This Twilight Convention was much different than I had expected. After going through so many fan websites on the internet, and watching groups of screaming fans bonding at the Eclipse premiere this summer, I was under the impression that the convention would be bubbling with energy. Fans would be talking to each other in excitement, glad to belong to such an exuberant and large fan community. Instead, the convention was pretty quiet. When I arrived, the auditorium was about ¼ full. It proceeded to fill up some more over the weekend, but the fans were still sparse. Truth be told, it felt like there as much too much extra space and open chairs in the auditorium. Furthermore, fans didn’t seem to be talking to each other. Instead, they sat with their friends and families, and waited patiently to hear from the stars. I’ll talk a little bit about why I think this is so.
First of all, the seating at this convention was assigned. As Dr. K has said, this has not always been the case. Before the convention, she was already speculating that the assigned setting would affect the feel of the event. Well, she was right; it definitely did. First of all, the seating was assigned in a very spaced out manner, especially among Preferred Members and Regular Members. The Gold Members were seated a bit closer together. Fans were afraid to move out of their assigned seats, and if some of them tried, they were often discovered by convention staff and asked to go to their assigned seat. This left many fans, including myself for much of the convention, stranded and alone. In my case, I was the only seated fan in my entire row, and other fans were placed far apart from each other as well. The situation didn’t exactly encourage conversation.
Second, the convention shone the spotlight squarely on the stars. The Q&A sessions with members of the wolf-pack, Tinsel Corey, and Christian Hyerdahl were hyped up with autograph signings, photo-ops, and opportunities for the audience to interact with the stars. Fans had to pay extra money to attend a karaoke party, a vampire ball, and a “silent” breakfast, where they would be able to hang out with the stars on a more personal basis. Since most of the emphasis was placed on the stars, the auditorium would quickly fill up whenever any one of them was speaking. Rather than talk to each other about their own experience, fans would wait in anticipation for the stars to come on stage and to take pictures of them. After each Q&A, the auditorium would become empty very quickly. During presentations by the Twilight Lexicon, the Twilight Facebook Page, or Twilight Moms, there would be photo-ops with the present celebrities. Fans would use this “down-time” to pay for the photo-ops, buy merchandise, or grab a snack. Then, they would predictably begin to file back into the auditorium for the next Q&A with a celebrity. The presenters of these other websites, which are more based in conversation and community, didn’t seem surprised at all. They just continued to speak, despite the massive exodus from the auditorium and the fact that only a few people remained to listen. With the emphasis on the stars, there was decreased emphasis on time for fans to interact, talk to each other, and learn about the rest of the fan community.
Third, the celebrities at this convention were perhaps not as exciting as they could have been. Don’t get me wrong—the fans who were present absolutely loved them and seemed quite enthusiastic. That being said, the auditorium just didn’t fill up, and Dr. K was telling me over the weekend that they had begun to sell one day tickets for $20. Members of the wolf-pack, Emily, and Marcus are important characters, but I can think of many more characters who would have had more of a draw. For example, I just got an e-mail that in the coming Twilight conventions, stars such as Nikki Reed, Michael Welch, and Peter Facinelli will be there. Now those are some actors with some serious star power! If the conventions are beginning to take the angle of interacting with stars, then they should at least provide the stars that more fans are excited about. Dr. Carlisle Cullen, Rosalie Cullen, and Mike Newton are pretty popular characters.
Probably the most common time for fans to talk to each other was when they were outside, waiting in lines to buy Twilight merchandise. And even then, they were mostly talking about the merchandise they own or what to buy. Or, they were asking each other which star was next up to do a Q&A. As I mentioned before, one man who had been to two conventions before told me that he was disappointed by this one. When I asked other fans if they were enjoying the convention, most said that they had already been to one and that “the first one is always the best, you know.” I wasn’t convinced.
After a while, I stopped attempting to approach fans and talk to them because they were really not interested in talking, even to each other. Still, I couldn’t help but to approach one girl who was beautifully dressed, two days in a row, as Rosalie. She had a long blonde wig and was wearing statement making dresses with fancy shoes. She definitely looked the part. She was there with a friend who was wearing red contacts and had red hair. She was, of course, dressed as Victoria. These girls painted a much different picture for me of what Twilight conventions are usually like. They said that they had been to a few before, as well as other Twilight events. They had even met some fans online, mostly through Twilight role-playing games, who had become their in-person friends at conventions. There was one woman who they ran into convention after convention, until she became their “Twilight Convention Mom.” They were happy about the friendships they had made through the Twilight fan community. One of these girls actually ended up winning a Twilight trivia contest and a prize in the costume show! Their story ensured me that I hadn’t been dreaming before—this Twilight convention was definitely different.
