TWSS Roundtable Presents: Let’s Talk about Twilight
Senior Editors, Kim and Rachel, are joined by TWSS Equality Officer and resident fangirl expert, Meg, and their flatmate, Ottilie, for a discussion about Twilight. Below is a transcript of the roundtable, which explores when and why their love for Twilight came about, portrayals of toxic relationships, how Twilight represented the first expressions of sexuality for so many young girls, and thoughts on the Twilight renaissance and discussions about nostalgia for what we used to love as girls.
First introductions to Twilight
R: My dad gave me the book and he had already read it. When I think back, why did he recommend that to me? But I loved it, so he did really well. I was probably 9 or 10.
K: My best friend introduced it to me when we were about 9, her auntie had lent her the first book and we read it together on the bus simultaneously. We’d wait until we’d finished the page to turn it together. Then I really wanted to watch the films but I was nervous to bring it up to my mum, but she actually suggested it to me that we could watch it together. We watched the first two together the summer before Eclipse came out [in 2010].
O: My sister who’s three years older than me was obsessed with it. We all had iPods and we downloaded the films there. I watched it about 30 times. She was obsessed with it but I wasn’t really. She drew the characters and she had posters on her wall.
M: I think I got the books for Christmas one year; I got the matching set after Eclipse came out. I watched the films after I read the books, I watched them with my dad at the cinema. He loved them, he really supported this passion. He liked that I was reading and I always had to read the books before watching the films in the cinema.
R: Same, I think my parents loved them.
O: I’ve never read the books, but my sister’s love for Twilight came from the books and I was introduced to it by watching the films.
M: I do think that when you read the books you become more obsessed and immersed.
O: When you’re watching the films you’re watching Bella do her thing…”Any cold wet thing” [laughs]. It’s like with Normal People; the book was so good and the series was pretty good, but you’re more immersed [in the book].
R: It’s like the Harry Potter books. All my dreams were in Hogwarts.
M: I felt that with Twilight; I was in Forks.
K: I was the same; I felt like I was in that wolf pack.
M: I do think that the people who read the books first were definitely more Team Edward.
K: I did both at the same time, but just really fancied Jacob.
M: Jacob isn’t given much of a chance in the books. I’ve been re-reading the books and Jacob’s a bit of a wet wipe in it; I didn’t like him then and I don’t like him now, even though if I could choose now I would choose Jacob because he’s much better looking. Like in the film he’s portrayed quite differently to how he is in the book.
K: The films skewed it for me; when I read the book I was thinking about the film and putting the character of the film in the book, because I really fancied him [Jacob] and I wanted to be his “loca”.
R: So gross…I would say that Jacob never stood a chance for me. Edward’s the only fully developed character and that’s the love story, and he’s just the one. In the films they have pretty equal screen time, but in the book it’s so obvious Edward’s the one. I do feel like we’re being really unfair on Jacob for being like 15 or 16 though.
O: There’s something mysterious about Edward. Jacob gives too much.
K: But he [Edward] watches you when you sleep!
R: Edward has hidden depths.
O: All girls want the chase, like they don’t want somebody being like ‘I love you’ all the time. Edward was always like, ‘get away from me, I’m a monster’ –
R: [Laughing] Yeah, I completely agree
O: But it’s actually fucked up. It’s presenting toxic relationships where you chase after a guy who doesn’t want you.
R: Do you think Jacob’s just too easy? Do you think if Jacob was more aloof Bella would be more interested?
O: Yeah maybe if he was a bit more of a mysterious wolf…with a moon.
‘Seeing’ ourselves as Bella
R: I definitely did [see myself as Bella].
M: When we were looking into it in more detail earlier, articles would refer to Bella as a ‘lonely high school girl’, and that’s exactly how I saw myself. I saw myself as so separate and no one really understood me. When I was like 13, I saw myself as so different from any other teenage girl. Like I was Bella.
R: Yeah, so true, it’s because every girl was ordinary and every girl did think she was something special.
