Effervescent: Rediscovering The Bizarre Joy of Twilight in 2020

I was standing in the middle of the Forks, Washington visitor center, looking around at the room that time forgot. Every corner had something. Cardboard cutouts of Taylor Lautner, his arms stretched open for a hug. Edward Cullen’s face leering from a poster next to the bathroom. Stickers that read FORKS BITES. Postcards with heart-shaped blood drops on them. Boxes of Immortal: The Twilight Perfume.

I knew what I was doing when I stopped to pee in Forks. There was a red pickup out front with a license plate reading Bella and a vampire sign in the window. And yet I couldn’t help but pull up short and stare around at the room in shock and awe, completely unprepared.

“Wow,” I’d said. “This is a lot of Twilight.”

It ranks as probably one of the top ten most stupid things I’ve ever said in my life. It was followed by an immediate, gut churning, insistent need to let the woman working the desk know that I was there to pee. Not to look at Twilight cardboard cutouts. I was a cool kid. I was interested only in relieving my bladder, not reliving my teen years.

I bought a FORKS BITES sticker along with a map of the Hoh rainforest on my way out.

It was for a friend, I told the woman at the front desk. She’s a big fan.

Forks, Washington

***

This year of strange occurrences, of unknown factors and unprecedented times, has brought forth probably the unlikeliest of all events.

I’ve gotten really into Twilight.

I still don’t know if I’m “into” Twilight or if I’m just enjoying the absurdity of enjoying Twilight, but the two things look very similar. I started a Twilight book club. I am brainstorming a podcast with a friend as I write this. I’ve been arguing—sincerely, whole-heartedly—that Breaking Dawn Part 1 is actually a baller film. And when I found out that Midnight Sun—the long-awaited Edward POV book that I had barely been aware of twelve years ago but which apparently has a mythos of its own—would be released this August, I spent two hours to texting everyone I know.

Is the book going to be bad? Almost certainly. Am I going to read it? Hell yeah.

Like Bella, I can’t help but feel that none of this would have happened if I hadn’t gone to Forks.

The plan to visit the Olympic Peninsula was in no way related to Twilight. It was after I’d discovered the delight of internet memes, but before I’d downloaded the audiobook. A happy collision of work opportunities, an influx of cash, and an impulse took me to the West Coast for the first time ever for a break-neck, four day road trip around the PNW. I knew we’d be passing through Forks, knew we’d be staying in Port Angeles, and it had made me laugh.

“What Twilight swag do you want me to bring back?” I’d asked my friends, in that way that I was joking and they were joking but none of us were actually joking because we don’t like Twilight, even if, as we got older, we were realizing it’s just a book, and a relatively harmless one at that, and isn’t it so shitty that everyone mocked teen girls (/women in general) for being into it when there’s nothing wrong with young girls being feral and also reading is cool?

Forks was really just a blip on the map of the trip. A laugh, but something I didn’t think twice about—not when there were mountains and fog and trees so green it made me want to cry. The urge—the interest—to seriously revisit the books didn’t hit me until I was driving up Route 101 (passing through towns called Beaver and Sappho) on my way to Cape Flattery. It’s on the Makah Reservation, and you have to buy a permit to drive through the tribal lands to get to the place where you can hike up to the point and stare down at the sea below. It’s a stunningly gorgeous area, and one of the best hikes I’ve ever done in my life, and it’s so close to Canada that your cell service cuts out and your data disappears and you have to rely on whatever radio station you can pick up—be it American or Canadian.

That’s when I heard it. 96.7 Twilight F.M. The Forks radio station.

I nearly crashed the car. Twilight, to me, was something that existed in the weird hazy cloud of middle school and repressed memories. It was dated and dusty. It wasn’t something that had lasting impact—certainly not lasting enough to name a radio station after.

“But it’s Twilight,” I’d said. “Do they really care that much?”

That was the night—after we’d hiked to the end of the world and I’d gotten soaked to the bone staring at trees and then soaked again while trying to get a picture of the road sign that said “Sappho”—that I’d gone back to my rental house in Port Angeles and looked at the well-stocked DVD library and wanted something to zone out to.

“Do you want to get drunk and watch Twilight?” I’d asked my partner.

And so it began.

***

Twilight is not a good movie, but it’s a reliable one. There’s something about the low budget and absurdly washed out hues, mixed with one of the best cinematic soundtracks and garnished with Robert Pattinson’s perpetually pained expression that makes Twilight fall under the “easy watching” category. You don’t have to be a fan of the books and franchise to appreciate the insanity of the baseball scene. It’s a movie I’ve watched a lot over the years, because it doesn’t require any concentration or interaction whatsoever.

