The Twilight Effect

Last Friday night, I dragged three of my girlfriends out to the movies to see a little film called Twilight. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

If you haven’t, I will assume you’re either a shut-in or a male. After all, it was a 75% female-dominated audience that contributed to Twilight’s staggering $70 million opening weekend, a huge coupe for director Catherine Hardwicke and Summit Entertainment. To help put that figure in perspective, Twilight’s success ranks in the top 4 November box office figures of all time–ahead of summer blockbuster Transformers, and the latest James Bond flick . As it turns out, Twilight also boasts the highest ranking box office debut ever for a female director. Considering the economic crisis we’re supposed to be in, these numbers are even more impressive. So impressive, in fact, that Summit Entertainment has already announced plans to begin pre-production on Twilight’s sequel, New Moon.

But none of this news comes as a surprise to Twilight’s legions of diehard fans, whose fierce display of buying power previously helped propel all four books of The Twilight Saga onto the bestseller list, and keep them there, making author Stephenie Meyer a huge success. Even Eclipse, Meyer’s third book of the series, dethroned Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from the bestseller list.

But let’s back up to a few months ago, before I had so much as read a single page of this hugely popular series, before I saw the movie (twice), and before I knew I was on Team Edward, or that there even was a Team Edward. I remember casually surfing the interwebs, minding my business as usual, and coming across an occasional Twilight glimmer: a movie ad, a book review, some obsessed fangirl’s glittering “Bella ♥’s Edward” forum signature. It was easy enough to ignore–at first. But it wasn’t long before Twilight propaganda seemed to creep into every facet of every web site I ever visited. (My hat’s off to whomever is behind Twilight’s aggressive web marketing campaign, by the way.) So I guess it was inevitable that I’d eventually click one of the ads and watch the movie trailer, right?

My reaction went something like this:

  • That looks pretty cool, I guess…
  • And that vampire guy is pretty hot!
  • Oh hey, it’s Cedric Diggory from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
  • I’m a Harry Potter fan, maybe I’ll like this movie too?
  • And Paramore is on the soundtrack!? I LOVE Paramore!
  • November 21st? What a coincidence, because that’s the same weekend Half-Blood Prince was supposed to come out…
It was all over for me then. Well played, marketers.

The next thing I knew, I was headed for the local library to check out the first book, which I soon discovered was a complete impossibility. Checked out; on hold; back-ordered; transferred to another branch–every single one of the fifty-something copies fell into one of these categories. What was going on here? Why is Twilight so popular? Like many uninitiated fans before me, I set out to unravel this mystery. Hell, I thought, maybe if the books are that good, I should just buy them.

So I did.

And that’s how I discovered the secret sauce, if you will, of what makes The Twilight Saga so successful. The recipe consists of teen angst, sexual tension, impossibly good-looking main characters living impossibly idealistic lives, and a heavy dose of romance delivered to the sappiest degree possible. Simply put, these books are pure escapism. No real substance, but no real need for it, either. I could elaborate further, but I’ve already done that here, here, and here. Yet despite how unremarkable these books really are, I spent an entire week consumed by them. And I’ve already seen the movie twice. And I’m anxiously awaiting its sequel.

What the hell have I gotten myself into?