An author immerses herself in the frenzied fandom of Twilight, the young-adult vampire romance series that has captivated women of all ages
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer’s young-adult vampire romance series, has captivated women of all ages, from teenagers who swoon over the film adaptations to college-educated women who devour the novels as a guilty pleasure. All told, over 110 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide, with translations into 37 languages, and the movies are some of the highest-grossing of all time. Twilight is a bona fide cultural phenomenon that has inspired a vast and unimaginably fertile fan subculture-the “fanpire,” as the members describe it.
Just what is it about Twilight that has enchanted so many women? Tanya Erzen-herself no stranger to the allure of the series-sets out to explore the irresistible pull of Twilight by immersing herself in the vibrant and diverse world of “Twi-hards,” from Edward-addition groups and “Twi-rock” music to Cullenism, a religion based on the values of Edward’s family of vegetarian vampires. Erzen interviews hundreds of fans online and in person, attends thousand-strong conventions, and watches the film premiere of New Moon with Twilight moms in Utah. Along the way, she joins a tour bus on a pilgrimage to Twilight-inspired sites, struggles through a Bella self-defense class, and surveys the sub-universe of Twilight fan-fiction (including E. L. James’s enormously popular “Master of the Universe” story, the basis for her erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey).
Erzen also takes a deeper look at the appeal of traditional gender roles in a postfeminist era saturated with narratives of girl power. If Twilight’s fantasies of romance and power reflect the fears, insecurities, and longings of the women who love it, the fanpire itself, Erzen shows, offers a space for meaningful bonding, mutual understanding, and friendship.
Part journalistic investigation and part cultural analysis, Fanpire will appeal to obsessed fans, Twilight haters, and bemused onlookers alike.
“Tanya Erzen ventures into ‘the Twilight zone’ in this compelling and ultimately sympathetic foray into fan culture, exploring the appeal of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books and movies in a postfeminist age. Erzen argues that what fans do with a text is as important as, or even more important than, the text itself. Part Cinderella Ate My Daughter and part Reviving Ophelia, Erzen’s book is my own personal brand of heroin.” —Jana Riess, author of What Would Buffy Do? and Flunking Sainthood
“Tanya Erzen’s Fanpire provides a much-needed portrait of the girls and women who love Twilight. From how the series appeals to girls’ and women’s ideas of pleasure, power, and romance to the ways in which the love of these books has forged communities and friendships among women, Erzen’s window onto these subjects is both sympathetic and critical. Fanpire is sure to fascinate and, at times, trouble anyone interested in the lives of girls and women today.” —Donna Freitas, author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses
“In this carefully researched and insightful account of Twilighters, TwiMoms, WussPerv writers, and other participants in the Twilight universe, Tanya Erzen explores the complicated waterways of Twilight fandom. Listening and engaging with fans of all ages, Erzen’s account of the Twilight empire and the girls and women who love it opens up new ways of thinking about the gendered dimensions of romance, the persistence of the genre among female fans, and the perils and potential of online and offline female fandom.” —Carol Stabile, author of White Victims, Black Villains: Gender, Race, and Crime News in US Culture
“The Twilight phenomenon is too vast and strange to be ignored. Tanya Erzen digs deep into the fandom and finds the confused, the grasping, and even the self-assured among them. It’s always odd, like a horror book should be, but never boring.” —Amanda Marcotte, author of It’s a Jungle Out There
In the convention hall, there was talk of the exceptional ideal of Edward Cullen and then the rest of mankind, who more closely resembled Bella’s hunting, beer-drinking, emotionally absent father, Charlie. I heard descriptions of Edward as attentive, a gentleman, and a throwback to another era (when presumably men treated women better and were self-deprecating and protective). And not only does Edward possess eyes of “liquid gold” (Eclipse) whose gaze could make Bella light-headed and “a face any male model in the world would trade his soul for,” he also announces his feelings with a combination of romantic metaphor and smoldering innuendo:
Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night, very dark, but there were stars--points of light and reason. . . . And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty.
He also tells her, in the first Twilight film, “You are utterly indecent--no one should look so tempting, it’s not fair.” After a long day, the idea of experiencing liquid eyes and being compared to a meteor was immensely appealing to the women in the convention hall.
Jessica, acting director of Events by Alice, was willingly offering a refresher course on romance for men:
Open the door for a girl, let her know that you think she’s the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. Give her a flower unexpectedly, touch her hair. She buys that certain kind of conditioner because she likes the smell. She wants to be recognized, and you can stop for two seconds in your life and say, “Oh you look nice.” If they could pause and take those lessons, it’s guaranteed the woman they are with, the wife they have, the girlfriend that they have, [she] would be satisfied.
Many women at the premiere commented that Edward never dis- appoints, unlike some oblivious husbands to whom they’ve been married for ten or twenty years. The event presumed that all women were saddled with good but inattentive men like Charlie, who were oblivious to perfume and poetry, much less declarations of love and meteors.
Despite the supernatural aspects of the books, the set-up of the convention hall, the site of the pre-screening festivities, promoted the idea that most men prefer sports, hunting, and motorcycles to romantic vampires and the women they love. “Charlie’s living room,” occupying an entire corner of the hall, was an exact replica of the place where Bella’s father watches sports on TV in a Barcalounger. The organizers had included small touches like his hunting rifle and favorite brand of beer resting next to the couch. Another scene featured a motorcycle and a rack with various greasy tools for fixing bikes in homage to Jacob Black’s garage. If any husband had accompanied his spouse to the event, these spaces were meant to ease his discomfort with the more feminine aspects of the Twilight saga.