O: Just to be different, I don’t think I ever did see myself as Bella.
K: Yeah me neither.
O: Yeah Kim saw herself as a Native American. She thought she was in the wolf pack.
K: I did! I thought they were Indian and when they would refer to being American Indian, I thought they meant my Indian; I was very unaware. And because they had brown skin… everyone else in Twilight was white! But also, I did think Bella was a bit of a bumbling mess.
O: Yeah there’s not much to her…I think I thought I was going to be with Edward, but I didn’t think I was Bella. Like he was with the wrong person. Bella was too plain Jane for me.
M: I think for me, it wasn’t like I was Bella, I could just see myself in her. Like I was, and probably still am, a bit of a plain Jane, but that she had all these guys fawning over her and she didn’t see it, and I thought, ‘what if that’s me?’ What if all these guys are actually in love with me and I just don’t know it?
O: At one point, people were cutting holes in their sleeves the way she did in that first scene in Biology class where she and Edward are mumbling about… what is it?
K: Oh yeah, anaphase.
O: [Laughs] Yeah anaphase and prophase. And she has her thumb through her shirt…I thought that was such a flex. I was trying to cut holes in my shirt to be like her.
Introductions to (toxic) relationships and sex
O: I’d only want to be her to be with Edward, like he’s so protective, when he comes round with his car when those guys won’t leave her alone.
R: [Sarcastically] Yeah it’s so romantic. Why was I like 10 years old and romanticising this? I definitely internalised a lot of this toxic relationship stuff, I thought it was so normal and romantic. I thought, because I was so young, that when I start going out with boys, this is exactly what it’s going to be like. I feel weird that my parents didn’t pick up on it, because they also loved it. But that’s one thing you come to realise when you grow up and you watch it; he was literally a hundred years old, watching her sleep. And he lies to her.
K: Jacob always told her the truth.
R: Yeah, justice for Jacob.
M: Edward only didn’t tell her the truth to protect her though…
K: That’s so toxic!
M: It is toxic, I see that now.
O: I think there’s two sides to it. One – guys should tell you the truth, like when they love you, but the other side is that it is toxic. Edward is so possessive; they both are really.
M: I do wonder if I only enjoyed the relationship, because…well I’d never read a romance book before and I’d never really watched grow up films that showed relationships like this, that it was my first introduction really into a relationship like that, so I just assumed it was a healthy relationship and that all boys should be obsessed with you to the point that they’d kill themselves if you died. Honestly, because it was so many of our first interactions with something like that, you just see it as normal. And so many books are like that, with the really passionate love story, because that’s what is sellable. You don’t really escape that until you start dating and realise that it’s nothing like that. And thank god it’s not, you wouldn’t want it to be like that.
R: I also think that in the books she has a lot more agency, like when you watch the films, she never really speaks. So, she’s just being swayed one way and swayed another. In the book, it’s all her internal monologue. She has a lot of thoughts and autonomy, but when you watch the films she’s just a bit wet.
O: Yeah, I just don’t feel sorry for her in the film because she’s such a wet. If I was with her I’d want to slap her. She’s a bit boring. But if I had more of an emotional connection with her as a character, I’d feel more emotional about how she’s being treated.
K: Yeah I completely agree, and as you were saying, Meg, Twilight is so many of our first introductions to sexuality and romance. Especially the third film and it’s all about Bella wanting to have sex with Edward and he wants to wait until they’re married, it’s kind of the first time we’re introduced to it in a way that leads up to it. We see them meet, fall in love, and get married. It’s quite interesting that so many girls are introduced to sexuality through fantasy and books and films.
