Celebrity Publicity vs. Privacy: The Eternal Debate

Via People.com

Earlier this week, Lainey Gossip posted a particularly critical reading of Reese Witherspoon’s current publicity attempts, with specific attention to the contradiction between Witherspoon complaining about her lack of privacy and the recent sale of her wedding photos to People and OK!

Via People.com

The Witherspoon quote from the Vogue interview/cover story/massive photo spread:

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that she is as private as ever. Indeed, she seems almost constitutionally unsuited for the level of fame she has to live with. At one point, I ask her what is the worst thing about being Reese Witherspoon, and she pauses for a very long time. Finally she says, “I mean, I feel like an ingrate for even thinking anything isn’t good. I’m very, very, very lucky. But . . . umm . . . probably that I parted with my privacy a long time ago. We went different ways. And sometimes I mourn it. Sometimes I will sit in the car and cry. Because I can’t get out. That’s the only thing: I mourn the loss of my privacy.”

And Lainey’s take:

Um, remember when Reese Witherspoon sold her wedding to People Magazine and Hello Magazine?

Oh but she’s just a girl from the South who doesn’t know about these thangs! It’s preposterous to think that Reese would up and marry only to go back to work and sneak in a quickie honeymoon only to have to return to go back to work for anything other than necessity. After all, people like Reese, with access and opportunity and resources, they are bound by necessity, aren’t they? They have NO choices, not in their schedules, not in their spending, in not much at all.

So of course not, Reese could not know about, you know, wedding planning around a theatrical release and the potential effect that could have on a movie’s performance, hell no. She’s way too authentic for that.

There are a number of things going on here — with Witherspoon’s actions, her choice of words in her interview, and Lainey’s response to them — and all of them revolve around claims to authenticity and transparency.

First of all, it’s crucial to understand that the tension between celebrities and stars desiring privacy….in the selfsame moment that they expose themselves to the public via interviews, films, and other products….is absolutely, positively nothing new.  Even Charles Lindbergh attempted to fiercely guard his private life, which he thought was, frankly, besides the point when it came to his aviation achievements — even as he continued to make public appearances and profit off his fame.  During classic Hollywood, there was less complaining about privacy, in part because every statement from the stars was vetted by the studios themselves, and complaining of lack of privacy was tantamount to complaining about the studios, the fan magazines, and the generalized publicity apparatus that sustained the stars.   With the mandate of the studios that employed them, stars shared all manner of details of their “private lives” with the fan magazines and gossip columnists, even if those private lives were actually a sham, conjured to harmonize with their manufactured star images.

As the studio system transformed in the 1950s, stars gradually dearticulated themselves from management at the hands of the studios, hiring their own staffs to handle publicity.  At the same time, paparazzi culture became gradually more invasive, especially following the frenzy over Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filming Cleopatra/holding hands/canoodling in Rome.  The fan magazines became increasingly bombastic in their handling of the stars, using scandal-tipped headlines, exclamation points, and other suggestive aesthetic means to imply, if not actually name, scandal.  The move was at least partially motivated out of necessity: the stars refused to cooperate and offer access, forcing the magazines to “write around” their lack of content.  Which is all to say that there was less explicit collusion between the traditional gossip outlets and the stars — a process that continued for most of the ’60s and ’70s.  The stars began to publicly complain of the fan magazines and gossip columnists, something they never would have dared to do during the studio system, when such a complaint could inspire negative coverage and effectively doom his/her career.  But by this point, the traditional fan magazines and gossip columnists held less sway, and it became common practice for stars not only to complain about the incursion of authors, photographers, columnists, and other forms of publicity, but to sue them as well.  (There were dozens of libel suits levied by stars against various outlets during this period).

In other words, the relationship between the stars themselves and the gossip outlets became antagonistic where it had once been incredibly, necessarily cooperative.  Starting with People in 1974, however, the cooperative relationship gradually began to reform, as People, Entertainment Tonight, and their various imitators  (Extra, Entertainment Weekly, E!, early versions of Us Magazine) all served explicit promotional functions for the star.  Exclusives are approved and vetted by the star and his/her publicist and usually timed to promote the his/her upcoming or ongoing project.  Importantly, these outlets do not look for or break scandal.  They will report on it out necessity (if they didn’t, they’d seem out of touch), but they do not stir the scandal pot, as it were, and often provide space for stars to tell “their sides of the story.”

