WRITING: JAMIE KAHN
Greetings from the girl in your middle school study hall who flat ironed her bangs, was a vampire for Halloween three years in a row, and wrote Twilight fan fiction in not-so-secret. That was me, and as much as The Twilight Renaissance makes me want to gloat for that pale middle schooler and yell, “See! Twilight was good all along!” from the rooftops, I will not.
Plenty of people are just joining me in the vampiric trenches now with The Twilight Renaissance, which has surfaced due in part to the release of the long awaited Midnight Sun, which has been in talks on and off since 2008, although I’ve been consistent in my shameless Twilight obsession since I discovered it in the sixth grade from my mom’s best friend (thank you, Kelley).
Between a global pandemic driving everyone towards nostalgia content, and the release of Midnight Sun, the long-awaited companion to the original series this past August,
2020 became the perfect storm to host The Twilight Renaissance. In a culture that has largely shifted since the initial popularity of the series, it seems like the first time that public opinion of the franchise is turning towards enjoyment rather than ridicule. As a longtime fan who watched this progression more gradually than most, I found myself asking: what changed?
In order to understand the scope of the shift, we need to go back in time a bit to the release of the original books and films—a period that stretched from the mid 2000s to the early 2010s. 2005 saw the release of the first book in the saga written by Stephanie Meyer, with the film rights initially acquired before the book even hit shelves. Twilight was everywhere, with teenage girls, moms, and other women who made up its target demographic. While society as a whole has recently become more aware of the way women and girls are often shamed for the climate they like, the climate of media criticism that existed alongside Twilight in its heyday was not kind. And while vampires had been a part of feminine media such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and 1992’s cult popular Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Meyer popularized them as a part of the cannon loved by teen girls in the 2000s, specifically by focusing on the appealing and sensitive traits as well as creating her own mythology in her world building (read: Edward’s sparkling skin).
"Most people held a negative impression of Twilight without ever engaging with the material itself."
When I began my love of the series in middle school (yes, I did own a team Edward T-shirt, and no, I don’t regret it) I clearly remember the discourse around it both online and in real life being centred around mocking. From people simply calling it stupid for all of its glitter and romance to men and women alike making genuine, concerned claims that Twilight is sexist and stupid under the well-meaning guise of trying to save the dreadfully dumb fans from themselves (lest they be too stupid and lovestruck by Edward’s swoopy hair and Jacob’s rippling muscles to realize that their favourite series has actually been bad for them all along) everyone had something to say, and it was usually negative.
One key thread that continues through Twilight’s criticism is how intrinsically linked it was to its fandom. Unlike plenty of other fan communities that receive criticism in tandem with their source material (Rick and Morty comes to mind), Twilight fans were mostly teenage girls at the time, and that seemed to be where the criticism started and stopped. They were teenage girls, they acted like teenage girls, and that in itself was worthy of ridicule.
While the fans were dubbed girly and stupid for liking Twilight, Twilight itself was deemed girly and stupid because teenage girls liked it. It created this swirling chasm of criticism that was largely hard to argue with, and it drove away plenty of people who may have otherwise enjoyed it for fear of being associated with the series and its fan base. Most people held a negative impression of Twilight without ever engaging with the material itself. Like Lindsay Ellis recalls in her video essay, “Dear Stephanie Meyer,” many people gave the books and films negative reviews without ever reading or watching them.
"Teenage girls deserve the opportunity for escapism, wish fulfillment and fun that popular media has always created for boys."
At its core, Twilight itself isn’t bad. While it’s difficult to claim the objective quality of any piece of media, it has become especially clear in the past couple of years that Twilight’s criticism was disproportionate to its quality. From film critics to independent YouTube bros yelling about how Twilight is stupid and anti-feminist (as if that matters in any other piece of media they consume), the series made people disgusted and angry for seemingly no reason. It also became clear that this occurred largely because its primary audience was an easy target to pick on. Both guys who found feminine media frivolous and the girls who rushed to proclaim that they were “not like other girls,” found a way to make Twilight and its fans the butt of the joke. This is also hardly the first time a piece of media has received the Twilight treatment. In fact, it’s been historically present in more fun and carefree media such as One Direction, Justin Bieber, and rom-coms, as well as more serious and artful media from the filmmaking of Sofia Coppola to the works of Emily Dickinson and the Brontë sisters.
In an interview for IndieWire in 2012, the film’s screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, described the double standard perfectly when she said, “We’ve seen more than our fair share of bad action movies, bad movies [in general] geared toward men or 13-year old boys. And you know, the reviews are like okay that was crappy, but a fun ride. But no one says ‘Oh my god. If you go to see this movie you’re a complete fucking idiot.’ And that’s the tone, that is the tone with which people attack Twilight.”
It’s not that the hate towards Twilight was unfair because it’s a secret trove of literary genius. It’s because teen girls deserve the opportunity for escapism, wish fulfillment and fun that popular media has always created for boys without batting an eye. Perhaps she knew it at the time, but Rosenberg was onto something in 2012. The coming years would bring an awakening to this very issue for all kinds of interests, often without much regard to Twilight specifically. However, it would inevitably make room for the wider acceptance and appreciation of the series. Even the film’s star, Robert Pattinson, seemed to change his tune recently in the wake of the Twilight Renaissance, saying “It seems like with younger people in their late teens, early 20s, it’s sort of become quite a hip thing to like,” after originally claiming to have “stopped mentally progressing” while filming the series.
The past few years have popularized the phrase “I’m not like other girls” as a meme, which highlights the need many women and girls feel to use that phrase to distance themselves from feminine things in order to feel worthy and individualized in a world where feminine interests are viewed as lesser. We’ve also seen the death of cringe culture, and more media crafted specifically with young women in mind. Personally, I believe it’s a combination of these things that has allowed people to slowly shed their inhibitions about enjoying Twilight—whether that means finally checking it out after all these years, or simply ceasing to hide their genuine love for it.
While the release of Midnight Sun renewed the hype around Twilight, the transition wasn’t as abrupt as it might seem. Notably, Strange Aeons made a video in 2019 titled “Twilight is Woke Now,” in which she sifted through a plethora of memes and posts from the thriving fan community on Tumblr, and explored that very same allowance for wish fulfillment media that was so sorely lacking in the common conversation when Twilight had its initial moment in the sun. This goes to show that fans were brushing the dust off their door-stopping volumes and embracing the The Twilight Renaissance over a year before the release of Midnight Sun was even announced.
Cut to fall of 2020 where “girly” media doesn’t equal bad media and people have realized that there are simply more important things to be angry about. Twilight content can be found on TikTok, fans of all backgrounds are raving on Instagram about their love of the series, and a whole new generation is being introduced to the world of Forks, Washington for the very first time. Honestly, it’s a world I dreamed of living in back in 2010. I remember people making fun of me for bringing my copy of Breaking Dawn to school, and now there’s an entire generation of kids and teens who don’t have to worry about that. Who can like Twilight, as girly and frivolous as it may be. It’s a small thing, but it means a lot to little me.
The Twilight Renaissance of 2020 is a chance for me to reclaim my love of a series that made me happy—even if it isn’t a work of literary mastery or cinematic genius. And I get to see people all around me doing the exact same thing. It warms my icy cold heart—as long as we’re all team Edward, that is.
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