By Brian Salisbury, Hollywood.com Staff
The medium of film is, as with all art forms, entirely subjective. Frankly, if there were only one taste set, being a film fan would be tremendously boring. That even-keeled outlook on differing opinions can be soundly tested when the conversation turns to something like the Twilight franchise. These books, and their subsequent films, have achieved a level of popularity that has them hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of outright phenomenon. The only thing that rivals the fervor of its legions of fans is the vitriol spit by its innumerable detractors.
The typical approach taken by nonfans when writing about Twilight (and this writer is not exempt) is to take a position of snarky mockery, to crucify it for its faults and offenses or adopt the role of magnanimous martyr while sitting through a marathon of the existing films. But as the curtain draws to a close, supposedly, on this controversial film series, what becomes clear is that these sarcastic angles do little to foster understanding between the two polarized camps. What is the basis of the appeal of Twilight? To what do Twihards attribute their fandom?
Kayla, a 30-year-old teacher living in Austin, has been a Twilight fan since her sister first urged her to read the books. She's also a talented artist and a woman possessed by an extremely eclectic film taste. When the question of Twilight's appeal was posed to her, Kayla suggested that there are in fact three different subsets of fans here, all of whom latched on to the property at differing opportunities. The first group would be those who fell in love with the books, including Tarah Marks, who noted that her fandom existed "outside of the movies." Another source-material-focused fan, Tracy Howard Mewborne, said she would like the films more if they were more faithful adaptations of the books.
The second group started off enamored with the movies. Author and Oakland resident Sumiko Saulson (Solitude, The Moon Cried Blood) stated that she had not read the books, but has seen all the movies, citing her aversion to all young adult literature.
Finally, there is an entire faction of fans who have become swept up in the spectacle that now accompanies the release of each new film.
Kayla (who enjoys the books, movies, and the hoopla of each new film's opening, in many ways representing all three quadrants of fandom) classifies this third group as the ones who go to Hall H at Comic-Con, the people who get wrapped up in the drama of opening night. These are the people who place the most significance on the event; those who compete to be the first into the theater. The Alamo Drafthouse theater chain recently implemented assigned seating in their multiplexes. As Kayla points out, far fewer of the midnight showings of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 are sold out this year. She believes when your seat is assigned, the drama, the rush of competition to be the first inside and get the best seat, is eliminated. This experiential fandom to which Kayla refers is echoed by fans on Facebook. "Sharing the experience with my family has been the biggest draw for me," offers Megan Ealy, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Stanford.
As Kayla adeptly points out, as much as fans in this third group incur mockery and insult for dressing up and turning out in throngs to cheer on the movie on opening night, they are not terribly dissimilar to sports fans. That same elevated emotional state can be found amongst people who don jerseys and tee shirts of the objects of their zeal, and gather to watch grown men play a game. And yet, sports fanaticism is socially accepted, whereas Twilight fans are seen as somehow abnormal. Getting caught up in the intensity of other fans, being in fact a fan of the fandom, is another trait shared by those interested in sports and that third group of Twilight enthusiasts.
The easiest fallacy would be to assume that a majority of fans of this franchise are enjoying the films and or books ironically. The movies have earned a reputation for unrestrained schlockiness unseen since the days of Ed Wood. But does that really mean that most fans only go to laugh at the cheesy flaws? Sure, there are some who define their passion in this way. Johnathon Snyder, one of Twilight's elusive male fans, described them as "beautifully bad movies." Another fan, Twitter handle @ComicBookCandy, posed it rather appetizingly: "Most people will take a high quality steak over a burger any day. But sometimes, a Big Mac really hits the spot."
However, Kayla's fandom is not predicated upon irony. She legitimately likes these films. She recognizes the weaknesses, and even loves the Rifftrax lampoon. "There's critical good, and then there's what's good to me," she explains. Kayla's genuine appreciation is mirrored by that of Brian, a fellow blogger, who mentioned, "I liked vampire baseball. I wish the series had more of that using their strength to do normal things their way." Jessica Rhea Wyser, an academic Twilight fan whose studies include English Literature, French Culture, and History, took a special interest in the moral ambiguities of the characters, and suggests that these underlying moral complexities make a strong case for the story not being as one-dimensional as most think.
The romance at the heart of Twilight playing a major draw is less than surprising, but why do more mature women flock to these films about supernatural teenage romance? Kayla and many others note the relatable nature of Bella as a fundamental attraction. "She's an awkward girl no one is taking care of. She feels really alone," she remarked. "Bella is the awkward, misunderstand girl in high school that gets the unattainable boy, it's a classic fantasy for any age girl," added Karla from Indianapolis. Kayla also observed that Edward takes things slowly with Bella, and that deliberate courtship is something that actually appeals more to older women than to teenagers. Brian Collins, a writer for BadassDigest.com, added that the fact that Edward is a vampire also allows for the exploration of "the fantasy of being young forever."
One of the biggest complaints from detractors is that Twilight relies on classic horror tropes to tell its story, but then deviates so completely from much of the canon of its monsters. So obviously, it's only non-horror fans who enjoy Twilight, right? Evidently not. "I like them because they offer a different view of vampirism. They emphasize the romance, the beauty, but also the viciousness of the species," mused fan Valerie Sullivan. And Kayla is a lifelong horrorphile, but she is unfazed by Twilight's depiction of werewolves and vampires. "I've never been a stickler for the rules. As much as I love the Universal Monsters, I'm sad that those became the rules for those monsters. I thought it was really brave to change the rules of vampires." Even our own Matt Patches went so far as to call Breaking Dawn Part 1 "Raimi-esque" with its off-the-wall horror components.
Speaking with fans, it's clear that their interest in this franchise is not always as reductive as oiled young abs and sinful enjoyment of B-cinema. Their passionate, earnest reasons for counting themselves a part of this fanbase may not sway you to either Team Edward or Team Jacob, but at least the fandom no longer seems as frighteningly foreign.
[Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Apega/WENN; Andrew Cooper/Summit Entertainment]
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