When Reese Witherspoon sold her wedding photos to People Magazine, she was doing two things.  First, she was promoting her upcoming film, Water for Elephants, in which she stars with Robert Pattinson.

As Lainey and others have pointed out, this film really, really needs to succeed if Witherspoon is to maintain her status as a top female star (with a $15 million per-film pricetag) with the ability to open a major picture.  (Her last hit was Walk the Line in 2005; her last major hit was Legally Blonde 2 in 2003).  The reason stars have offered themselves up for celebrity gossip in the form of interviews, photo shoots, etc., has always been PROMOTION.  For some celebrities, such as Paris Hilton, they are simply promoting their entire image on the hope that the visibility of that image will help sell products emblazoned with it: perfume, books, nail polish, etc.  But stars whose stardom is the result of actual skill — singers, actors, etc. — time their gossip availability to coincide with a specific product showcasing that skill. A film, a television premiere, an album release, a voting period for the Oscars, etc.  The announcement of Natalie Portman’s pregnancy was no coincidence, and neither is the timing of Witherspoon’s wedding.  I know this might be hard to hear, but it is the absolute truth.  Of course, Portman (probably) did not time her actual pregnancy.  But she (and her publicist) sure as shit planned the announcement.

The reasoning is simple: the more your name, face, and image is on the minds of the public at large, the more likely they will be to consume a product branded with that name, face, and image.

Witherspoon working hard to remind you that she is appearing in a film with ELEPHANTS, coincidentally entitled "Water for Elephants." Photo via Vogue.com

Witherspoon and publicist were (and are) doing their job, attempting to heighten her visibility and, hopefully, open Water for Elephants in a way that makes a statement about her power and popularity.

The problem, then, is that Witherspoon paired her efforts with an interview in which she complains about the incursions of the press.  To be specific, however, she was complaining about a lack of privacy, which is generally associated with papping photographers….not interviews with Vogue, or the two carefully chosen photos she offered to People.  She’s complaining about unauthorized publicity; she has no problem with authorized publicity.  The problem, then, is that the former is generally incited by the latter.  Under the studio system, there was no such thing as unsanctioned publicity, as the columnists, magazines, and other interviews were all beholden to the studios.  Now, authorized publicity breeds unauthorized publicity.

Witherspoon is obviously game to pose for magazine covers, look great at premieres, present at award shows.  All of these contribute directly to the performance of a film and are, most likely (it not specifically) built into the contract she signed.  (Star contracts generally require that the star promote the film — attending premieres, junkets, etc.) The problem is that such highly orchestrated photos and stories aren’t nearly as interesting or tantalizing as those obtained without her permission, which seem to offer a window onto the “real,” authentic Witherspoon, valuable in large part due to its scarcity. (Reality stars prove that we don’t simply hunger for authenticity and “being real” — it’s what we don’t have, or haven’t been able to read about, that we hunger for the most. Details of Brangelina’s sex life, for example).

So Witherspoon ends up looking hypocritical, at once seeking and complaining about the spotlight. But think about how you would feel if Witherspoon said she loved the spotlight, loved paparazzi coverage, loved seeing photos of her children all over the place.  Wouldn’t we call her Tori Spelling?  Isn’t the SPOKEN reticence towards exposure part of what makes certain stars “classy” and likable?  If she relished exposure, she would be forsaking her claims to being “just like us,” a “Southern girl,” a dotting mother, modest, etc.  The disavowal is thus absolutely crucial to Witherspoon’s image — even if it’s false or an act or contradictory, it needs to be there.

