad after mom’s spine breaks. All is not lost, though, as dad turns mom into a vampire just in time, though now they’ve drawn the ire of evil, ancient Italian vampires. And then a shapeshifting wolf-boy falls in love-at-first-sight with the baby, and we’re all supposed to be okay with that.
It’s a super fucked-up plot, for sure, but it’s also enhanced the mega-superiority-complex that Twilight haters have over Twi-hards. Sane people can’t believe that other sane people would be into this schlock. There’s a suggestion that sparkly vampires are slowly ruining not only our entertainment industry, but our society, and especially our women. It isn’t just tweens and teens who are affected, either; it’s moms and perfectly normal twentysomethings who harbor a secret squee-ing shame. But consider this for one moment: Once you get past all those eardrum-shattering shrieks of adoration, who are Twi-hards harming?
We, as a society, need to stop being angry that Twilight exists. Moreover, we need to start, as a collective of haters, believing that Twi-hards can separate fact from reality and good fiction from bad fiction. We need to assign fans of the series at least a modicum of intelligence and assume they might just like getting lost in something silly.
Last week, Deadline reported that more than 2,300 showings of Breaking Dawn had already sold out long before the movie was in theaters. Without a doubt, some of the people at those screenings will be die-hard Twi-maniacs who have spent large portions of their paychecks on trips to Forks, Washington (where the series is set) and who remain convinced that Robert Pattinson is, in fact, Edward, the vampire he plays. Those people will be in the minority, though. Most of the audience will be made up of rational, capable adults who hold down jobs, are in relationships, and probably have at least a little money in their checking accounts. They’ll be at Breaking Dawn not because they think it’s romantic that wolf-boy Taylor Lautner will fall for a toddler, or that Kristen Stewart is a great actress. Instead, they’ll be there because it’s a silly movie, an escape, and a rather ridiculous one at that.
One thing Twi-haters often fail to realize is that the Twilight series isn’t for adults. It’s for young adults, and it’s written as such—and sometimes pretty poorly. Blame inexperienced first-time author Stephenie Meyer all you want, and weave in condemnations of her implied moral biases as well, but the books, the movies, and the franchise have been a success because they’re so undeniably, even blandly, relatable. Bella is an awkward girl who doesn’t really feel she has a place in society. Edward is a loyal guy who feels like an outsider even in his own family. Their sudden, angsty romance might seem a little ridiculous, but that plotline—minus the vampires—has been a staple of swoony classics for ages. Add a few werewolves to Pretty In Pink, or stock Pride And Prejudice with a bunch of self-absorbed millennials, and you’ll pretty much get the same googly-eyed result.
A lot of people forget what it’s like to be a teenager—and specifically, women forget what it’s like to be teenage girls. When a crush stands in line next to you to buy pizza at lunch, of course that’s a cosmic sign that you’re meant to be together. Every ridiculous perceived slight is blown up to epic proportions, and it seems like everything, from what you wear on a given day to who you go to prom with, will determine the course of the rest of your life.
Fast-forward a few years, and that seems ridiculous, but as a young-adult novel, Twilight nails that sentiment. It’s a boilerplate high-school drama with a few vampires written into it. It’s unfair to assign expectations to it that we wouldn’t assign to comparable fare like Glee or Vampire Diaries. It’s mindless and a little pointless, but damn if that doesn’t feel good sometimes.
Genevieve Koski wrote an excellent piece earlier this year about why grown women should embrace their occasional backslides into adolescent fantasy. She pointed out that for many fans of things like Twilight, it isn’t about a real, earnest connection with the material, it’s about a connection with other people who like the same stuff, and who have the capacity to be a little silly sometimes, too. There’s a sense of belonging that comes with finding something in pop culture you can cling to, whether it’s a silly vampire story, baseball, or comic books.
That feeling is most prominent in adolescence, but even as we get older, the idea is always there, if just a little. No one wants to be an outcast at work, or the weird old lady down the street who stays at home on Saturday nights. Twilight gets a bad rap by being associated with those crazies, because they’re fun to gawk at on the Internet, with their weird Edward-eyes back-tattoos and sad rooms devoted entirely to Twi-paraphernalia. It’s hard to believe that people know Bella’s astrological sign (Virgo) or will pay cold, hard cash to take a picture with some guy who plays a tertiary vampire, and might have three lines in the whole film series.
But who is that bothering? How is knowing a vampire’s fictional birthplace any different than knowing Superman’s real name, Ty Cobb’s lifetime on-base percentage, or a selection of Homer Simpson witticisms?
While it’s important, relatively speaking, to know that Twilight exists, it’s equally important to realize that it isn’t for everyone. These days, when we spend the whole day online saturated with details of the Kardashian wedding and memes our parents will never understand, it’s easy to slip into wanting to know everything about everything—or, more specifically, wanting to have an opinion about everything. What’s the point? If every time Sarah Palin opens her mouth, it drives you into a rage blackout, why bother watching videos chockfull of her charming colloquialisms? As long as you keep up on the news and have a general working knowledge of her politics or existence, that’s enough information.
We have the ability to pick and choose what we see. While that has considerable cultural implications when the general population knows more about Charlie Sheen than it does about what’s going on in Libya, it also allows us the freedom to not care about sparkly vampires, werewolves, or stupid teenage romance if we choose. It also gives us the freedom to leave those Edward maniacs out there to do their own shrieking thing.
This weekend, Breaking Dawn will open in more than 4,000 theaters, making it one of the biggest releases of the year. Yes, fans will go to midnight shows dressed as brides, and yes, there will be peals of girly giggles as Bella and Edward creep ever closer to doing the nasty, but so what? Just because the Twilight phenomenon seems to be everywhere, from magazine covers to dishware, doesn’t mean you have to give it more than a passing glance, let alone a withering stare.