It’s a popular trend on social media to dig up cult classics and reinvestigate them through a more modern lens. Jennifer’s Body, while widely considered a commercial flop upon its 2009 release, is now being hailed across Twitter as a feminist beacon ahead of its time. Legally Blonde (2001) is no longer just a cheesy rom-com after multiple viral tweets praising Elle Woods’s intelligence, confidence, and relentless drive. Amidst the ongoing discourse on discovering previously unmined nuance in 2000s blockbuster releases, one series that continues to occupy significant focus is Twilight.
Twilight was a worldwide phenomenon right from the release of the books penned by Stephenie Meyer. It single-handedly revived the vampire craze in mainstream media, inspired a significant spike in the number of YA supernatural romance novels and series being published, and forced millions of fans to make or break friendships based on the all-important question of Team Edward v. Team Jacob. Movie adaptations were announced, and the casting for lead characters Edward and Bella was probably the most publicly and closely scrutinized industry process of the decade. The first instalment in the series was released in 2008, and it gave us a real-life celebrity romance (Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart), a killer soundtrack (“Decode” by Paramore continues to be THAT song), and a frankly ludicrous and yet enduringly iconic baseball scene. (We’ve all tried to pitch like Alice Cullen does. Why even deny it?)
Few franchises have managed to become as big while receiving as much negative criticism as Twilight. Many people slammed the series for being “lame” and “cheesy”—bad acting, lousy storyline, terrible visual effects. Several accused it of being sexist and/or misogynistic—typical damsel in distress sits around all day torn between the affections of two men. It eventually got to a point where it seemed like everybody was either irrevocably in love with Twilight, or hated it with a vindictive venom. You were either Team Twilight or Team Burn It With Fire And Cast It Into Hell. We all know at least one person who’s described feeling like they had to hide their love for the series or face negative judgement from people around them.
Thanks to the current trend of reinvestigating pop culture classics, several pro-Twilight arguments have popped up in recent years, many of them fast becoming popular on social media. People are admitting they loved Twilight but used to pretend they didn’t. People are admitting they hated Twilight, but only because they never really gave it a chance. The general consensus for many seems to be this: hey, Twilight‘s not THAT bad.
But here’s a hot take: the Twilight Is Not That Bad argument…isn’t it.
Look. Twilight IS bad. It just is! The acting is bad. Stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart have expressed hatred for their own series multiple times. The storyline is bad. Bella spends all of New Moon doing nothing but pining for Edward and trying to get his attention. The visual effects are terrible. That CGIed baby from Breaking Dawn — Part 2 still gives folks nightmares.
Unlike with Jennifer’s Body and Legally Blonde, the injustice in how Twilight was received and treated a decade ago lies not in a mistaken measure of the series’ quality, but in the reaction to the series.
Contrary to popular belief, the Twilight fandom isn’t made up of brainless airheads. Several Twilight lovers knew Twilight was terrible. But here’s the thing: they didn’t care. Because, spoiler alert, people are allowed to like things that are bad.
The Fast & Furious movies were, objectively speaking, monotonous and repetitive. Every single installment is about fancy cars and cool car tricks and wild car chases and tight car formations, and it took them five whole movies to introduce any real depth or substance…but no one seemed to mind that much. Fans loved it, and everyone else just let it exist without fuss.
Twilight was (and still is) widely disparaged for its use of “unhealthy tropes,” but when male writers and filmmakers utilize these same tropes for male characters, they become “deep” and “artistic.” Nobody complained about insta-love in A Star Is Born (2018), or the extended lovelorn brooding in Her (2013).
When it comes to media made for a predominantly female audience, so often criticisms lobbied about it being toxic, unhealthy, or a “bad influence” on young girls has so little to do with actual concerns about moral repercussions of the media, and much more with infantilizing or belittling female audiences and reinforcing a gilded cage mindset on girls and women. Case in point: the Jennifer Lawrence-led spy thriller film Red Sparrow (2018) was largely well-received, even though it’s about a woman becoming just as violent as her male abusers and oppressors instead of setting herself free from a cycle of abuse and oppression. Also, torture porn.
Here’s the bottom line: All this “concerned criticism” has nothing to do with “good female characters.” It has everything to do with the male concept of what a “good female character” should look like.
Most films known as cult classics are straight-up bad. So many movies by male filmmakers, in general, are also bad. Why are those movies and franchises allowed to have big followings and passionate fans without constantly getting spat on by the rest of society?
So, yeah, maybe Twilight IS that bad. But when you’re criticizing Twilight or any other piece of media made for a female audience, first think hard about where that criticism is coming from and what it’s based on. Women are capable of thinking for themselves. We don’t need to be guarded with a moral chastity belt. Like what you like, dislike what you don’t, but if you feel an unequivocal need for others to agree or disagree with you, examine that instead. Media can be appraised with a critical eye without carrying some holier-than-thou condemnation.
By Melissa Lee