Author: Alison Kaitcer
Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment
Before you start drafting those angry emails, at least hear me out. In a pre-Riverdale, pre-Pretty Little Liars, and even a pre-Glee world, there was another group of absurdly hot teens skulking around America’s fictional high schools: Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, and all their friends (and enemies) in Forks, Washington. The Twilight Saga wasn’t just a series of books that turned into an even more popular series of movies, it was a movement–– the effects of which we are still experiencing to this day. Lest we forget, the hit Fifty Shades of Gray series began as Twilight fanfiction. Although the primary target audience was teen girls, there was a time when the vast majority read at least one Twilight book, and even if you hadn’t you still had an opinion.
Every year on Valentines’ Day, my roommate and I engage in our much-loved tradition of watching as much of The Twilight Saga as we can stomach in one sitting. We both adored the series growing up, and revisiting it on the holiday of love seems like the best way to pay homage to who we used to be. It’s worth noting that we frequently watch the first installment in the five-film series because it is peak cringe cinema and we like to have fun.
Just look at that unfettered teen angst.
Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment
Just in case you forgot–– understandable, as the first Twilight novel came out in 2005, and the film adaptation came out in 2008–– I’ll quickly recap everything you need to know. After moving to the small, dreary town of Forks, Washington, our largely emotionless heroine Bella Swan manages to stumble onto a clan of vampires and a pack of werewolves (although they are more present in the later books) and fall in love with any hot-yet-vaguely-menacing entity she faces. Suddenly, and through no direct action of her own, she becomes the most important person to ever exist and the entire fate of vampire-kind rests on her slouched, unassuming shoulders. If this sounds like a frustrating way to construct a plot, that’s because it is; there has been no shortage of criticism of Bella and how upsettingly bland she is. Unfortunately, the most interesting characters in The Twilight Saga are the characters with the least presence on page and screen– I’m still waiting on an Alice and Jasper spinoff series that I fear will never come.
As critical as I am of the series as a whole, it still occupies a loving space in my heart. Does it romanticize manipulative relationships and unbalanced power dynamics? Absolutely. It is extraordinarily problematic. The few seemingly healthy relationships that occur throughout the series are almost exclusively between side characters. Even so, give the intended audience a little credit; as a young, impressionable pre-teen I definitely knew better than to model my idea of romantic behavior on Edward Cullen’s stalker-adjacent tendencies and Bella’s total passivity in their relationship. In fact, it served as an example of exactly how NOT to behave–and can lead to an important conversation about consent and manipulation.
Like it or not, we have all felt out of place among the larger group of peers. We’ve all felt removed, awkward, and like we belong anywhere else but where we are. That is to say, we’ve all felt like Bella Swan at one point or another. Her almost total lack of defining character traits makes it easy to project our own thoughts, hopes, and fears onto her. We all want to be a part of something greater and more important than ourselves and feel things that are too expansive and intense for mere mortals to understand. On the outside, Twilight looks nothing like my actual high school experience, but it manages to capture exactly what it felt like. Every problem was life or death, every emotion was felt in extremes. We need to examine the idea that just because something is popular with teenage girls, it inherently has no cultural value. Yes, it’s melodramatic and cheesy and takes itself way too seriously. You know what else fits that description? Every teenager I’ve ever met.
I spent way too much time on this, more evidence that I should never be allowed near photo editing software.
Terrible editing courtesy of Alison Kaitcer
Twilight transcends its unintentionally hilarious script and overacted scenes, precisely because it’s so absurd. There is no mistaking it for art–if you’re looking for a nuanced critique of teen relationships, look elsewhere–but it is genuinely fun to watch, and it’s an easy way to feel the full spectrum of human emotion in 121 minutes. I’ll defend the soundtrack to my death, and I stand by my theory that if it were just a one-off indie movie rather than a multi-million-dollar franchise people would be singing its praises constantly. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but that shouldn’t stop you or anyone else from enjoying it in all its awkward, painful glory.
ALISON KAITCER | Team Jasper 5ever | KXSU Arts Reporter