The year was 2008. Fresh out of a day during my first year of high school, I rushed to the closest mall in the hopes of scoring a movie ticket for the opening of Twilight. I was a tiny speck in the grand universe ruled by a sparkly vampire and his beloved, the new girl in town who every reader wanted to be. And I was no exception.
Bella Swan was their self-insert, factored by a number of things: the clumsiness and aura of awkward Kristen Stewart has perfected, and even her ambiguous brown hair. For this youth, Twilight was the perfect female fantasy—any one of them can have a whirlwind romance with a boy that’s like a Greek statue come to life, with a dash of adrenaline given that he could eat you alive at any moment. Like, literally.
Read more: 5 feminist films that subvert the male gaze
Back then, the phenomenon was in full swing. Twelve-year-olds wanted to drive Volvo sedans, civil wars were declared between the divide of Team Edward and Team Jacob, and discussions were held on the merits of having a name like “Renesmee.”
But as the Twilight craze rose to heights of popularity, so did those who attempted to knock it down. Men had comprised most of the vocal majority that expressed revulsion, to the point of protesting the franchise’s Comic Con panels. It was a downward slope from there, as Twilight was less of a pop culture celebration, and more of a literary-slash-cinematic laughing stock. Heck, even Robert Pattinson himself was part of that crowd.
Comic conventions were like boys only treehouses, and the arrival of Twilight was ruining their fun. The fact this series indulged young girls was a red flag in the sea of popular media catered to the male gaze.
By the time the backlash skyrocketed, my interest in the franchise dwindled until it transitioned to the same open hatred. Suddenly, I’ve opened my eyes to the faults in a series I used to adore. Twilight isn’t a literary triumph, sure. Its prose consists of a quotation dubbed as “the worst written line of all time.” The dynamic between Bella and Edward is questionable at best, and the trajectory of plot points are equally as bewildering.
Yet, in retrospect, I can’t help but consider how my knee-jerk reactions and insistence of how much I hated the series were shaped by the rhetoric that drove men to protest the franchise. Comic conventions were like boys only treehouses, and the arrival of Twilight was ruining their fun. The fact this series indulged young girls was a red flag in the sea of popular media catered to the male gaze.
“We’ve seen more than our fair share of bad action movies, bad movies geared toward men or 13-year old boys. And you know, the reviews are like okay that was crappy, but a fun ride,” Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg expresses in an interview. “…because it’s female it’s worthy of contempt. Because it feels female, it is less than.”
It isn’t just Twilight that deals with this. Boy bands have been subjected to a similar bias, simply because of the demographic they’re marketed to. Elvis Presley gyrated on stage and caused young women to titter and scream. Female inhibitions were unleashed, and soon Elvis was a threat for turning prim and proper girls into wild creatures. Decades later, the days of young Justin Bieber was met with mockery over a vocal range yet to break through the puberty barrier, alongside fans that were quick to jump in his defense.
For society, content for young women is synonymous to superficial commodities lacking merit, and that female interest should be suppressed as it’s unbecoming. For this, girls are shunned for what they want to like, and interest was only acceptable through a front of irony.
There’s a different appreciation for the series this time around, a safe middle ground where irony, nostalgia, and the acknowledgment of Twilight’s problematic aspects meet.
Now, fast forward to ten years later after the first Twilight was released. For the franchise’s tenth anniversary, Twilight was the talk of the online town as if it was ‘08. Over on Tumblr, blogs like @twilightrenaissance emerged for the occasional shitpost, mostly centering on why Team Rosalie was the superior choice, how the soundtracks are legitimately good (they are), and Edward’s weird thing for Bella’s khaki skirt.
That aside, there’s still the serious side to consider. Dr. Deana Dartt-Newton, curator of Native American Ethnology at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture discussed about the Quileute Tribe’s misrepresentation in the series.
The passage of time lets us see the series through rose-colored glasses, a retro filter which R-Pattz has talked about. There’s a different appreciation for the series this time around, a safe middle ground where irony, nostalgia, and the acknowledgment of Twilight’s problematic aspects meet.
Years after that opening day and my future heated tirade against the film, I find myself in that same middle ground. My 12-year-old self’s delight drawn from a piece of fiction isn’t worth dismissing, and I owe herself that. Twilight’s imperfect in a number of ways, but the excitement over it wasn’t one of them. For the rest of the world, it’s about time we let teenage girls like what they like—and this time, with no remorse whatsoever.
Art by Renz Mart Reyes