Twilight’s lasting impact on pop culture

Photo+courtesy+of+Summit+Entertainment

Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment

Julia Kim

The Twilight Saga” resurfaced into mainstream media once again, 13 years after its 2008 debut. The series made its way onto the top ten movies list of the popular entertainment service Netflix this past July. The film, which is an adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s 2005 book series of the same name, follows teenage outcast Bella Swan and her relationship with Edward Cullen, a vampire. The story focuses on the development of their relationship and the subsequent efforts of Edward and his family to keep Bella safe from a coven of evil vampires. 

The book-to-movie franchise was an absolute success, breaking box office records, with the sequel, “New Moon,”  having the biggest midnight screening and opening day in history, grossing an estimated $72.7 million.  Despite being released over a decade ago, “The Twilight Saga” continues to be a classic in American pop culture because of specific factors that allowed the movies to gain popularity from the 2010s to now. 

“Twilight” was introduced just as the Harry Potter movies were slowly coming to a close, greatly contributing to the series’ initial success. “The Twilight Saga” used the momentum of the young adult (YA) book-to-movie franchise of Harry Potter to become a dominant box office force but with more mature, alternative themes such as supernatural and forbidden romance. The supernatural genre also gained popularity in the late 2000s, as T.V. shows such as “The Vampire Diaries” (2009) and “Teen Wolf” (2011) were also aired at the time. These new genres of romance illustrate a major shift from their predecessors through their original depiction of beauty and love. 

The ‘90s to the early 2000s frequently used the “Ugly Duckling Transformation,” a trope that occurs when an “ugly duckling,” usually a girl, transforms into a “beautiful swan,” often with makeup, straight hair and no glasses in order to get the guy. This trope is included in movies such as “She’s All That” (1999) and “The Princess Diaries” (2001) with its iconic makeup montage in the first installment as an example. The “Ugly Duckling Transformation” in part stems from the objectification theory, in which girls are socialized to look at themselves through an observer’s point of view under a capitalist system that commodifies bodies into objects from a young age. 

Bella Swan acted as the juxtaposition to these chick-flicks, depicted as normal regarding her beauty and not undergoing any major changes in her appearance throughout the series. Her introduction was rather of a lonely young woman with no taste for fashion who’s said to be attractive in the first book, but in a strange, mysterious way. Having Edward, who is described to be quote “impossibly beautiful” in the first book, fall in love with Bella is an attractive fantasy, especially during teenagehood when relationships become increasingly complex. Still, it is a fantasy that often centers around a character’s proximity to whiteness and excludes BIPOC from the picture. Women and femmes of color are displaced from the beauty standard as a whole, as it is built upon eurocentric features; therefore, being considered beautiful in the untraditional sense is a concept that requires whiteness and only differs in the proximity of perfectly emulating those said features. 

“The Twilight Saga” was also introduced to mainstream pop culture, as social media platforms, including Tumblr (2007), Instagram (2010), and popular fanfiction sites, such as Wattpad (2006) and AO3 (2009), quickly took shape. Twilight sparked a massive movement with fanfiction as seen with published books in the market today often having origins as Twilight fanfiction. 

“Bella Swan is drafted in to interview the reclusive enigmatic Edward Cullen, multi-millionaire CEO of his company. It’s an encounter that will change her life irrevocably, leading her to dark realms of desire.” Sound familiar? The characters are the lovers in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, but the actual premise is that of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” written by E.L. James. The excerpt, originally titled “Master of the Universe,” was posted as part of a “Twilight” fanfiction on Fanfiction.net under James’ pen name “Snowqueens Icedragon” in Aug. 2009. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy went on to sell over 150 million copies worldwide by Oct. 2017. “Twilight” became more than just a book-to-movie franchise; it also became a creative outlet where fans and writers could expand and personalize the plot to their liking.

Social media created a virtual landscape where users were allowed to share everything they were doing and feeling. This system exposed the Saga to its primary audience of young teenage girls who, as a means of trying to cope with the patriarchy in the form of unchecked mental health issues, improper education on sex and drugs and navigation of queerness, often invested their fantasies of all-consuming love and devotion from a man into the series. With social media, the expression of the fandom was out on public display. YouTube videos, Tumblr blogs and Twitter accounts dedicated to the fandom created a unique network of young people who were obsessed with vampires and werewolves.

During the 2010s, one could open Tumblr and see it filled with pastel color-graded photos of medicine bottles, soft-focus pictures on bruises, images of crying girls with dripping mascara and tattoos always on pale skin. It was the acceptable place to post a melodramatic black and white photo with an equally dramatic song lyric over it. The platform is known for popularizing the quintessential sad girl aesthetic that unfortunately often displays glamourized images of self-destruction, depression, anxiety and abusive behavior. In many ways, Bella Swan and her relationship with Edward Cullen embodies these characteristics from Tumblr and vice versa. “The Twilight Saga” became increasingly mainstream just around the time Tumblr was at its height in 2011. It romanticizes the toxic age-gap of Bella and Edward, and popularized the series’ themes of loneliness, eternal love and self-destructive tendencies seen from both of them in the aftermath of their breakup. 

With the viewings once again peaking this year, many enjoyers of the movies continue to re-watch for the nostalgia of the 2000s it brings, indulging in the feeling of the first time they encountered a supernatural romance with a heroine they had yet to see before. “The Twilight Saga” overall arose in popularity and remains a classic in pop culture in 2021 through a well-timed release in the midst of a supernatural genre takeover and the expansion of Tumblr, Instagram, and Wattpad, which cultured a breeding ground for a vast network of content produced by dedicated fans.

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