via Summit Entertainment
The absurdly overpriced collectors merchandise that frequents a rather special sector of Depop ($35 dollars for a black tee that says “twilight” in the franchise font on the front) is just one of the many indicators of the chokehold that the Twilight franchise continues to hold on society. As a fan who has dipped her toe into the waters of the forbidden fruit, even I cannot deny the magnetic world Stephanie Meyers managed to create. Controversially gifted the title of “cult-classic,” Twilight has attracted equal parts love and hate, cementing it as one of the most influential pieces of pop culture media of the millennium.
Twilight led the supernatural craze of the mid-2000s, likely inspiring many such as The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and Teen Wolf, which aimed to tap into the market that Twilight exposed so well. With the target audience being teenage girls, in the era of tumblr and soft grunge, the cold color palette, obsessive and unhealthy relationships, and general mental illness displayed by each one of the characters paints Meyers as a literary genius. And the reason for the massive success, was that Twilight captured it’s target audience so beautifully, leaving the rest of the population in a general fog of fear and loathing. The crux of the brilliance behind Twilight is the characterization of Bella Swan, or rather lack thereof.
Bella is an ordinary girl. Really. She is smart, she doesn’t have any hobbies or interests, she is terrible at athletics and social interactions, she is not fashionable, and she’s pretty (of course) but in a very plain and unseen way. Almost every teenage girl and young woman can see something of themselves in her, and to the reader (or viewer) it feels like you’re actually relating to a character, not just a blank slate. And so, it is basically a mystery why a gorgeous supernatural being would become so completely enamored with her. But he does, and there is a recurring theme in the book of him saving her, first from the van that almost crushes her in the parking lot, and then from the vampires that kidnap her. Edward is inexplicably drawn to Bella, and in the beginning he hates himself for it. Bella is painted as this forbidden fruit, this irresistible creature, that she for the life of her cannot fathom why because she is so ordinary. Twilight allowed its target audience to believe that they were worthy and deserving of attention and love from someone like Edward, because after all Bella Swan could do it.
Furthermore, Twilight, at least the first book, has a remarkable lack of sexual and mature content. Bella and Edward barely kiss, and it is the most drawn out, awkward yet intense scene I have ever seen. And this actually works to the series’ advantage. Meyer managed to build up practically superhuman tension through the two leads’ restraint. Holding hands in Twilight has as much weight as a full on sex scene. The gentle caresses, the pulling away, the biting of the lip, the heavy breathing, it paints a world where every little thing has infinitesimal significance, a rarity among teenage media. The audience is inevitably drawn in by the tension, and they are always left wanting more. And oh how Meyer draws it out! Bella and Edward do not have sex until Breaking Dawn 1, on their honeymoon. It truly makes me wonder, if Bella did it all for sex. Out of the pair, the abstinence and the restraint definitely comes more from Edward. One of my favorite scenes, for the hilarity of it all, is when he decides to kiss her and it is so perfect, practiced, delicate…But because of her dastardly hormonal urges, Bella tries to deepen the kiss and he practically has to shove her off of him. A regular teenage girl, Bella always seemed to want to go further than Edward was willing to go, and her attempts to seduce her husband after their first time physically hurt her, paint a portrait of desperation that begs the question if it was all just for the sex.
Furthermore, the reason we’ve all been waiting for, what captivated and caused the greatest rivalry known to humanity: Team Edward or Team Jacob. Meyer pioneered one of the most polarizing love triangles, before kind of destroying it herself with the whole Renesmee thing, but nevertheless, for argument’s sake we are going to pretend that that doesn’t exist. Objectively, in the beginning, Jacob was a much healthier choice. Him and Bella were childhood friends, their parents knew and liked each other, and he was always willing to talk to her. In the early stages, Edward’s mood swings almost gave me whiplash, and his gaslighting work is shoddy at best. He always retains a sense of broodiness, he doesn’t answer her questions, and he pushes her away. The dichotomy that Meyer paints is the good boy and the bad boy, something which is created to a lesser degree in many a Netflix rom-com (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Kissing Booth, Tall Girl), which praise its efficacy enough. But Bella isn’t concerned with what’s good for her, or she probably would have never left her mother to go stay with her absent father in the first place. Bella chooses Edward out of his sheer devotion. Even though he left her, broken and depressed, and Jacob was there to fill the void, their love for each other is just too strong. It shouldn’t be Edward, but it is. The women always come back to choose the one that seems so much worse for them, and everyone screams and pulls their hair out because the other one was so obviously better, more attractive, nicer. And the mass of crazed fans only grows.
Stephanie Meyers created the sweetest, honey-laced, trap for us all and now we’re eating right out of her hand. When you break it down, what is Twilight but a collection of tropes? The cinematography is shaky, it almost seems handmade, the supernatural lore is questionable (I do love the sparkly thing though, I don’t understand why it gets so much hate, I would have a lot of questions if one of my fellow townspeople looked like there were diamonds embedded in his skin), and the acting. Oh the acting. But as much as I try to plead that my interest is solely ironic, we all know. It’s like my own personal brand of heroin.
P.S. Thank you to Mike’s Mic for your wonderful series on the saga, I highly recommend, and for inspiring the title.