The latest film in the Twilight franchise,"Eclipse” opens this week, and this fact has more than a few female hearts fluttering, a surprising number of them years, yea, decades past the high school world the heroine Bella inhabits. While the book and movies have been officially dubbed “Young Adult,” don’t tell that to the thousands of moms, working adult women and even grandmothers who have been bitten by the book – and are now coming out of the shadows as official fans of the brooding adolescent tales.
They have web sites (twilightmoms.com), books (“Confessions of a Twilight Mom”), and a highly-visible presence at everything from the red carpet premieres to the tent cities of ticket-hungry fans. Most important of all, they have entered the official lexicon: Twilight Moms, or you can even call them Twi-Moms – just don’t call them crazy.
“What appeals to these fans is the same thing that appeals to the teens who read [the books]: the powerful love story and the bond between Bella and Edward,” she says, adding that while clearly Bella may not be the most liberated young woman in modern film,“ these women are experiencing this from an emotional point of view, not necessarily an analytical one.”
Women such as Yelena Furman, a San Fernando Valley mother of two teen girls, put it simply. “The books are so romantic,” she says, standing in line on a recent Saturday night movie outing. Ms. Furman is looking forward to the third film “probably more than my daughters,” she admits. Her older teen, Ariel, laughs in agreement. “I like the movies, but my mom…” she laughs and shakes her head.
Across the country, Long Islander Jennifer Abelson, CEO of her own PR firm, says she was not immediately a fan. But, she says, about a year after the first film came out, she rented it, “and I was hooked.” The mother of two young girls – age 3 and 5 – she says this was strictly her own connection.
“It’s not really about bonding with my girls because they’re far too young,” she says, adding with a small laugh that this is just as well. “It’s just about a fun romance for me right now, but when it comes to the girls, I’ll have to get into all that stuff about a boy being a potential monster,” she adds.
That potential is what interests gender specialist Susan Shapiro Barash. She suggests that the films' dallying with such a softly genteel “monster” – Edward, for those not in the Twi-loop, is a vegetarian teen vampire – reflects this generation of young women’s ambivalence about independence and liberation from traditional sex roles.
“We’ve all drunk the kool-aid at some point in our lives that romantic love has the power to sweep us away and complete something inside of us that is not whole,” she says, pointing out that the romantic fantasy of a chaste love beset by obstacles appeals to the 17 year-old girl that is alive and well inside a woman of any age.
“But, of course, the reality of adult life is so much more complicated – from paying bills, to making a living, and all the rest,” she adds, a fact that has contributed to confusion over gender roles in modern life. “Returning to the teen years, before any of those responsibilities kick in, is an escapist fantasy that is powerful for women of all ages.”
Ms. Barash, the author of “Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships,” applauds the global bonding between women that the film and the fan sites represent, calling it a valuable form of “empowerment.”
Echoing a similar sentiment, University of Southern California associate sociology professor Karen Sternheimer points out that the franchise is yet another expression of our fascination and obsession with youth.
“This return to an almost primordial source of power that children and their innocence represent is a powerful force in our culture,” she says, adding that while on the one hand, the vampire is a monster we cannot control or ultimately tame – a throwback to pre-feminist views about men and their raging hormones – they also represent a return to a life force “that many feel they have lost touch with in the daily grind of modern life.”