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Sean P. Means: A decade of ‘Twilight’ has left its mark on pop culture

First Published      Last Updated Oct 13 2015 04:14 pm

Ten years ago, vampires exposed to sunlight burned up and turned to dust, and people didn't think twice about it.

That was before Stephenie Meyer, then a 31-year-old Arizona wife and mom (and graduate of Brigham Young University), published her first book, "Twilight."

That young-adult romance centered on the human girl Isabella "Bella" Swan attracting the attention of the undead hunk Edward Cullen, part of a family of vampires living peacefully in a rainy Pacific Northwest town. Meyer's vampires didn't disintegrate in the sun, but became sparkly and even more beautiful.

Since the publication of the first "Twilight" book, on Oct. 5, 2005, the story of Bella and Edward has grown into a monstrous phenomenon. Millions of copies of the book and its three sequels — "New Moon," "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn" — have been sold, translated into many languages. The books spawned five movies, turning Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (who played Bella and Edward) into global superstars.




The "Twilight" saga, no matter what one thinks of the quality of Meyer's books or the movie adaptations, has changed our popular culture in ways big and small.

Think of all these things that resulted because of "Twilight":

An explosion of young-adult fiction • Meyer's success opened up the floodgates, and soon other authors launched into the young-adult fantasy market. This seemed particularly true for books by authors who are, like Meyer, Mormons. Shannon Hale ("Princess Academy," which launched four months before "Twilight"), James Dashner ("The Maze Runner") and Richard Paul Evans (the "Michael Vey" series) all have seen YA success in the wake of "Twilight."

Strong female characters • One of the main complaints about "Twilight" has been what a weak character Bella is, sitting around brooding about the guys in her life, Edward and her werewolf best friend Jacob. Some countered by creating more forceful young-women characters. It could be argued that without Bella, there might not be a Katniss Everdeen, the stalwart rebel leader in Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" series.

Gender equality in fandom • The enduring stereotype of the geek-culture fan — lonely dudes in cargo shorts and ponytails, à la Comic Book Guy of "The Simpsons" — was demolished permanently by the predominantly female fan base of the "Twilight" series. Now, at fan events like Salt Lake Comic Con, there's more of a gender parity.

Blurring the line between fiction and tabloids • Some fans, though, got a little too into "Twilight." When Stewart and Pattinson, the actors portraying Bella and Edward, started dating in real life, it confirmed to some devoted fans (the "Twi-Hards") how eternal the story's romance really was. When the actors broke up, some of the more intense fans had trouble handling the news — creating a cautionary tale about the need to separate fiction from reality.

Lasting damage to Kristen Stewart's career • Before "Twilight," Stewart was a well-regarded young actor, with roles in "Panic Room," "Zathura" and "Into the Wild." After "Twilight," she became a paparazzi target whose fame has overshadowed some really good work in movies such as "Camp X-Ray," "Clouds of Sils Maria" and "American Ultra." Stewart may eventually live down Bella Swan, but it's taking a long time.

The rise of Anna Kendrick • If one performer got a boost from being in the "Twilight" movies, it was Kendrick. As Bella's chatty human friend Jessica, she brought much-needed comic relief to the gloomy Northwest atmosphere. Kendrick has gone on to star in movies such as "Into the Woods" and "50/50" — and she's the only "Twilight" alum with an Oscar nomination (for "Up in the Air") and her own successful movie franchise (the "Pitch Perfect" films).

The worst pop song of the 21st century • That would be "A Thousand Years," Christina Perri's cloying love theme used in both parts of "Breaking Dawn." It's an earworm that can be dislodged from one's brain only with an icepick.

Worldwide exposure of Utah baby names • When Bella and Edward named their baby Renesmee — a mixing of their mothers' names, Esmé and Renee — people everywhere remarked how odd the name was. Everywhere, that is, except in Utah, where we're used to overly creative baby names.

"50 Shades of Grey" • E.L. James' bondage-heavy novel began as an attempt at "Twilight" fan fiction, with the mousy Anastasia Steele and the hunky-but-remote Christian Grey as sexed-up variations on Bella and Edward. And, as with Meyer's original, a lot of people think it's a really badly written book.

Kindergartens full of Bellas • Since the release of "Twilight," the name Isabella has moved in the top five of most-popular baby names (according to the Social Security Administration) and stayed there. It ranked No. 1 in 2009 and 2010, though it has slipped to fourth in 2013 and 2014. Those girls are 5 and 6 years old now, and they're meeting other girls whose parents had the same idea.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.

 

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