In general, this simultaneous embrace and disavowal of publicity is at the heart of stardom.  Stars are stars because the way that they act on screen, combined with what they seem to represent in their “private” lives, seem to embody something that matters to a large swath of people.  But in order to be stars and not just actors, they need to make that private life available, even when it leads to unsanctioned, unwanted, invasive and potentially dangerous coverage.  With that said, star scholars have long written about the ways in which contradiction composes the very core of stardom: a star is simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary, “Just like Us” and absolutely nothing like us.  From time to time, that contradiction becomes more visible.  The more visible and flagrant the contradiction, with little to smooth it over, the more ridiculous a star seems.  See, again, Tori Spelling, but also Gwyneth Paltrow and Tom Cruise.  We want our stars to embody contradictions seamlessly, and when the seams show, we reject them.  Ultimately, the most enduring, valuable, and esteemed stars are those who, with the help of their publicity teams, manage to hide these seams, even as they expand to contain multitudes, embodying all of the meanings we map onto them. At this point, Witherspoon still seems to be in control. We’ll see how the film fares — and how her subsequent publicity attempts address the perpetual contradictions of stardom.

New Antenna Post!

heartthrob

If you don’t follow me on Twitter (and I mean seriously, if you like blogs, why not the Twitters?) you might have missed notification of my most recent Antenna post, “Sheesh, What’s It Take to Make a Teenage Heartthrob These Days?” It’s got RPattz, Taylor “Teen Tom Cruise” Lautner, Marlon Brando, and the phrase “allergic to vaginas.”  Go for it.

What $258.8 Million Could Mean

What a $258.8 million dollar audience looks like

$258.8 million.  That’s the worldwide 5-day gross for New Moon.

That’s $140.7 million domestic.  The film also broke the All-Time Single Day and Friday Opening records, not to mention the Biggest 2-Day total.

It’s now the third biggest opening of all time — following only Spiderman 3 and The Dark Knight.

And it did all of this in NOVEMBER, when kids still have to go to school and the masses aren’t seeking the theater for heat relief.  Crucially, the budget for New Moon = Just under $50 million.  Add in $25 million for promotion, and you’ve already got a film (and franchise) firmly in the black.

The rhetoric flooding the film blogosphere is filled with words like “jaw-dropping,” “huge surprise,” and “phenomenal.”  Nikki Finke and Variety both point out that not even the film’s distributor, Summit Entertainment, thought the film would open this big — estimates were for between $100-$110 million domestic, no small number itself.  Why?  Because it’s what is known as a “two quadrant” film (the four audience ‘quadrants’ = men under 25, men over 25, women under 25, women over 25.  Most blockbusters are films that appeal to all four quadrants — see Spiderman, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight, Titanic, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc.).

The audience is not only ‘two quadrant’ (apparently 80% female) but young.  50% of attendees were under 21.  Variety sums it up best:  “the female-fueled New Moon explodes the myth that you need an all-audience film to do that level of biz, or that fanboys hold all the power.”

So does that answer my question?  Is that what $258.8 million could mean? That girls can power movies — especially when there’s a romance (and abstinence porn) involved?

Sorta.  Because it could also mean much, much more.

*It could legitimize the female market.

After big openings for Sex and the City, The Proposal, and Julie and Julia, risk-adverse studios may begin to invest more earnestly (and consistently) in properties that cater specifically (and unabashedly) to the female market.  Of course, the studios have long counterprogrammed with ‘girly’ fare, but the key word is counterprogram — they try to pick up the ‘dregs’ who aren’t flocking to the supposedly four-quadrant blockbuster released the same weekend.  This weekend is actually a fascinating example of counterprogramming, as The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock, did surprisingly well — presumably picking up the anti-Twilight female audience and scattered males who had been convinced by the football-time ad campaign that sold the film as a football-oriented triumph-of-the-will.

*It could (and already has) opened the female market to misogynist and ageist critique.

