Maybe you don’t think of “Twilight” and “important” in the same sentence. But according to Tanya Erzen’s new book Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It, maybe you should.
Twilight fever seems to have cooled a bit in the last year or so. Whether that’s because it has run its natural course as the books and films wind to their conclusion or because Kristen Stewart notoriously cheated on Robert Pattinson is anyone’s guess. But the series remains one of popular culture’s greatest phenomena.
Why do middle-aged women swoon over Edward? Why might fans gather at conventions, start their own religion (“cullenism”), or become enmeshed in writing and reading fan fiction based on the series? The astonishing popularity this year of 50 Shades of Gray is a vavoomish case in point.
Fanpire argues that Twilight is worthy of study not only because millions of women have devoured the books like candy (BTW, according to Erzen, readers are 98% women and 85% white), but also because the books are “a rare example of popular culture written by and for women.”
Good point. That also explains why the series is so often sniffed at and dismissed.
The media doesn’t typically denounce men as "hysterical" when guys spend thousands of hours playing World of Warcraft or fantasy football; why are women singled out for ridicule? Erzen writes:
“Rather than dubbing these moments of hysteria or adolescent folly, adult women’s emotional responses to Twilight are an indication that they’re seizing something invigorating and emotionally cathartic from Twilight that is absent from the rest of their lives.” (41)
The question driving the book is: What do women find in Twilight that they’re not getting from their everyday lives?
It’s not just the predictable answer – romance – though that’s certainly present in the series’ popularity. Edward has become the standard some women use in evaluating men. (Edward, born in 1901, should be having his Bilbo Bagginsesque eleventy-first birthday right about now, even though Edward is so hot he would never have Hobbit hair growing between his toes.)
So if it’s not purely about romance, what is it? Erzen also sees a counterintuitive answer: female empowerment. She sensitively analyzes how Twilight – a series that many people, myself included, have criticized for its retrogressive gender roles – has also contributed to remarkable female bonding and belonging.