Friday, July 12, 2024

From Forks to forever: The timeless charm of the ‘Twilight’ saga

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Featured graphic by Destiny Mizell

Story by Destiny Mizell

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Nearly 20 years after its release, “Twilight” remains a pop-culture sensation. This poses a question bigger than “Team Edward or Team Jacob?”

Why do we still like it? 

With a “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” so-bad-you-can’t-look-away type of appeal, the “Twilight” movies (and books) are criticized by the masses for its production quality, plot and controversial elements. At its peak, the films inspired countless spoofs, parodies and heaps of cultural criticism.

Still, the franchise reached monumental heights, sweeping the nation in a supernatural whirlwind of romance. 

“It wasn’t just young tweens and teens that were finding the books and waiting for the movies. It was like the same level of fandom we saw for ‘Star Wars’ back in the 70s and 80s but for girls and women. That was very different because what have we ever had? We never had anything like that, that brought everyone together all at the same time,” said Deirdre Grover, who fell in love with the saga after binge-reading the books in her mid-30s. “‘Twilight’ sticks around because it is something that women and young girls had. It created a whole new level of targeting women as the audience.”

The fandom — mostly preserved on social media — is arguably larger than ever. Reddit pages, Facebook groups and meme accounts are a time machine to 2008 when Hot Topic hosted soundtrack-listening parties, school-aged girls tried to convince their peers that they were vampires and viewers swooned, sobbed and screamed at midnight showings.  

Maintaining the fandom 

There is an abundance of “Twilight” inspired memes floating around mainstream social media platforms. Making fun of it essentially keeps it alive, and the memes circulate the saga to younger generations globally. 

However, the fandom doesn’t just take the saga at the surface level; Twihards (also endearingly referred to as Ratties) often debate the logistics of the “Twilight” universe and discuss several other aspects in online communities.

R/Twilight, Reddit’s oldest and largest “Twilight” group, encompasses nearly 110,000 members. Threads analyzing characters, theories, hot takes, merchandise, book annotations and art are posted about every hour of every day. 

The most prominent Facebook group, Twilight Shitposting, boasts close to 700,000 members but only allows 40 posts a day. 

“Definitely the kind of ‘Twilight’ group you wished you had in middle school but like…now you’re an adult and you have to pay taxes and answer emails but something inside you still can’t escape 2008,” the group’s about section reads. 

The posts in the group differ from Reddit’s because members emphasize poking fun at the saga. References that are too niche and updates on the actors get flushed to Twilight Sewerposting, the group’s secondary account. 

“Twilight’ is kind of a cringey story with cringey themes and stuff that doesn’t sit well with me now that I’m older, which has changed how I view it, but I really love being able to laugh at it with other people,” said Angel Bolton, a proud Rattie from Twilight Sewerposting. 

“The Sewer” is exclusively open on weekends, starting at 7 p.m. CST on Fridays and “closing the manhole” on Sundays at 7 p.m. CST. The group’s roughly 260,000 members rat race to get their submissions approved before moderators cap them off at 200 posts daily. 

Outside of Facebook and Reddit, TikTok and Instagram creators Tyler Warwick and Yasmine Sahid make reels cosplaying the characters, dramatizing scenes for comedic effect. Each of them engage over 500,000 followers on TikTok and Instagram respectively. 

Having such an active community at fingertips-length continuously grows the fanbase, and keeps “Twilight” on long-term fans’ minds.

The controversy 

Despite the widespread enjoyment, the franchise isn’t without flaws. 

Stephanie Meyer, the conservative Mormon author, romanticizes toxic relationship dynamics, shows unsettling age gaps, misrepresents the Quileute tribe and tosses in a disturbing subplot about a werewolf imprinting on his ex-love interest’s newborn vampire-hybrid baby. 

“It’s on the same wavelength as ‘Harry Potter,’” said Caryn Tramel, who enjoys the saga. “We know there are problematic things with the author, just like in ‘Twilight.’ There is still a nostalgic component to it with a big community behind it, and we can discuss the imperfections.”

Despite the Reddit and Facebook groups’ clear fixation on the saga, it is noteworthy that the moderators don’t support or condone the creators behind the films and books. Because Meyer altered Quileute legends and used the indigenous tribe’s likeness without paying reparations, several fans separated themselves from the franchise. Among others, Twilight Shitposting and R/Twilight host multiple Quileute fundraisers a year, which unites fans to convert interest into making a difference. 

When in doubt, talk about “Twilight”

Long-time fans Grover and Tramel view the series as a connector. 

The phenomenon moved generations, Grover said. Girls would read and watch it, their moms would read and watch it, and then they would share it with their friends. 

When her daughter became old enough to watch the movies for the time, Grover couldn’t wait to share them. 

She also found friendship across the globe through the “Twilight” side of fanfiction.net over a decade ago. She still chats with a handful of them daily, sometimes about the saga.   

For Tramel, “Twilight” is a fun conversation starter and a way to stay in touch with old friends. 

“Because it is such a big pop culture thing, if you want to start a funny debate with someone or get to know someone, you can ask them that big question of ‘Team Edward or Team Jacob?’ and they’re immediately going to know what you’re talking about,” Tramel said. “Even people who think it’s bad, don’t like it or even have never seen it are still going to know what you’re talking about and can have a conversation about it. That’s not going to end.”

Comfort in familiarity 

Tramel denounced “Twilight” in middle school “because it was the cool thing to do.” Now, she credits the saga as comfort films that she binges every fall. Tramel attributes the saga’s continued adoration to nostalgia and escapism. 

Turning on one of the movies doesn’t just transport her to the setting in Forks, Washington — or as Edward Cullen would say, “the wettest place in the continental U.S.” The media transports her to a simpler time when she was in high school, free of bills and major responsibilities. 

The saga’s coming-of-age atmosphere with themes of love, heartbreak and family is universal, regardless of years or gender. 

Initially hesitant to read the series, Grover finished three of the books in one weekend, then re-read them about a half-dozen times in a year. 

“It was truly bizarre, but it brought back my love for reading,” Grover said. “I discovered that young adult fiction doesn’t just have to be read by young adults.” 

Grover said “Twilight” is timeless because most can relate to the feelings explored throughout it (hopefully excluding the obsession and toxicity, of course). 

The saga continuously compels others through its active fanbase and social media presence, and is considered a cult-classic.

Despite the criticism, “Twilight” connects people worldwide whether consumed for nostalgia, fall vibes, unintentional comedy or just a glimpse of a highly-thirsted-after character. 

“I don’t feel like every piece of media needs to be polished or considered ‘good’ to find value in it,” Tramel said.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Destiny Mizell and Assistant Lifestyles Editor Shamani Salahuddin, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com. For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Instagram at MTSUSidelines or on X at @MTSUSidelines.

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