Embarrassment and shame
M: This is something I’ve obviously done quite a bit of research on for my dissertation. Boys are naturally allowed, in society’s boundaries, to express their sexuality from such a young age through porn and masturbation and lusting over teachers and it’s a natural pace. It’s almost like if you’re a guy and you’re not taking part in things like that then you’re a weirdo. Whereas, girls at that age aren’t allowed to do that. You couldn’t talk about watching porn at age 13 because that’s not the done thing for girls. That’s why girls tend to obsess over things in a different way because that’s their form of sexuality. So things like One Direction for example, are a lot of girls’ love interests because they are not allowed to have physical love interests at that age. I do think that Twilight, because of the time it came out and how sexual it became, was so many of our first experiences of sexual expression. It’s quite interesting how so many of us still felt like we had to hide that. Like I was so embarrassed about reading Twilight at that age. I didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t something I shared loads.
K: All I did was talk about it [laughs].
M: But did you talk about it with other girls?
K: Well I went to an all girls’ school so it was kind of split between the ‘twi-hards’ (diehard Twilight fans) and the girls that hated Twilight. But it was almost an expression of being more grown up to enjoy Twilight, at least for me. It’s like those of us who started our periods early felt more grown up. I wasn’t embarrassed by it; if anything I thought it was more embarrassing to not like Twilight.
R: I had a completely different experience. I went to a mixed boys and girls school and I never would have brought up that I was reading Twilight.
M: It was exactly the same for me.
R: I just would have been ridiculed and rinsed, even by the girls too. So I never really spoke about it. But it was just embarrassing. I can’t pinpoint why, it was just so embarrassing. It was something that I would just hide. I never would have brought the book to school and read it in school.
O: I never read the books, but I never spoke about the film with anyone. Until now, because all of us love Twilight [laughs] and it’s so funny. But when I went to school, I never met anyone who was obsessed with Twilight, apart from my sister who was too obsessed with it; she would make drawings of Rosalie [laughs]. Yeah, I never really spoke about it until now with all of you.
K: How do you feel now that you can talk about it?
O: I think it’s hilarious to be honest. At the time, I don’t think you take it seriously, but you’re so immersed in the story, but once we look at it and think how ridiculous it actually is, it’s just so funny. And Bella as a character is quite funny.
The Twilight Renaissance and Nostalgia
M: I think so much of it is about nostalgia. Especially now it’s the perfect time to go back and reconnect with our childhood. We’re becoming a bit more proud of the things that made us who we are. I think for girls in particular, these hobbies and interests functioned to shape us into the women we are today. The reclamation is therefore quite nice. You almost give a nod to your younger self; it was right to be interested in that. I literally just re-read Twilight and I read it in three days. I just fell straight back into my kid-like reading where I would pick up a book and manically read it in a day or two. I haven’t been able to do that in years. Going back to these things almost reconnects you with your childhood. Especially now, we’ve all got our dissertations due soon, it’s quite nice to be able to step back and have that nostalgic moment.
O: It’s a comfort zone in a way. It’s like anything that’s nostalgic like Harry Potter. You want to watch it because it’s comfortable and cosy. Even though it is an essentially pretty crap story, especially compared to Harry Potter.
M: And this is the thing, like all the actors are pretty decent, it’s just Twilight has plagued them and Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart for so long haven’t been taken seriously. It all goes back to them being linked to girls’ interests which are typically devalued in comparison to others. People don’t take it seriously. Therefore, the actors associated with it aren’t taken seriously.
R: That’s so interesting and I think that it’s plagued Kristen Stewart’s career in a way that it fully hasn’t plagued Robert Pattinson’s. Even now, she’s Oscar-nominated and people are still adamant that she’s a shit actress, whereas he’s Batman and I don’t think people are thinking about it in the same way.
O: Another thing is that boys are so dismissive of it, like you’ll never meet a guy who enjoys Twilight.
M: You’d rarely meet a guy that would admit to seeing it.
O: They all shit on it so hard. But us about shitty action movies, we’d never hear the end of it. No one shits on their films the way they shit on ours.
K: Yeah I agree, but I also do think that Twilight will become a bit of a cult classic. Especially for our generation and we’ve gone back and revisited it. The blue tint of the first film is a whole thing…cinematic masterpiece. It was so pop-culture-defining. There really wasn’t anything like Twilight before, but there have been loads of things afterwards that have almost copied it.