This is the ugly underbelly to what might otherwise be viewed as a ‘girl power’ triumph.  For as anyone familiar with the franchise knows, the text is not immune to criticism.   The original text has been criticized for its conservative, anti-feminist views; the second film in particular has been subject to scathing reviews from most popular critics.  I’ve seen denigrating, clearly misogynist critiques of the film, from both men and women, on a diverse set of blogs and Twitter feeds — many of which interpret the success of the film as the failure of America, reason to hate themselves, their family, their loved ones, the end of the world, etc.  I realize that some of this quips are in jest, but they also interpret a mass movement of females — seeking out a specific type of pleasure — as nigh-apocalyptic.  As if the success of Twilight somehow ushers in the end of good taste.

Such a critique is misogynistic not only because it demonstrates a clear case of cultural amnesia — if any success indicated the end of good taste, it was that of horror porn and boy-oriented Transformers — but also because it explicitly and unabashedly constructs female consumers as rabid, mindless, brainwashed schmucks.  Whatever one thinks of Twilight (and I’m not saying that the text should be exempt from critique), we still need to recognize the fact that the audience is not monolithic, nor is it mindless.  By reproducing those beliefs, we (as scholars, as film critics, as film bloggers and cultural critics more generally) extend the general subjugation of women’s pleasures, tastes, desires, etc.  Indeed, such beliefs contribute to the ghettoization of female-oriented art and artistry in a broad sense — whether female-directed film (if you need a reminder that it’s tough for women in Hollywood, just check out A.O. Scott’s recollection of the most important films of the last decade.  Not a female director to be found.)

I heed the argument that the success of Twilight might contribute to the marginalization of less hegemonic products (with less traditional interpretations).  But I also want to underline the fact that many women — and not just feminist women like the ones with whom I attended the premiere — are engaging in negotiated readings of this text.   Some are reading it as satire, some are rewriting the ending using fanfic.  But as is the case with almost any text, audiences make the text meet them where they are — a 13-year-old girl might love the romance, another might identify with the plainness of Bella, others might crave the family dynamic of the Cullens, older women may crave the thrill of first romance, and others may just relish the chance to escape — either in the books or the films — and become absorbed by a text.

In other words, the females who attended New Moon got to be ‘fan-girls.’  Is there something threatening and wrong with that?

*It will lower the bar for the sequels.

This is a crucial and disheartening point.  New Moon very clearly had higher production values than Twilight — the stunts are far less cheesy, there are CGI wolves, and they hired Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen to play the baddie vampires.  They shot in Rome; they had all sorts of sweet helicopter and trick shots.  The lighting was more even; the Native Americans’ wigs were less visible.  Why, then, would the bar be lowered? Because Twilight is a superior film.  There.  I said it.  I’m curious to know if I’m in the minority here, but I felt far less magic in the second film — no matter of CGI wolves could make up for the absence of Catherine Hardwicke, who helmed the first film.  Hardwicke, who also directed the superb Thirteen, has a certain way with teen situations.  The way she directed the scenes at the high school — and the deviations from the book, including the classic line “This dress makes my boobs look totally awesome” — absolutely made the film for me.  I could gloss over the clunky vampire jumping from tree to tree — so long as I had the intimate moments between Bella and her dad, Bella and her awkward teenage friends.

Now that New Moon, with its streamlined narrative, has garnered such a substantially higher gross than the original,  it’s only natural that the forthcoming films will heed its lessons.  I’d love for the series to take a Harry Potter bent, exploring various color palettes, alterations in tone, and senses of burgeoning humor with each director.    This seems unlikely.  As Transformers 2, Spiderman 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 have proven, a sequel, however bloated, however much it pales in comparison to the original, will do even better business.  So why concern yourself with quality?

Stars in the making? I'm not so sure.

*It won’t necessarily make stars out of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner.

This might seem counter-intuitive.  They attract huge crowds!  People put their faces on their t-shirts!  But these actors have become so incredibly wed to their characters, it’ll take critical and financial success in non-Twilight roles to break away from their picture personalities as Bella, Edward, and Jacob, respectively.

My bet for non-Twilight success is firmly on K-Stew, whose forthcoming turn as Joan Jett in The Runaways seems poised to do at least moderately well.  She’s already wrapped Welcome to the Rileys, a small production that should continue to bolster her cred as an actual actress.  (She has to sigh and look scared a lot in the Twilight saga, but I do think the girl can act.)