The women in Utah talked as if the men in their lives were less Edward and more Charlie, a man too zoned out on fishing and watching football to notice that his daughter is dating a vampire and, later, becoming one. In New Moon, even when Bella experiences what she calls the worst night of her life, sobbing in her room until dawn because Edward has dumped her, she knows Charlie won’t disturb her because of his “fear of emotional outbursts.” He’s harmless and hapless, easily distracted and manipulated. What is lacking in these women’s marriages is much simpler than a deficiency of poetry or chivalry: there seems to be sometimes a scarcity of communication and support.
Tracie Lamb, writing in a special issue of Sunstone, a progressive Mormon journal, explains that Twilight delivers to women what they may lack from husbands: rapt attention, strong protection, and total devotion.7 In Twilight, Bella recalls spending time with Edward like this: “I couldn’t remember the last time I’d talked so much. . . . But the absolute absorption of his face, and his never-ending stream of questions, compelled me to continue.” Of course, not all men are inept conversationalists, but the consensus of the women I met was that some were prone to talk only about themselves and were clueless about romance. Lamb writes, “Edward is the romance master, guys. Learn from him.”
Paige, in her early thirties and dressed in retro-1940s vintage heels with her hair pinned up and wearing bright-red lipstick, was the only divorced woman I spoke with at the convention hall. Her criterion for romance had been downgraded to finding someone emotionally supportive who would stick around if things weren’t going well, like losing a job or having a miscarriage.
In a few exceptional cases, there was the man who wholeheartedly embraced the Edward archetype, intent on rekindling romance from its neglect. Kim, a self-effacing thirty-year-old with freckles and ponytailed hair, was responsible for the impressive array of crafts for sale. Her husband delighted in Twilight and even listened to all the books on CD. In August 2009, Kim secretly packed his suitcase, rented him a tuxedo, and recruited a friend to drive him to the air- port where she surprised him with a ticket to Dallas for the three-day TwiCon convention that I had attended. He gamely accompanied her to the Saturday night vampire ball and various TwilightMoms special events like an exclusive dinner with some of the film’s actors. Even he had his limits, though. One night as they lay in their bed with a giant framed poster of Edward (or, rather, Robert Pattinson, the brooding actor who portrays Edward in the films) over them, he jumped up, tore it off the wall, and hid it in the closet. “That’s it,” he said. “Edward’s not watching us sleep anymore.” (“Watch Me Sleep, Edward” is a popular slogan on fan t-shirts in reference to the fact that Edward slips into Bella’s room at night without her knowing.)
One man in his mid-thirties from Utah keeps a blog entitled Normal Mormon Husband, where he bemoans the fact that so many LDS women, including his wife of twelve years, have read the books and hanker for a husband like Edward or Jacob. The popularity of the sticker that reads, “I like my men cold, dead and sparkling,” indicates the prevalence of this sentiment. Dispensing Twilight wisdom for “dummies and guys,” he provides quotes for men to use if they haven’t read the books but want to sound as if they have. “If she thinks that you drive too recklessly: Honey, please trust me as much as Bella trusted Edward when he had to break all known traffic laws to get her out of Forks and away from Victoria. If he can drive Bella’s pickup truck that recklessly, then I should be able to steer with my knees while texting with my right hand and using my left hand to hold my Slurpee.’ “ When a woman says she’s cold, he responds, “My body always feels cold to the touch . . . kind of like Edward’s.” “You can then raise your eyebrows like Magnum, P.I., flex your pecs, and put your arm around her,” he advises. Finally, he urges married men to showcase their bonds of eternal marriage as members of the Church in an anniversary card that reads, “I am eternally grateful to know that we can be together forever. I am even more grateful that I did not have to sink my vampire teeth into your neck and suck out all of your blood to make it happen.” Rather than seriously emulating Edward, he tells his readers, “Edward is just as flawed as the rest of us guys out there. Ladies, you can look all you want and you will never find perfection in a man.”
Even Edward can’t live up the ideal of Edward. There was an Edward impersonator, the son of a volunteer, with a boyish, pallid face mingling with women in the hall. Attendees could corral him into one of the photo booths featuring backgrounds of scenes from the film, if you could get to him amid the competition. Earlier, I’d met two women who gushed that they had dragged the Edward impersonator into the booth with them as they clutched ten photos as prizes. I had noticed the fake Edward become increasingly standoffish and grumpy as the night progressed, and, at one point, the crisis for Jessica and the other organizers was that he was missing in action, much to his mother’s chagrin.
Introduction: Welcome to the Twilight Zone
Chapter 1: I'm in Love with a Fictional Character
Cheat Sheet: Twilight
Chapter 2: Sparkle, You Fool, Sparkle!
Cheat Sheet: New Moon
Chapter 3: Families That Prey Together, Stay Together
Cheat Sheet: Eclipse
Chapter 4: The Forbidden Fruit Tastes the Sweetest
Cheat Sheet: Breaking Dawn
Chapter 5: Where to Spend Those Twilight Dollars
Afterward: The Fog of Twilight
- Read an excerpt of Fanpire on The Chronicle Review with a subscription
- Click here to read a write-up on the blog Things Mean a Lot
- Click here to read a write-up from the Flunking Sainthood blog hosted by Religious News Service
- Clickhere to read an excerpt from Fanpire on the blog, Women and Hollywood
- Click here to read a blog post by Erzen on Feminism and Religion
- Click here to read a guest blog post by Erzen on Bitch Flicks
- Click here to read a guest post on Fangtastic Books
- Click here to read a guest blog post on Everyday Sociology
- Click here to read an interview with Erzen in "Does Twilight Really Ruin Real-Life Romance?" in Time
- Click here to read an article by Erzen, "Thank God It's Over: An Elegy for Twilight" in Bitch Magazine