Contemplating the Franchise, the Fandom and the Celebrity Juggernaut of the Twilight Saga

Curator's Note

One fascinating element of the Twilight franchise is the way that Summit Entertainment has so successfully cultivated a type of celebrity that conflates the beloved characters from the books and the actors who portray them in the films. Considering that a core demographic of the franchise is young girls, it is not surprising that a key marketing strategy was to plug the actors into the “teen idol machine,” capitalizing on the tendency of adolescent girls to idolize teen celebrities.

Psychologists recognize that developing a crush on a teen idol is a developmentally appropriate way for girls to acknowledge their emerging sexual feelings in a safe, non-threatening way. Teen idols project a rather feminine form of masculinity that is sexually non-threatening and thus accessible to young girls.

And Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward, is an ideal teen idol. First, he has “the lean body of youth” (Raphael, 2009, para. 2), and is described as “gloriously handsome” (Brown, 2009, para. 9). Additionally, in line with teen idols, he exudes “a tough femininity” (Raphael, 2009, para. 2). In interviews, he is endlessly self-deprecating, quite opposite to an aggressive masculinity that might be intimidating to young girls.

A central issue to the teen idol fantasy is the romantic availability of the teen idol. In the case of Twilight, fans generally accept Pattinson being off the market because it translates to the romance of Edward and Bella. I suggest that imagining Pattinson being romantic with Kristen Stewart, who plays Bella, is a way for fans to imagine their own love story with Pattinson; after all, many see themselves as every bit as average as Stewart’s Bella.

Incidentally, “Robsten” is technically rumor. Pattinson and Stewart have not confirmed the relationship, and Summit has remained silent. The unconfirmed nature of the relationship allows fans to imagine that the characters have a life outside of the text. Edward and Bella’s story is scripted; Robsten’s “story” is not. Rumors about snuggles in airports (E! Online, May 7, 2010) and love nests hidden in the woods (US Weekly, June 16, 2010) provide fans with extratextual information to continue their fantasies of Edward and Bella.

And this brings us to the fan-made video posted here, which features the astute detective work examining the facial expressions, the eye contact, and the physical touch that these two celebrities have shared in public. Set to the music of Jesse McCartney’s Tell Her, for fans, these visual cues serve as evidence of a tender, intimate private relationship. Tellingly, this video focuses mostly on Pattinson’s reactions to Stewart, rather than vice versa, which is all the better for the fans to fantasize about being in Stewart’s position.

What does this fan work tell us? In Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, and the Vampire Franchise, my co-authors and I report focus group and survey data that suggest fans’ connection to Edward, and by extension, Pattinson, epitomizes the conflicting needs of adolescent girls who have sexual feelings but are nervous about acting on them. Fans told us that Edward is a powerful exception to typical teen boys, who are often viewed by girls as only interested in sex. Thus, the fantasy that Pattinson represents provides a cultural breather for girls who realize that real boys will expect much more from them.

References

Brown, L. (2009, December). Robert Pattinson & Kristen Stewart’s wild ride. Harper’s Bazaar. Retrieved from http://www.harpersbazaar.com/magazine/cover/robert-pattinson-kristen-stewart-new-moon-1209

Raphael, A. (2009, May 2). Bloodsucker blues. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/apr/30/robert-pattinson-twilight-film

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