Nothing happened on the fifth, but I do remember, remember the 17th of November, 2008. 11 year-old me was eating his nightly second-helping of Neapolitan ice cream after dinner, unknowingly savoring his final moments as a joyful, innocent, uncaring child who knew nothing of the incoming adoration for the pale and silent six-packed man. It was when my mother turned on the TV to get her daily dose of celebrity gossip that I began a long phase in my life sparked by Twilight.
“People are freaking out about this. Twilight… what is it?” asked my mom, and as ice cream melted in my mouth I adorably and sincerely responded with “I think it’s like a time of day. Maybe it happens once a year.”
I do wish that twilight had remained a time of day, that November 17th, 2008 was just another forgettable twenty-four hours and not the date of the Los Angeles premiere, or at least a part of me does. The part of me that wishes I was the more traditional brutish man that speaks in grunts hates Bella and Edward’s romance because that is the relationship that seeped into my ice cream obsessed head and aided in distorting me into a neurotic, anti-social, brooding boyman.
Like most boys I hated Twilight, and like most boys it wasn’t because of it’s lack of cinematic value. Saying “it’s stupid” was just a front to cover up my true feelings about the popularity of the movie. I’ve always been a romantic, even before I knew what romance and that definitely plays a big role in the way Twilight affected me. I hated Twilight because instead of flirting with me, my crush was flirting with her Edward Cullen posters at home. I wanted to fall in love like Jack and Sally did in A Nightmare Before Christmas, or Edward and Kim did in Edward Scissorhands, but nobody in elementary, middle, or even high school was really talking about those movies. They were talking about Twilight, so in an effort to fall in love I unconsciously became what girls seemed to want, Edward Cullen.
Little by little I chiseled away at the ice cream eating boy to create something new. I wore black, didn’t talk to people, grew wild hair, I even wrote poetry because it seemed like something Edward would do, so by the time I reached high school I was an Edward Cullen. Little did I know that by this time the girls didn’t care about Twilight as much. While they were debating Team Edward and Team Jacob for fun I was taking their fandom more and more seriously. I expected girls to start having posters of a brooding me on their walls, but I soon discovered that being a strong-jawed Robert Pattinson is essential in making brooding hot and that you have to be in a movie for brooding to be taken seriously. I had neither of those things, so the persona I expected girls to fall for was rejected.
Through junior and senior year of high school I maintained the same “tortured artist” image, only I added a frustration against the girls that didn’t date me. Oh, and plenty of tears were involved because Edward is not afraid to cry. My personality became ridiculously dramatic, so dramatic that other teenagers thought it was too dramatic. I convinced myself that it was me against the world and it took those last years of high school and my first actual viewing of Twilight to realize I was the only one punching.
Yes, you read that right. For seven years, from the end of elementary school to the end of high school, I built my personality around Edward Cullen without ever watching the movie. The film is what it is, very corporate-y, but it ended up being the most valuable cinematic experience I’ve ever had. I came away from the movie realizing how silly Edward, a glittering vampire boy, actually is. He existed to sell merchandise and get girls in theaters. Sure, some women played along, but girls were the ones buying the posters and the folders and the lunchboxes and by trying to be Edward Cullen I was trying to impress girls. It didn’t work in high school because by that age many girls were young women who probably saw past my artificial character and they already knew that Twilight was just a movie and not something to base your life off of. Also, it’s fine when you’re under 18, but trying to impress girls past that age is disgusting.
As I write this I am growing out of the neurotic, antisocial, brooding boyman shell I built and starting to become myself. Like so many other guys who ran into Twilight in their formative years, I am coming of age, only we probably won’t wind up being another batch of men who speak in grunts. I will assume that people of previous generations probably went through a similar phase that I did, but instead of being reserved they were loud. They were raised on the glorious gangster, western, and adventure movies that conquered the past, movies that said be like Han Solo, be a rambunctious bad boy because that is who gets Princess Leia. Today not only do we have movies telling boys to be like Edward Cullen, to not be afraid of feeling emotions because that can also get the girl, but we also have movies encouraging girls to be like Katniss because Katniss is a fucking badass. Twilight encouraged me to get in touch with a more sensitive side of myself, a side that likes to emote sometimes rather than be tough all the times. Sure, I took it too far as a teenager, but now it’s being balanced out by an adult brain that kind of wishes I was more manly.
The idea of Twilight and a character like Edward Cullen popularized the more feminine straight man at a scale that no other movie had come close to. It also popularized the idea of men stepping aside for women to take the lead, an idea that paved the way for the success of The Hunger Games and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens. So, the popularity of Edward that made me jealous enough to try and become him is the reason why I, and maybe some other guys, will be a bit more in touch with their emotions, a bit less holier than though in their heads, and much more open to taking that step aside for badass women because what we consume and the concepts we promote through art tend to translate into real life. With that said, thank you Twilight!