Why we still love ‘Twilight’

By Hadera McKay, Opinion Editor

Why do the Twilight movies make us so intensely, undeniably uncomfortable? 

Is it because we are instantly shown a problematic love story between an abusively gas-lighting 107-year-old horny vampire and an emotionally starved white 17-year-old pick-me girl? Or maybe it’s the Mormon undertones in Stephanie Meyers’ fictional crusade to address the criticisms of Mormonism by atheists. It could even be Taylor Lautner’s shady distant claims to Indigenous ancestry after landing under fire for his portrayal of Jacob Black, a fictional member of the very real Quileute Nation in La Push, Washington. 

If you think about it hard enough (and even if you don’t), there are plenty of reasons why the “Twilight” movies should be locked up in a vault somewhere never to be seen again or censored on every six year old’s Netflix for fear of their instant cultural corruption. However is this heaping literary indulgence of vampire sexual fantasies turned movie adaptation appealing because it is just that, bad? 

A better question to ask ourselves is: why do we love the “Twilight” movies so much? 

It seems for Gen-Z, the appeal of these films might just be their ridiculousness. It may sound outlandish, but maybe the unnecessary use of demon babies and beef with tyrannical vampire governments in order to move a plot forward is exactly what makes these films so appealing. 

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It’s been 13 years since the final movie’s release in 2008 and 16 years since the first book’s release in 2005, yet on the first week of Netflix’s roll-out of the entire saga, all five movies occupied the top slots on Netflix’s top ten most-watched list for weeks this summer. 

As a result, our timelines and TikTok For You pages were clogged with endless content creators mimicking Bella’s absurd pick-me mannerisms, Jasper’s unnerving bloodthirst, and Alice’s pitch at the family baseball game from hell. 

In the same way that we’ve always done, we Gen-Zers found a way to make self-deprecating, self-aware content about the things we used to love when we were younger, while simultaneously loving and appreciating that content for what it was (much like I’m doing now). Even more, we’ve found a way to bring all of its cultural relevance to the surface once again, so that no generation will be without the experience of watching Hollywood actively bring Taylor Lautner from a nay with a bad lace front to a hey with some oversexualized shirtlessness. 

When “Twilight” first released, its fan base was a combination of white middle-class women who saw Edward as their “safe character” to fantasize about in front of their husbands and young impressionable women (like myself) who probably had no business watching it in the first place. Clearly, the final movie proved to be our last straw, though, because after that, “Twilight” was universally considered bad in every way. Now, I kind of feel like the sheer insanity of its conception is what makes it so maddeningly lovable. But how exactly did we get here? 

From the cultish mania of vampires versus werewolves and Edward versus Jacob to TikToks of fashion bloggers boasting wardrobes inspired by Alice? How did these movies go from fanatic, to objectively bad, to fanatic again? 

If you don’t know by now, “Twilight” started out as a popular Young Adult book series written by Stephenie Meyer. Meyer was the catalyst for successful paranormal Young Adult romance, and subsequently, the beginning of young women-centered fantasy and modern romance stories (*cough* “Fifty Shades” trilogy *cough*)

When Summit Entertainment obtained the film franchise, they treated the first movie as if it would fail. Primarily because the plot followed a young woman with agency, which hadn’t proven successful yet on the big screen (not because they knew it wouldn’t, just because they hadn’t actually tried).

They hired Catharine Hardwicke, who reworked the script and cast who we now know as two of the most legendary characters of our generation, Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson (or Daddy Patti as I affectionately call him) as Edward Cullen

Just a few weeks before production began, Summit forced Hardwicke to cut $4 million out of the budget in four days. I’m sure all those shallow camera close-ups, hilariously choreographed action sequences, and the pukey bluish gray-green movie filter all make sense now. 

Nevertheless, Hardwicke prevailed, delivering the movie that ultimately led to the YA book-to-movie adaptation pipeline of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. “Twilight” grossed $69 million in its opening weekend and $393 million worldwide. 

For the first time, books and movies with young female-centered storylines were actually dominating cultural consumption. And just like that, the successful beginning of the film franchise was handed over to male directors for “New Moon,” “Eclipse,” and both “Breaking Dawns.” All five films have made over $3 billion worldwide. 

Where does that leave us? Somewhere between staring longingly at Carlisle (arguably one of the top three hottest Cullens, get it right), loving Rosalie for talking her shit at Bella’s dumbass, and screaming at the top of our lungs at Alice saving the day every. Damn. Time. 

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of a “guilty pleasure.” Why should I feel guilty for liking something just because no one else likes it or considers it a cinematic masterpiece? What I like about Gen-Z is that no matter what, we always find a way to laugh at ourselves. We can poke fun and consume mindlessly, but we also have the capacity to recognize the absurdity of it all. 

We can laugh at Jacob literally laying a wolfish romantic claim on little Nessy before she’s even out of the womb yet while writing Tumblr analyses on the abusive dynamic of Edward and Bella. We can comically remark on the failures of the police department of Forks, Washington (if the number of unsolved murders ruled as “animal attacks” in Forks isn’t parallel to the failures of America’s justice system I don’t know what is), while also ogling Charlie. We can pine after Jasper (a literal confederate soldier at the time of his turning) and Alice’s relationship while also honoring the truth and proximity of Rosalie’s trauma. 

And maybe this, above all, is why we love “Twilight”—because it is a convergence of everything we’ve learned, done, and wanted. It is not only our problematic love of toxic relationships but also our awareness of the fact that they’re toxic in the first place. It’s growing up and learning new things and recognizing both the good and the bad in what you love. It’s turning on “Breaking Dawn Part 2,” watching the moment Alice wipes the floor with the Volturi, and knowing deep down that at this moment, this is your very own cinematic masterpiece.