RPattz might be doomed to Edward-style brooding, as exemplified by his role in Remember Me.

It stars Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnen, and that girl from Lost, but is it a hit?  Middling?  Fueled by Twilight fans?  (They tried to make that work with RPattz as Salvador Dali this summer in Little Ashes, but I couldn’t even watch the preview (complete with Pattinson in Dali moustache) without laughing.  Pattinson is scheduled for two additional films, Unbound Captives and Bel Ami,  in pre-production — both with big names, if not big directors, attached.  His future outside of Twilight will depend wholly upon the success of such non-vampiric roles.

As for Taylor Lautner, he’s already filmed a small part in the Love Actually-esque Valentine’s Day (opposite his supposed love Taylor Swift, no less).  But other than Eclipse, he’s got nothing.  Not even in pre-production.  He’s the most wooden of the three, and he’ll have to secure another romantic turn — presumably in a teen-geared comedy/drama of some sort — in order to sustain his fan base.  He’ll also have to sustain gossip, either through authenticating his relationship with the other Taylor, re-dating Disney star Selena Gomez, or creating new teen hand-holding buzz.  Odds of success = slim.  He may have great shoulder muscles, but so does Matthew McConaughey.

So what does $258.8 million mean?  It means we have an opportunity to reconsider the way the industry works.  Everytime a movie hits big — and especially when it outperforms expectations — we reach a similar landmark.  A chance for people like me to challenge the idea that the way that Hollywood works is ‘natural,’ inevitable, or necessary.  As director Kevin Smith tweeted following the release of the Friday numbers, “Tween girls can get shit DONE, man.”  Indeed they can — and so can 30 and 40 something moms with their daughters, and 20-something women prefunking with white wine and flasks.  And it’s a lesson we — and Hollywood — is still learning.

The Politics of Twilight Web Traffic

HoldinghandsRobert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart Caught in the Act — And now they’ll give me web traffic!

(Image from Pop Sugar; originally nabbed by X17)

FACT: Talk about Twilight, and you will get web traffic.

FACT: Passionate, angry, and upset fans may attack you based on your post, but you will still have web traffic.

FACT: Simply by posting the image above — the first “irrefutable” evidence of a romance between the two stars of Twilight — I will up my daily web traffic by as much as 1000 visitors a day.  Some arrive simply to view the image, but many stay and read the article that surrounds it.  I know because their comments continue to accumulate.

FACT: Academic blogs (like this one) may not be fueled by numbers of visitors, but for-profit ones most certainly are.

FINAL FACT: Twilight posts, sneak peeks, trailers, gossip, and speculation have turned into a self-perpetuating phenomenon: even if people don’t necessarily care about them, and even if there’s not really news, if you post it, the fans will come.  And the fans will continue to come as more information is promised — as my friend Nick recently posited in our co-authored forthcoming article on celebrity twittering, “there can never be enough information on a star; therefore, more information is always needed.”  The fan hopes for one crucial piece of info — a picture, a quip, a video snippet — that promises provide access to the authentic kernel of the star.  In the case of Twilight, the revelation of the apparent Pattinson/Stewart relationship only further expands the desire for more information: now that we’ve seen them touching, can’t we see them kissing?  Won’t that tell us everything we need to know?  About them, our own hopes invested in their romance, and love in general?

Of course not.  But the promise of fulfillment continues to guide the currents of web traffic.  In many ways, the phenomenon isn’t that different from the dilemma facing magazine publishers every week: if a magazine puts Pattinson on the cover, as Vanity Fair did this month, they will come.

Pattinson Cover

If you put him on the cover, they will come....

But with so much celebrity discourse and photo/video evidence available for free online, they may not buy.  Which is exactly why Vanity Fair pulled the brilliant (if obvious) move of not only putting its Pattinson story behind a pay wall, but also leaking excerpts early and promising additional photos to further encourage ‘hard copy’ purchase.