O: I think also because so much of it was ordinary and normal life with this addition of fantasy. It felt normal enough that you could imagine being in it.
M: They captured it quite well. It was real enough that we related to it, but obviously wasn’t real because it was vampires and werewolves. But also it’s interesting what you said about how things have tried to copy it since. I watched ‘I am No.4’ which is the worst movie [laughs] and on Amazon Prime trivia facts it says that it was trying to be ‘Twilight for boys’; that’s what it was marketed as. But it never captured that audience. I don’t think anything has quite done it in the way Twilight has. There’s been so many other teen-centred films and series.
O: What about Vampire Diaries?
M: I just don’t think it’s the same. Nothing else has had quite so many die-hard fans.
K: Apart from Harry Potter, but the difference is Harry Potter does have a lot more substance.
O: Also though, like Orla was saying, it is like a timing thing. When you’re hitting puberty or just before then, the timing of watching Twilight works. If you watch it now and you’d never watched it before, you’d think it was shit. It’s a time and a place. It’s very reminiscent of that point in your life.
M: But another thing, I always found it so confusing that so many grown women were into it.
K: [laughs] Yeah my mum loved it.
M: It always confused me when I was younger; like I would think, ‘this is something I’m into, you’re thirty years older why are you into it?’
R: Yeah I only found this out today and I was wondering what they even see in it. Is it just as simple as a film where good things are happening to women?
O: Maybe it’s just romantic.
R: But it’s like a school romance.
K: My friend’s auntie was really attracted to Robert Pattinson and when she met my mum they spoke about Twilight, because me and her niece were obsessed. I remember my friend’s auntie told my mum that the perfect man would have Edward’s face and Jacob’s body. And Taylor Lautner [who played Jacob] was 16 in the first film. He was a teenager. Robert Pattinson, okay mid-twenties, but still. They weren’t talking about Carlisle or Charlie, they were talking about teenage boys. I think for the older women who were interested in Twilight, it was probably a bit of an escape, the way that we escaped upwards by thinking ahead – this is all to come. For older women, it was probably more of a ‘oh what could have been, if only I was this ordinary girl in Forks’.
M: How we’re now going through the renaissance and feeling nostalgic about it now, that could have been the preliminary attraction to them in the first place.
K: Side-tracking, but I think we should talk about the soundtrack too.
M: I do think the soundtrack was ahead of its time. If one thing about the first movie especially is timeless, it’s the soundtrack. It was so varied, and had something for everyone. [Laughs] and Kim’s playlist really encapsulates this.
K: [Laughs] thank you, thank you. Shameless self-promotion…but I would highly recommend it.
O: Yeah and the piano pieces, like Bella’s Lullaby. My sister started learning it and I learned it a bit last year too. Oh, and the fact that Edward could play piano was such a turn on! He’s quite mysterious and introverted.
K: I wonder if that’s what older women saw in it too, because Edward was so old-fashioned. He was quite traditional; it’s like this old romantic and idealised idea, way back when men knew how to romance women. Like he bought a whole bed when Bella was coming round to spend the night; he could’ve just bought an air mattress.
M: And also getting married before sex.
R: Yeah and maybe when you’re middle aged and your husband doesn’t notice when you look nice for date night, to imagine Edward jumping through the window just to watch you sleep in your pyjamas and wet hair, that must be so nice.
O: Would you rather ride a wolf or a “spider-monkey”? And Bella is a fisherman, because “any cold wet thing” equals fish.
K: Any final thoughts?
R: I love Twilight.
O: Guys should pine over you.
M: Did Twilight give us unrealistic standards of how much guys should fawn over us?
K: That’s probably the case.
R: Lots to unpack.
M: Twilight was a big part of my childhood and it’s nice to look back on it with friends because I never had friends who were Twilight fans.
K: I would say that Twilight was my everything awakening.
O: Get over yourself, you’re not a poet.
K: No, all jokes aside, I enjoyed it then, I enjoy it now, and I will probably force my children to watch it.
R: And they’ll love it.