On the last day of the convention, I heard a group of people behind me, who didn’t seem related, talking about the convention. That gave me hope, so I turned around and asked if they were big fans. To my surprise, the mother and daughter behind me were happy to talk and hear about my project! It may have had something to do with their affiliation with my university—I had told them where I go to school, and they had ties to the institution. Still, I was glad to encounter fans who were enthusiastic and ready to talk to another person.
The mom had read all of the books, but hesitated before allowing her daughter to do the same. Her daughter was middle school aged, and the book had actually been banned in her school! Although she had successfully organized a petition to allow students to read Twilight on school property, they were still not allowed to talk about it. Apparently, the vampire idea was deemed inappropriate for a religious school environment, and Breaking Dawn was deemed inappropriate in general. For the mother, Breaking Dawn was the greatest concern, but she eventually concluded that it would be okay to allow her daughter to read it. She felt her daughter to be a mature reader, and also thought that some of the more inappropriate material would go over her head anyway. After a short conversation, the mother and daughter had to leave, and though disappointed that we didn’t have more time, I thanked them for talking to me.
I was surprised when, about half an hour later, the middle school aged daughter came back to talk to me again. She wanted to tell me all about her love for Twilight, and how it has affected her life. This girl was definitely one of the biggest fans I have ever met. She said that she had first picked up Twilight about a year ago, but wasn’t sure how many times she had read it. Why? Because she reads the books every night for about an hour before she goes to sleep. So that would be about 365 hours of Twilight so far, and she was proud of it! This girl also has all of the books on her ipod, so she can read them wherever she is. Of course, she also has the hard-cover copies to keep at home.
In terms of merchandise, it seems like she has acquired almost every single piece of Twilight merchandise out there. She said that the guy who works at her Hot Topic, a major vendor of Twilight merchandise, knows her well. He even takes the time to call her when they get in a new shipment of Twilight related items. Her room is completely covered in Twilight, including a special Twilight drawer. She has the life-sized cardboard figures of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner as well. Her mother actually provided a funny anecdote about that. They had brought the Taylor Lautner figure to Christmas dinner at a family member’s house one year, topped with a Santa hat, and everyone had taken pictures with it. Later, people had looked at the pictures and asked if Taylor had actually been present at the Christmas party! He looked so real, if you took pictures above the feet of course.
This year for her birthday, this girl’s parents gave her an amazing Twilight present. They redecorated her entire room to look like Bella’s room, complete with the bed-spread from the movie! Now, she can feel a little bit like Bella every time she sits in her room or goes to sleep at night. This girl did talk about how she wished so much to be a part of the story, to be a part of Edward and Bella’s world. That is why she began to write a story in the first person that takes place in that universe. Rather than pretending to be another character, she preferred to use her own perspective. That is why she decided to be the child of Alice and Jasper, writing the story of her own life within the framework of Forks, Bella, the Cullens, and the Quileutes. Although nowhere near done, this girl is definitely planning on getting her finished novel published, no matter what anyone says! I have to say that I was delighted that Twilight had provided a creative outlet for this young girl to shine. Perhaps this will show her the way to becoming an full-time author?
When I asked this girl how Twilight had affected her life, other than all of the merchandise and 365 hours of reading, this girl definitely had a lot to say. Her answers were so concise and articulate that I they felt almost prepared, or at least like she had spent a lot of time thinking about this. She said that Twilight had allowed her to become an author and to be creative. It had made her happy and given her something to be passionate. It had given her more self-confidence, and she felt that she now has more friends than she used to have. Perhaps most importantly, she felt that Twilight had shown her that it’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to be crazy and have fun, and to act a little bit weird if you really love something. This girl owes Twilight for that feeling.
To wrap up, the Twilight convention was surprising. I did find a few fans who were very interested in talking and being social, but mostly, the set-up was not conducive to discussion. Perhaps Twilight has already begun it’s decline? Dr. K did say that these websites would disappear soon, and it was important for us to document them while we still could. Rather than centering on the books, Twilight fan culture, at least at conventions, seems to be focused on the movies. And after the second installment of Break Dawn comes out, then what?