If you were a teenager on the internet during the early to mid-2010s, and you were someone who liked reading books, chances are, you’ve seen a meme or two like this:
When I was growing up, saying you liked Twilight was tantamount to saying you were a brainless bimbo who fantasized about stupid, sparkling vampires. Fans of other popular series like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games, which were constantly pitted against Twilight, saw the series as the death of good literature.
Everything even remotely related to Twilight got made fun of – the movies, the lead actress in the movies, the author, and the people who dared call themselves fans of the series. But “made fun of” may be a light term to describe the kind of vitriol that was directed towards anyone who dared associate themselves with Twilight.
When people weren’t calling Twilight dumb, the most common criticisms levied towards the series were that Edward and Bella’s relationship was abusive, the writing is bad, the plot is bad, and so on and so forth. Even today, just type in the words ‘Twilight is bad’ into Google, and you’ll be met with hundreds of articles explaining why. Thousands of memes comparing Bella to other YA heroines were shared, even by people who had never read Twilight.
People were also constantly looking for evidence that even the cast of the movies hated Twilight. Video clip upon video clip of Robert Pattinson doing press junkets for Twilight where he seemed not to like the franchise as much was circulated as definitive ‘proof’ that the series was, in fact, a pile of garbage. Kristen Stewart received a ridiculous amount of hate for simply playing the character Bella the way she was written.
A lot of this hatred didn’t just come from men who couldn’t stand Twilight, but other teenage girls who were eager to distance themselves from Twilight. I was guilty of this too. I shared a meme or two comparing Hermione and Katniss with Bella and commented under posts or videos discussing Twilight with declarations of Harry Potter’s superiority. Even when I finally read the series, I maintained that I didn’t enjoy it one bit (despite reading all 4 books) and that I only read it ironically.
So given all this history, let’s sit down and think about this for a second – was Twilight really as bad as we all thought it was? Well, the simple is the answer is no, it wasn’t. Twilight was just as good – or bad – as a lot of popular fiction from its time. Sure, the prose is not Shakespeare, but it still manages to tell the story in an engaging way. The plot isn’t the most carefully thought out, but it was never the focus in a book like Twilight. The age difference between Bella and Edward was certainly jarring, and some of the dialogue was borderline creepy, but it wasn’t any more egregious than Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Vampire Diaries.
The two shows I mentioned follow a lot of the same troupes as Twilight – supernatural romance with vampires, and love triangles, but were rarely pulled up for setting bad role models for teenage girls. In hindsight, the reputation twilight has garnered over the years feels unfair. So why is Twilight so hated on, but not books like The Princess Diaries, or even Fifty Shades of Grey?
The answer lies in one factor – Twilight’s popularity. Twilight exploded onto the scene in the first few years after its publication and sold millions of copies even before the movies came out. It was mostly popular among pre-teens, teenagers, or their moms and served as many people’s introduction to the romance genre. Twilight was also a pioneer in a lot of ways, opening the doors for supernatural romance to become a staple in YA fiction.
There was a problem with Twilight’s growing popularity. In 2007, Twilight finally beat Harry Potter on the New York Times bestseller list for series books. Many Potterheads took this as a personal insult – how could a vapid romance like Twilight possibly compete with Harry Potter, a modern classic? This is what kick-started the thousands of memes asserting that Harry Potter is, in every way, superior to Twilight.
The other issue with Twilight’s popularity is the demographic it was popular with – teenage girls. The pop culture created with teenage girls in mind, whether it’s romance novels, romcoms, or boy bands, is often viewed in contempt. Having teenage girls as the main fan-base is considered an insult in and of itself. Think back to the way in which One Direction’s songs were often dismissed as not real music, the same way K-pop superstars BTS are discredited to this day.
Nobody would say that franchises like the Transformers or The Fast And The Furious are bad because they portray unrealistic stunts or have weak plotlines. Dan Brown is known for writing novels that unravel a historically loaded puzzle, but it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say his characters were two dimensional at best, and his writing left much to be desired. Twilight wasn’t just hated on so much because it was bad; it was hated on because it was a rather average book series that became extremely popular with teenage girls. For every part of Twilight that is poorly written, there are countless examples of male-driven books that are just as bad that have never had to face this level of criticism.
So I suppose my argument is less than Twilight is good, and more than Twilight definitely wasn’t that bad. For what it’s worth, Twilight actually did a great job at reimagining Vampires as a supernatural love interest rather than a terrifying beast who drinks your blood. Her approach to supernatural fiction brought it into the mainstream, where it stayed, a decade later.
And here’s the thing – lots of girls relate to Bella. They don’t see themselves as an overachiever like Hermione, or as a brave leader like Katniss. They feel like they are too plain and uninteresting to be noticed by anyone and enjoy the fantasy of being rescued by a sparkly Vampire. What’s the harm in that?