Pattinson Outtake

One of many outtakes from the Robert Pattinson Vanity Fair shoot

But there’s something slightly different at stake when it comes to internet traffic.  Print journalists — especially those associated with long established magazines such as People, US Weekly, or Vanity Fair — love a high sell-through number, but they aren’t individually tasked with cultivating a sustained readership for a particular internet site.  In the fickle world of internet traffic, readers are sometimes loyal, but rarely.  If they are loyal, it’s often to a syndicater — a home blog that links regularly to sites of interest, such as Perez Hilton, Huffington Post, Jezebel, etc.  Thus the impetus is both on the syndicater (to find links) and the satellite blogs (to get linked).

The ultimate goal: go viral.  And while very few stories or pictures go as ‘singularly’ viral as, say, The JK Wedding Video or “Dick in a Box,” you still want your particular story to be widely linked.  Some sites, including the Gawker Media Family, have historically based their pay scale on the amount of hits garnered, thus encouraging authors to post the most salacious, scandalous, or outrageous material possible in hopes of going viral.  (Gawker has supposedly since ceased such practices).

Well-paid bloggers have a particular impetus to garner massive amounts of hits. Take, for example, Nikki Finke.  As Anne Thompson recently reported, Finke is frustrated by the pressure to regularly pull in large numbers at her new home with mail.com, regularly forefronts what she names “shameless plug for Twilight traffic,” as evidenced below:

Nikki Finke 1

screen-capture-2

screen-capture-3

Of course, Thompson herself courts Twilight traffic from her new home at Indiewire — she’s posted her one-on-one (and admittedly adorable) video with Pattinson twice in the last week alone (while also hyping the new V.F. cover, including a sneak-peak excerpt).  And while Lainey Gossip declares a general dislike for the saga, she nevertheless has cornered the market on on-set filming updates from her home base of Vancouver, B.C.

But Twilight fuels more than just blogs like Deadline Hollywood Daily, Thompson on Hollywood, and Cinematical.  It also drives traffic to social networking and corporate sites; indeed, following the premiere of the New Moon trailer on the MTV Movie Awards, Finke declared the traffic stats “astounding“:

Summit Entertainment has a count of 4.2 million views for the New Moon trailer from MySpace, and another 1.6 million from MTV.com, so that’s 5.8 million combined views in the first 24 hours from its two domestic online launch partners. By comparison, the 3rd (and last) trailer for Twilight received 3.2 million views in its first 48 hours on MySpace, piddling compared to viewership for the sequel’s trailer.

The hype — and monetary potential — is huge.  In a tight market, Twilight content has emerged as one of the few sure bets.

Which is also why Twilight drives the content of small and middling blogs, including this one.  While I honestly did not write my post “Why Kristen Stewart Matters” with the intent of garnering massive attention, part of me certainly did know that such a post was more likely to get picked up by the likes of MovieCityNews, which had previously linked to several of my star-based posts.  And yet, as I’ve explained before, I had no idea that a small blog post could spread — or be valuable — to as many readers as it did.  It was Tweeted and re-Tweeted, Facebooked, posted on a dozen Twilight blogs, discussion boards, and Livejournals.  When Lainey Gossip linked to me, the traffic went through the roof — over 12,500 hits in a single 24-hour period.  I’m still regularly receiving new links to the original post (and the meta-post on Twilight hate mail that followed).

And then there’s the photos.  One of the photos I posted of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson has already garnered 40,000 hits.  It’s nested in the piece, of course, but people get there via some sort of image search — which means that such hits do and do not count.  Some stay and read the piece; most are just looking for a picture of them touching each other in magic hour lighting (see below).

Money Shot

KStew and RPattz's Money Shot (at least as far as my blog goes)

Of course, since I’m a non-profit blogger, hits have very little financial value.  But what happens when I attempt to use my blog as a proto-academic achievement?  How do I emphasize the reach of my posts and the blog in general?  Are hits an appropriate measure?  If they are, shouldn’t I just switch the entire topic of this blog to Twilight?  Alternately, if I want to use advertising to pay off the student loans accrued while attending an academic institution that insists on paying its Ph.D. students beneath the poverty line while requiring us to pay up to $1000 per semester in ‘fees’ (n.b., I have no qualms in outing our university, especially since state law prevents us from unionizing and thus challenging exploitative labor practices), hits certainly do matter.

