It's Been 10 Years Since 'Twilight.' What Have We Learned?
We reflect on its effects on pop culture, for better and for worse.
Today marks 10 years since a little novel called Twilight hit bookshelves. Nowadays, it’s impossible to divorce the book from its pop culture baggage: the images of rapturous screaming fans; the punch lines and parodies; the thinkpieces debating its dubious feminism; the delightfully uncomfortable Robert Pattinson press interviews; the saga’s own queasy, laughably bizarre conclusion.
I myself have not been able to re-visit Twilight in the same manner as other childhood favorites. I can’t rediscover or isolate my 13 year old self’s joy in it from the noise around it. But much like my own feelings about it, Twilight has impacted pop culture in ways that are bittersweet and often contradictory. So on its 10th anniversary, let’s consider some of its effects.
1. It made both publishers and Hollywood realize that YA franchises are fertile grounds. Without Twilight’s success, its film would have never been made, and without its film, the subsequent wave of YA franchises would have been a far gentler wave; a ripple rather than a tsunami. Where does this fall on the good-or-bad scale?
The Hunger Games might have never happened, and by the transitive property, Jennifer Lawrence might not be the world’s highest paid actress. You’re welcome, Jennifer Lawrence. On the other hand, it brought misfires like City of Bones and middling overwrought fluff like The Fault in Our Stars — John Green and Stephanie Meyer do, after all, share the same agent. But on the other hand, publishers probably wouldn’t have taken a chance on Maggie Stiefvater’s meandering, sophisticated, delightfully odd Raven Cycle series or Libba Bray’s wildly imaginative feminist historical romp, A Great And Terrible Beauty. So, to answer the question, is this good or bad? It’s both.
2. It made people realize teenage girls are a vast market. On one hand, it’s nice to have your interests and values taken into account and have things that cater to the teen female gaze. On the other hand, that in no way means your interests are respected. Speaking as a former teen girl, there’s nothing worse than not being taken seriously when you want to be. As writer Elizabeth Minkel says, there is a certain amount of sexism in our scorn: We disparage teen girls for their devotion to the objects of their pop-culture affection, and we don’t hold nearly the same scorn for sports fans. And yet, the wider market’s realization that teen girls are a lucrative audience has led to pop culture manipulations designed to cater to their demographic in ways that are fast and easy instead of smart or insightful — which in turn, perpetuates the cycle of scorn. See, here I am, as a former teen girl, talking about their lack of respect, and yet I contribute to it because these pop culture items are impossible for me to defend. I’m part of the system!
I won’t name names — mostly for fear of torches and pitchforks, which I have probably already attracted by speaking John Green’s name in vain — but I will show you a parody of such a pop culture entity.
So, is this a good or bad thing? It’s good that the teen female gaze is represented in pop culture, but it’s bad when it’s catered to in the laziest way possible, perpetuating the cycle of scorn.
3. It made 50 Shades of Grey happen. 50 Shades of Grey originated as Twilight fan fiction. I can go on forever about 50 Shades of Grey, how objectively terrible it is, how damaging and detrimental to any range of topics, including the wider culture’s understandings of alternative sexualities, non-stalker relationships, and original stories that the author didn’t rip off from someone else. I even tracked down some erotica authors to get their thoughts on it. So chase those links for more, I won’t waste the space because there is no question whether this is good or bad.
4. It brought us a truly wonderful film. If you are a Twilight superfan, you enjoyed its film adaptation. If you are a Twilight hater, if you have any sense of humor whatsoever, you enjoyed its film adaptation. It is a true delight in the same vein as Showgirls or Jupiter Ascending, the film one site proclaimed is “the worst movie ever go see it immediately.”
From its uncomfortable close-ups, its inexplicable dialogue, Robert Pattinson’s deeply uncomfortable expressions, his bafflingly ‘80’s hair, his sparkling scene — everything about this movie is pure gold. If you can’t agree that this effect of Twilight is positive, I bet you also don’t think Alexander is Colin Farrell’s most amazing and entertaining film, and I just don’t know what to say to you.
5. It spawned many, many imitators. “Pull-to-publish” fan fiction — a phenomenon in which internet fan fiction is pulled off the internet, wiped of details that would get the writer sued, and published as original work — has become a trend in the publishing world ever since it worked with 50 Shades of Grey. Twilight is the most fertile ground for it. Goodreads has multiple lists of books that began their lives as Twilight fan fiction. Is this good or bad? Good if you’re a fan fiction writer, I guess. Bad for published writers, people who value originality, and people who write fan fiction without seeking to publish it, as it has made authors like George R.R. Martin wary of the whole endeavor.
Ten years ago, I was a 13 year old girl with a truly appalling haircut, a back brace, and an affinity for vampire books (yeah I was a walking stereotype, what of it?). And I really liked Twilight. Through a combination of factors — its fandom grew stronger in ways I didn’t feel connected to, each subsequent entry in the series declined in quality, and I grew older — I became more removed from it until eventually, I thought of it in the same way you’d think of an ex: It worked for you at the time; you grew apart; you’d never want to go back, but you think of it with a mixture of nostalgia, regret, and a certain amount of chagrin at your own stupidity.
Ten years later, we’ve all learned a lot since Twilight — some good, a lot not so good. I haven’t been able to feel the “fond nostalgia” element for many years, but I’m reaching for it now, as sincerely as possible, to raise a toast to it on its 10-year anniversary.