Eclipse is not a good movie, but because I’ve never rewatched it, I’d managed to forget that, along with the entire plot.

New Moon is just on a whole other level, and I think I’d blocked the entire book and movie from my mind.

Breaking Dawn is an article of its own.

I think it’s actually better to be an adult in the year 2020 going into the Twilight franchise with only the barest and fuzziest of memories, because then you get to experience the insanity of the Edward hallucinations and the CGI wolves and Bella’s crippling clinical depression for the first time. You’re forced to reconcile Good Omens Michael Sheen with Twilight Michael Sheen. You have to sit there while your 2020 vision puts an uncomfortable lens on the werewolf creation myth and treatment of the Quielute tribe, and leaves you wondering what child labor laws allowed Taylor Lautner to be stripped down and fed to us as a sex symbol. You get to watch the absurd toxicity of Edward and Bella’s relationship with the clear eyes of someone who survived puberty, and you can almost write the script yourself using lines from every dating horror story you’ve ever heard.

And yet.

***

I’m not alone in returning to Twilight. The Twilight renaissance is a much-documented phenomena that popped up on the internet in 2018 to coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the movie. As far as I can tell, the resurgence started with the now infamous snail meme. It’s impossible to describe the snail meme. If you know, you know. If you don’t, there’s nothing I can do to explain it. Much like the rationale behind why Twilight is having a comeback, it’s hard to conceptualize—though not for lack of trying. Writers across the internet have asked why. Why this? Why now?

Why not?

There are a lot of answers to the question, I guess. Perhaps it’s because the lesbians adopted Bella and introduced us to an entirely new world of Twilight memes. Maybe it’s because we all realized that we universally bullied a woman who just dared to write badly about her weird dreams. Possibly it’s because J.K. Rowling has shit the bed so badly that Stephanie Meyers looks great in comparison. Or, maybe, it’s because the reality of life, 15 years after Twilight hit shelves, is so fucking bleak that rainy Forks and a blue-balled vampire seem light in comparison.

(Maybe it’s because we’re all old enough now to admit that Kristen Stewart is hot, and half of us had crushes on her. Maybe it’s because lots of us still do.)

And in this time of quarantine, maybe it’s because we all need a Spanish flu survivor to help us get through.

***

I’m not sure why I’ve refound this franchise. It’s not really nostalgia for me, because I never really had a Twilight “phase” as a kid. I was 13 and 16 when the book and movie came out, respectively, which means I was exactly in Stephanie Meyer’s crosshairs. I already read way more vampire fiction that I’m comfortable admitting, and had written not one, but two teen werewolf novels for the amusement of my friends. By all rights, I should have gone feral, but I didn’t. 

But that’s not to say that I didn’t like them. I read the books—not multiple times, but definitely at least once. I saw the movies, and I did go mildly feral over the fact that Iron & Wine was on the soundtrack. If pressed, I was Team Edward (more because of residual loyalty to Cedric Diggory). At some point I know I liked them, but I never reached the heights of love and obsession that so many of my peers did.

It’s hard to remember how much I actually truly enjoyed the franchise, though, because time and distance and the ever-present and growing pressure to absolutely hate Twilight has made my memory unreliable. But I do remember hating Twilight. I remember dunking on the writing and Mormons and virgin vampires, remember being skeeved out by a classmate who wore a “Team Jacob” shirt to school, and literally fleeing from an adult colleague who talked about the books.

And I remember that at some point, my mind took a sharp and relentless turn from “Twilight is alright” to “Twilight is fucking terrible.” It was approximately four minutes after I finished reading Breaking Dawn and I’d just closed the book, tossed it across the room, and whispered, “What the fuck?”

Adulthood has brought with it a lot of joys and a whole new host of anxieties, but it’s also brought, finally, a willingness to openly like bad things. In my house, we forgo guilty pleasures. We call it “hot trash.” We absolve ourselves of the guilt while also acknowledging that the content we’re enjoying isn’t necessarily good—but there’s nothing wrong with that. Good is subjective. Great books often aren’t very fun—which in my eyes means they’re not very good.

A weird hybrid vampire baby that was conceived from 100 year old sperm and is destined to be soulmates with her mom’s sort-of-ex is not good. But it’s certainly fun in a way that everything has become fun in 2020, because nothing is real and life is absurd and Twilight might as well happen.

It’s nostalgic. It’s hysterical. It’s effervescent.

Hope
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