Like Edward, 'Twilight' Never Dies (But It Shows Up In Times Like Ours)
Move over, low rise jeans and middle parts -- it seems yet another quintessentially 2000's trend has found its way to the forefront of our pop culture lexicon – having an unconditional and irrevocable obsession with Twilight.
Although the embers of the once vibrant fandom were still aglow as the formerly beloved franchise reached its 10th anniversary in 2018, Twilight's journey back into mainstream relevance began in the nostalgia-heavy days of the pandemic, a phenomenon that compounded in early May 2020 when Stephanie Meyer, the novelist behind the series, made an unexpected announcement. A decade and change after releasing Breaking Dawn in 2008 – which was largely considered to be the series' final installment – a new novel entitled Midnight Sun would hit shelves on August 4, a retelling of the first book from the perspective of our favorite 17-but-actually-104-year-old vampire, Edward Cullen.
It was as if the announcement opened a portal back into 2008 – in the days following the Midnight Sun news, fans flocked to social media to declare their Twi-hard status. While some shouted their opinions on Bella, Edward, Jacob, and hell, even Angela, into the depths of the Twilight-loving Twitterverse …
… others revisited the franchise's tough relationship with race, including how the series perpetuates misconceptions about the very real Quileute Tribe and unpacking why Meyer chose to make Jasper a confederate soldier in his pre-vampire years.
Meanwhile, several influencers turned to the books and movies as a newfound source of inspiration in their various crafts, creating content including instructional videos on how to play songs associated with the movies, and makeup tutorials, detailing how us mere mortals can get the pale, sparkly, undead look of our favorite vampire family – all from the comfort of our quarantine bunkers.
Continuing throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021, the second coming of Twilight mania reached a fever pitch earlier this summer, after Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn parts I and II found a new home at Netflix in July, quickly ranking among the streaming service's top 10 most-watched offerings. A testament to the movies' nostalgia factor, the inclusion of now-A-list actors like Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in the early days of their careers, and inadvertently hilarious camp (looking at you, Chuckesmee) the new accessibility of these tween classics served as a much-needed source of comfort and escapism, helping fans detach from the ever-burning dumpster fire of life in 2021.
“… It was revisiting this unrealistic yet emotional roller coaster on Netflix that brought me and apparently many others back to simpler times,” USA Today's Jenna Ryu mused of rewatching the films on Netflix. "To when my biggest problem in life was Edward's near-death experience in ‘New Moon.’ Or when 90% of my thoughts were occupied by this series – so much so that I bought a life-size Edward Cullen cutout to bring the fantasy into my reality."
Yet Ryu is far from alone – since the film's successful streaming re-emergence, several young people – namely zoomers – have adopted a renewed interest in the series, a passion they carried to TikTok
Aside from breathing new life into the already popular Twilight corner of the app …
… the films' Netflix success seemingly helped skyrocket several related audios into virality, including an existing mix of Abba's “Chiquitita” preceded by Angela's saying "oh my God” as she realizes Bella and Edward are dating …
… and “Bella's Lullaby” which has already underscored more than 206,000 clips.
Yet in a very unexpected twist, the film franchises' fashions have also taken hold over the younger generation, launching a type of style informally known as “Bella Swan core.” The subject of TikTok style guides …
… and video lookbooks …
… The trend even made its way to Depop and other resale sites, where a search for “Bella Swan” will open a world of flannels, dark Hollister henleys, and Abercrombie babydoll tops, singlehandedly launching flashbacks of middle school dances circa 2008, a strange secondhand occurrence Business Insider's Caroline Haskins first noted earlier this month.
Strange zoomer fashion aside, the 2021 re-emergence of the series' popularity is also strangely allegorical -- an act of wishful thinking seemingly derived from the outcome of another existentially terrifying chapter in American history. When the first installment of the Twilight saga first hit theaters in late November of 2008, our nation – much as it is now – was plagued with uncertainty, despair, and hard-hitting existential quandaries as we navigated the early days of the Great Recession. Several major corporations like the Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual – once deemed too big to fail – went bankrupt. Unemployment was hovering near 7%, a figure that would steadily trend upwards over the next several months, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By the end of that year, 861,664 families had lost their homes to foreclosure – 1 in 54 households -- CNN Money reported at the time.
While we ultimately climbed our way out of the depths of the Great Recession by the early 20-teens, the future of the Covid-19 pandemic and its long-term implications largely remain a mystery. Since March 2020, the goalpost of when – or if -- we'll ever return to some semblance of normalcy has constantly shifted, determined by variants of the virus, ever-changing mandates, and the growing issue of vaccine hesitancy. As such, reminiscing on a nostalgic film franchise created amid a period of equal uncertainty can be reassuring, a manifestation of wishful thinking that the pain, suffering, and loss of the pandemic will soon largely come to an end just like the economic crisis of the late 2000s (well, for the most part).
Yet the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic aren't the only instances in which vampire stories have helped us collectively cope with widespread tragedy. We've long used undead-themed pop culture offerings to help us through trying economic times, according to Bitch Media's S.E. Smith, citing, among other examples, the popularity of 1931's Dracula during The Great Depression, the cultural dominance of Blacula and Anne Rice's iconic novel, Interview with the Vampire amid the economic woes of the 1970s, and how The Vampire Diaries and the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer emerged at the height of the recession in the early 1990s.
While some may argue that this regularly recurring vampiric trend could be a by-product of the ever-turning 20-ish year nostalgia cycle, Smith argues that in this case, correlation does equal causation, noting that the proverbially bloodsucking pitfalls of extreme capitalism have been compared to literal bloodsucking monsters since the early days of Marxism.
“Vampires really excel as a kind of mascot of unchecked capitalism,” Smith wrote of the phenomenon back in 2019. “In his 1867 pamphlet Capital, Karl Marx explicitly referred to capital as ‘vampire-like,’ able to survive only through ‘sucking living labor’ and growing stronger and more powerful with time. Since vampires were experiencing a cultural moment at the time — Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released 30 years later — Marx deliberately drew upon this metaphor.”
More recently, others have joined Marx in this scathing critique. In 2010, CNBC's Jane Wells noted how the recent financial events may be comparable to a vampiric encounter. “Though as for consumption and capitalism, one could argue that the housing collapse, stock market losses, Obamacare, bailouts, and unemployment have made us all feel bitten,” she wrote in an article discussing the sudden onslaught of vampire-themed IP entitled “This Vampire Thing is Getting Out of Hand."
So, folks, here's to Twilight – it may be cheesy and campy, but for better or worse, it's evidently here to stay – just like a gang of 100-something-year-old teens in Forks, Washington.