Anyone fortunate enough to have avoided their local cinema on November 20 did so for one good reason: TwiHards. Easily identifiable by their inextinguishable teenage energy, black attire, and choice of slogan t-shirt - Team Edward or Bite Me are popular choices - they are the new wave of girl fandom. For those who haven’t heard about the biggest teen book since the success of Harry Potter, Twilight (written by Stephenie Meyer) tells the story of Bella Swann, who moves to the small town of Forks, where she becomes inexplicably obsessed with quiet, pale, Edward Cullen. The only problem is that Edward is a vampire. The second installment, New Moon, sees Bella trying to cope after Edward and his family are forced to leave town following a blood-lust incident.
The Twilight saga isn’t the only fanged romance to get teenage girls in a fluster, as pop culture has seen an onslaught of vampire-themed films, books, and television shows. From Nosferatu through to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the vampire is no stranger to our screens. But unlike the sporadic peppering of un-dead cultural icons, Twilight has inspired an unstoppable production line of vampire products. In the literature trade, PJ Cast’s House of Night series and LJ Smith’s Vampire Diaries have profited most from the Twilight comparisons, both following a similar angst teen-meets-vampire dilemma. Smith’s volumes have been serialised on the small screen, just like the more adult adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries, now better known as the True Blood series. Anna Paquin plays the charming Sookie Stackhouse, who waitresses in small-town Louisiana, where vampires roam free to be gawped at and feared. Six Feet Under wonder-writer Alan Ball has brought sexiness and sleaze to the genre and has won numerous accolades. Popular teen author Darren Shan hasn’t escaped the adaptation race, as his film The Vampire Diaries has attracted Salma Hayek and Willem Defoe to the project. But it was the Swedish film Let the Right One In which surprised critics and pundits alike, with a tense and tender vampire romance between two young outcasts. Set in a dingy block of flats, Eli has just moved in next door to Oskar. Oskar is an introverted, lonely boy who is being picked on by the kids at school. He warms to Eli, who gives him courage to stand up for himself. When he slowly comes to understand the reason for her bizarre behaviour, he doesn’t let her taste for blood deter his affection for her, and together they try to survive their complicated lives. Let the Right One In is an eloquent, dream-like coming of age horror which demonstrates just what the vampire genre can achieve.
Twilight’s cultural value, on the other hand, has always been debated. There isn’t much doubt that Twilight’s gothic romance fails to match the long-lived praise of Wuthering Heights. That isn’t without trying, as Bronte’s classic has been re-released in the style of the Twilight saga books (with the imprint “Bella and Edward’s favourite book” on the cover). Twilight’s boy-band style adoration is impossible to ignore. Film hasn’t seen a female craze like this for a long time, if ever. Fans have even admitted to believing that vampires exist, and would happily give their lives for one. The Twilight romance is a fantasy - that such an unimaginably exotic creature could live amongst us in our banal lives, whether it is Edward or Jacob. Each man who longs for you is incredibly toned and beautiful, not to mention emotionally in tune to a woman’s needs.
The aesthetic merits of Robert Pattinson are not the only point of discussion. There are fascinating propagandist readings of the film. Bloggers and fans recognise writer Stephenie Meyer’s strict Mormon values as a metaphor in the film; Cullen’s abstention from human blood as abstaining from the temptations of pre-marital sex. Was this teen Twilight infatuation really Meyer’s intention? Given the conservative, de-sexualised Mormon attitude towards relationships, Meyer has spawned vampire-hungry teens obsessed with the unobtainable inspiration of Bella and Edward’s eternal lust. Surely such coveting is disapproved of, but conversely, Meyer’s narrative has encouraged it. You can now purchase the book Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality as part of Blackwell’s popular culture series.
It is incredible that a product as frivolous as Twilight has triggered moral philosophical questions more suited to a reading of Crime and Punishment. Is Twilight getting carried away with itself? It seems much more likely that the millions who have enjoyed the teen text have done so on a less challenging level.
But who am I to judge? Meyer really could be up there with the popular science greats, and Twilight the new Mormon gospel; we just don’t realise it yet. Whether that is the case, there is no doubting that Meyer has sparked life back into the un-dead cultural icon.