Four years ago twilight, to many of us, may have simply meant a time of day. To others it was an increasingly popular series of young adult vampire romance novels. But on November 21, 2008 everything changed when the first Twilight film was released upon the American public. Actress Kristen Stewart was instantly much more than just the girl from Panic Room; her costar Robert Pattinson more than Cedric Diggory. The word "Twihard" entered the popular vernacular. We would eventually be forced to pick a team—Edward or Jacob—even though we had never read the books or seen the movies. (Recently asked that question in a bar, this writer asked if she could choose "team Andrew Garfield"—she was scoffed at.)
Neither the Twilight books nor movies have been particularly well-received by critics. So why are they such a sensation? The fans. Now that the last movie has been released, let's look back on this super-strain of fandom and memorialize some of its most important and ridiculous moments.
Behold early Twilight trend pieces from The New York Times. A piece published in August 2008 detailed release parties for the final book in the series, Breaking Dawn. The fan base is characterized as niche-y and the events declared Harry Potter festivities with a tween girl angle. Jump to November of that year and look at the piece titled: "The Vampire of the Mall." Now we're into Pattinson-related screaming, a broken nose outside a San Francisco mall, and Hot Topic.
Though TwilightMOMS.com was founded in 2007 by self-described "average wife/mom/adult" Lisa Hansen, media caught onto the bizarre phenomenon of middle-aged women just as obsessed with Edward and Jacob as their squealing tweens later on, around the release of second movie, New Moon. In 2009 Em & Lo at New York explored the world of TwilightMoms. What did Twilight bring them? The stories were a "how-to guide to romance" and though the books avoid sex until the final installment, they still, well, made sex better. There is, however, a dark side to the Twilight Moms—aside from people naming their children Cullen, that is. (Which, everyone, stop.) In 2010 the Los Angeles Times ran a story explaining how Twilight-obsession is akin to addiction. One woman explained that it was so all consuming it was straining her relationship with her husband, who had started writing poems about how his wife had "fallen for a 'golden-eyed vampire.'" Another woman said her 6-year-old son resented her Twilight-fandom.
Who had even heard of Forks, Washington before Twilight? Now the town, where the books take place, has been described by The New York Times as a "mecca for Twilighters, or Twihards as they are sometimes called." At the Lonely Planet, Pam Mandel described how the town has been transformed:
I had not been to this depressed logging town since long before Stephanie Meyer populated it with creatures of the night and emo teens. During my last trip through, the villain was the endangered spotted owl. ‘Save a logger, shoot a spotted owl’ and ‘This business supported by timber dollars’ have been replaced by ‘Team Jacob!’ Lumberjack plaid has given way to pseudo-Goth t-shirts featuring the airbrushed sulking faces of Bella and Edward backed by a silvery full moon.
In the Times article, published in 2009, Jane Margolies notes other locales that have borne the benefit of being associated with the series, including the shooting spots for the movies and Port Angeles, Wash. where Bella and Edward have their first date.
Twilight obsessions also manifested in some pretty odd novelty (or not novelty? We guess it depends on who you're talking to...) items. Take note of the Pattinson Panties via GeekStir:
There's nothing really more to say when you look at a picture of Robert Pattinson's angry, shimmer-y face staring out from the crotch of women's underwear, but we'll attempt to because the buck doesn't stop there. Meredith Woerner at io9 detailed "The Most Disturbing Twilight Products of All Time." Do not look at this doll unless you want to lose sleep.
Perhaps the ultimate Twilight fan, or at least the most viral has been a YouTube user who goes by nuttymadam3575. Nuttymadam3575 is actually Brit Emma Clark, whose overly enthusiastic videos chronicling her reaction to all things Twilight have made her a meme and have also drawn out the trolls who viciously commented on her weight.
That has not stopped her from continuing to be a rabid fan. Her devotion has paid off, even getting her recognition from her beloved Robert Pattinson. When news of the Robsten cheating scandal broke she posted a now infamous video expressing her disbelief and sorrow.
Fifty Shades of Grey
Fan and slash fiction now exists for most everything—honestly, we're still trying to get the images of the Romney-Ryan 'ships purged from our brains—but fanfic's heart still lies in the fantasy genre. So it's only natural that Twilight would stir the imaginations of would-be Stephenie Meyers. But we don't think anyone reading the frilly fiction in the early days could have predicted what a cultural force it would one day create. The Twilight characters stirred the dirty imagination of one E. L. James, who went on to turn her fanfiction into a BDSM romance (if you can call it that) series called Fifty Shades of Grey. Publishing blog GalleyCat did a study of the fan fiction origins of Fifty Shades, looking at James' Master of the Universe, which is now expunged from the web. The link to the first chapter of that novel included pictures of Pattinson and Stewart. In an "About" section James, who wrote under the name Snowqueens Icedragon, explains: "I started writing in January 2009 after I finished the Twilight saga, and I haven't stopped since."
Lining up is a hallmark of fandom of all kinds, so let us not overlook the hordes of Twihards that spent days camping out in the lead-up to premieres and conventions — including one Comic-Con when things turned tragic — to get a glimpse of Rob, Kristen, Taylor and the more anonymous hot ones. (Okay, whatever, their names are Ashley, Kellan, and the guy who was married to Jennie Garth.) Fans slept outside for four nights leading up to the premiere of the last film this past Monday. Amy Kaufman of the Los Angeles Times told the story of a man from Australia who worked overtime to send his wife on her "dream vacation"—to the premiere. The tent cities were a place free from judgment and are, as Kate Spencer at VH1 explained, a "a safe space to let your Twi-freak flag fly."
So where does it go from here? Twihards will surely remain, but they won't be sustained by their annual dose of big-budget excitement. Some will likely get riled up by the film version of Meyer's novel The Host, another story of forbidden love, this time in what is perhaps the next trendy genre for Y.A., sci-fi. Others will likely hold out for Twilight cast reunions. We don't believe the true fans will lose their passion, but the numbers might dwindle, and the gawking from media folks like us will probably stop as other curious phenomena arise. The true Twilight fans, though, will never die. Like Bella and Edward's love, they are forever.