In our current zeitgeist of online petitions, "fixed it" edits and abusive trolling, fan culture is becoming more and more synonymous with negativity. While a lot of those aspects of fandom can be attributed to a vocal minority, it's easy to let that noise drown out everything else -- everything else being the parts of fan culture we all love: community, camaraderie and spending a lot of money on useless stuff to fill our garages with.
In recent years, few fan bases have had it as rough as Twilight, but a new docuseries from Fandom aims to shift public perception about put-upon fan bases for the better. Made in collaboration with Lionsgate, the first episode of Fandom Uncovered, which aims to spotlight "fandoms that exist within the deepest niches of geek culture," travels to the sleepy town of Forks, Washington, which was put on the map after writer Stephanie Meyer chose it to become the central setting for her novels.
At the time, the town -- like many others in the state -- was close to financial ruin because of the recession, but "the Twilight effect" came with supernaturally good timing. Residents were, as you'd expect, somewhat hesitant about the new influx of diehard Meyer acolytes invading their small, logging town in the late '00s. But, once Forks' local businesses realized they had a cash cow on their hands, they had little trouble embracing their newly acquired cultural heritage, resurrecting the community's ailing economy.
One such Twilight devotee who was drawn to Forks was Lissy Andros, who tells executive producer and host, Roth Cornet (in front of a life-size cutout of Edward Cullen) that she uprooted her entire life to move permanently to the town. Over the past decade, Andros has gone from being "that crazy Twilight girl" to Executive Director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, and in that time has overseen the place's growth from quiet, anonymity to a veritable Twilight theme park. Who'd have thought that people's love of sparkly fictional vampires could be capable of saving an entire town?
Over ten years after the release of the first Twilight film, Forks plays host to the annual "Forever Twilight" festival-come-convention, an immersive, one-of-a-kind experience that fans from all over the world flock to by the thousands. It includes Twilight cosplayers so dedicated to their roles they never break character and features elaborate recreations of scenes from the books/movies.
If you're willing to make the journey, you can attend Bella and Edwards' wedding, go to prom with the Cullen clan and watch a live staging of that infamous baseball confrontation scene, complete with Muse's "Supermassive Blackhole." Not even Disneyland is this committed to giving its guests an experience this in-depth.
Love or hate Twilight, the episode highlights fandom in a heart-warmingly positive way. Some attendees explain that the world Meyer created is a "safe" place that helped them hide and heal during difficult times in their lives, citing the franchise for helping them get through the deaths of family members and the trauma of going through long-term illness. Others overcame extreme social anxiety by traveling to the festival and forged lasting, meaningful relationships that they wouldn't have found anywhere else. "This is my happy place," one attendee summarizes.
Twilight's flaws were picked over exhaustively when it was at the height of its powers, from Bella's weakness as a heroine to Edward's controlling nature. Despite these gripes, these fans point instead to what outsiders miss about the franchise: Comfort. The security blanket of Twilight is finding partners that are supernaturally compelled to love you forever, rolling in money, will defend you to the death, and will turn you -- quite literally -- into a better, stronger version of yourself. As Cornet points out, there's no sacrifice involved in Bella getting everything she wants: Eternal love from an eternal family. It's not hard to see why people never want to leave this cozy bubble once they become absorbed into it.
That doesn't mean the festival goers have no self-awareness, though. "I know he's not real," Andros laughs, gesturing to her Edward standee. They're also acutely aware of the misogyny much of the backlash against Twilight was rooted in, as Aro cosplayer and festival host, Shandra points out. "We have a tendency as a society to absolutely hate, revile and treat with vitriol, everything that has to do with teenage girls."
On that note, one of the most surprising things in the episode is the discovery that self-awareness has actually permeated the anti-Twilight camp, too. "I was on the anti-Twilight side immediately, inherently," Ryan Albertson, who manages an auction prop store admits. "It was almost an active dislike, like, 'F-ck Twilight,' you know?" After visiting Forks on a work trip, Albertson found himself sucked into the bubble and even found love there. "Through my experience with this festival in particular and interacting with the fans of Twilight, I very quickly changed my perspective on what fandom is. There's a lot of ridiculous posturing among nerds."
Speaking to CBR, Cornet explained that this reputation was what made Twilight such an attractive subject for her inaugural episode. "Twilight was seen as this destroyer of other fandoms." Traveling to the epicenter enabled her to "bring light to an unexplored corner," and cut through the anger that still hangs over the franchise to uncover the human story hidden within.
Relatability will be the ongoing theme of the series in general (which will tackle Dungeons & Dragons next), finding commonality in just being an unabashed fan of something, rather than getting caught up in the specifics of what that something is. "It might not be your thing but you could get into it," Cornet adds. "There's a place for everyone."