What sort of posters does the typical 11-year old boy have in his bedroom? John Cena? Fortnite? The Avengers cast? While that last one would emerge slightly later in my early adolescence as a socially acceptable passion for a young man au fait with modern popular culture, it was the sparkling visage of Robert Pattinson’s Twilight character that stared deeply into my tired eyes as I fell asleep, on the brink of my tweenage years, from 2008 to 2010.
Edward Cullen was a sex symbol for kids my age like none we had seen previously; the big-screen heroes of the early century included a crudely-animated Scottish ogre, a flat red car with frightening anthropomorphic eyes and a sexless English wizard teen. The enigma and PG-13 eroticism of Pattinson, coming to Twilight three years after a winning supporting turn in a Potter film, came out of the blue and provided the basis for a generation’s sense of what makes a charismatic movie star (only the now-unmentionable Johnny Depp can claim to have contributed as much).
Edward’s cartoonishly pale skin and blue eyes, like a supernatural Anderson Cooper, a series of nice grey duffel coats, and an unlikely British-actor-does-American-accent; it was the recipe for a solid late-2000s heartthrob brand. Edward didn’t smile, he’s too busy thinking about sucking your blood. He isn’t nice to your parents. He wants to suck their blood. He doesn’t play varsity. Yeah, the blood thing. In spite of being some hundred years old and having survived the Spanish Flu, Edward’s real curse is being insatiably aroused at all times, especially around his girlfriend-to-be Bella (played pretty terrifically in the films by Kristen Stewart), who has the loveliest blood.
Back to my own narrative, however, Edward arrived as a natural successor to my own inaugural movie boy-crush, Zac Efron’s High School Musical character Troy, who pirouetted across a golf course in the second of those films in the iconic “Bet On It” sequence and set my young heart aflutter. I spent weeks trying to master that dance routine. Hell, I already had something akin to Zac’s floppy hair. So what if I was 9? It’s worth noting that post-segue to Edward obsessing, and when planning to make an homage called Skylight with my friends, I was genuinely stressed trying to find a way to make my hair look anything like Edward’s impressive look. In light of a feud between two budding cast members over who would play Bella and vampiric sister Alice, that project was never completed.
Everything Troy from High School Musical was — heavily sanitised, Disney-owned, totally in control of his urges — Edward was not. Yet he replaced him quickly on the notebooks and lunchboxes of young girls (and, obviously, me as well). It was a generational pivot, not only in terms of kids ‘ageing into’ Edward’s brooding nature, but into the era of internet boyfriends and Tumblr fandom, for which a tall mysterious emo boy was a far better fit than grinning loverboy Troy.
What particular value the Edward poster(s… there were multiple) held for my bedroom space is hard to define. I definitely had no actual romantic inclination towards Pattinson; that was not the point. I suppose it could’ve been an aspirational thing given the absolute adoration Bella (and, by extension, every girl my age) had for the man, but even then I never tried to model my character after Edward; I have always sought to be friendly, colourful company and never anything close to brooding when I can help it. As the years passed and the Twilight films became a less central element of my daily consciousness, so too did my interest in Edward.
By 2012, down had come any poster evidence of my love for the film or the man. My custom-made “Team Edward” t-shirt got lost at the back of the wardrobe. I do recall my attention pivoting slightly to Stewart as an attractive figure as I — now a fully fledged teen — came to acknowledge my own undeniable straightness. Stewart, to her credit, has now been established as something of a queer icon and recently starred in lesbian romcom Happiest Season. There’s convenient overlap I suspect between the fanbase she has freshly accumulated and those fans leftover from Twilight, probably distancing themselves for a few years of teen countercultural resistance before coming to appreciate the hyper-sincerity of its swooning once more in their early 20s. Both Pattinson and Stewart, both thanks to a decade of great project choices and that reemerged nostalgia for the Twilight days, are in prime position to be key figures of internet celebrity reverence… and such they have become. If my love for them has mutated into something more resembling creative admiration, my recognition that they are truly some of the oddest, coolest people ever to become A-list movie stars remains.
Only a psychotherapist could truly “Decode” (shoutout to Paramore, unfairly sidelined in this piece proportionate to their impact on my tween taste) why Pattinson and Edward had such real estate in my heart at a seminal age, but I appreciate the extent to which this history of Twilight love has allowed me to bond with my female and non-binary friends over a shared past. Absolutely nothing about that franchise suggests it shouldn’t appeal to a straight male audience. Sexy vampires are far too valuable an IP to be gendered.