Which is all to say that content — ‘professional,’ ‘journalistic,’ academic, gossip — is motivated by trends and results.  It’s not necessarily rooted in what’s happening in the industry (although Twilight and its production company, Summit, are certainly indicative of currents in the industry as a whole) but in what audiences are most motivated.  This is why some shows with small but vocal (and motivated) fan bases can compel certain shows to stay on the air: not because networks are necessarily sympathetic to pleas of ‘it’s quality TV,’ but because they recognize the potency of the show’s fans.  And Twilight fans, like those of Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries, are female, between the ages of 12 and 40, and ready to spend.  On spin-offs, for info, for premiere tickets, to see sneak preview footage.  They pay with actual dollars, but they also pay with their time: through internet searches, repeat trailer viewings, and gossip site searches.

Richard Corman’s famous “Peter Pan Theory” stated that you should always pitch a movie to a 19-year-old boy in order to get the broadest audience.  The enormous summer gross of Transformers 2 certainly proves the thesis true.  But Twilight, whose four books have dominated the New York Times best seller list for the last two years (and, with New Moon, is poised to become one of the top advance ticket sellers of all time) is proving that the cross-mediated text — and its enormous potential for exploitation — should cater to the girls.

Meta-Post: Sorting Through Twilight Hate Mail

stewart

On Monday, I published a post entitled “Why Kristen Stewart Matters.” The post worked through Stewart’s image, commenting on the ways in which her star text has been conflated with that of her most famous character, Bella Swan, and concluded with a defense, of sorts, of those who believe in the ‘real life’ relationship between Stewart and her Twilight co-star, Robert Pattinson.

To be clear: while I commented on the ways in which Stewart appears in public and the way that her acting style is often times described, I never said that I, personally, dislike Stewart.  Or her movies.  Or her star.  Or her haircut.  Or that I disapproved of her smoking pot, not wearing make-up, etc.

To be even clearer: I am, in fact, a fan of Twilight — even though I have profoundly ambivalent and complicated feelings about the text, it gets to me.  I’ve written about those feelings — and done ethnographic research on other feminists with a complicated relationship to the text — elsewhere.  What’s more, I like Kristen Stewart!  I even like her when she’s not Bella.  And I have no problem if she is, in fact, dating Robert Pattinson — a possibility that I in no way foreclosed.

But as evidenced by nearly one hundred comments, some more hateful than others, I did not make the above position clear.

How did the Twihaters find my modest academic blog, you wonder?  Not through random Googling.  Rather, through the magic of old school linking and Twitter.

Journey of a Post

I published the story late Sunday night; waited to publicize until Monday morning.  However, someone at Movie City News, who had happened upon an earlier guest post on Ellen Page and linked from the main site, must have seen the post on his/her reader on Sunday night, because it was on the Movie City News homepage early Monday morning and already funneling readers to the post.

Sometime that morning, Jen Yamato, a senior editor at Rotten Tomatoes, tweeted a link to the story; her Tweet was soon picked up by RobPattzNews, which, with 50,000 followers, opened the floodgates.  In addition to the thousands of readers from Movie City News and Yamato’s Followers, the link was retweeted dozens of times, posted on several IMDB chat boards, linked at Twilight fan sites, etc. etc, culminating in nearly 10,000 hits in one 24-hour period and earning the #7 spot on the WordPress Top Spot Chart. In other words, if you want internet traffic, write about Twilight.

In the end, a post intended for an audience either versed in star studies, semiotics, and the general project of my blog — the analysis of star production and reception — was read by thousands unfamiliar with my overarching purpose.  My thoughts came off as defamatory, insulting, hateful, vengeful, replete with jealousy.  For many, I was yet one more condescending outsider who could not understand how or why fans found Stewart, Pattinson, or their potential relationship important.

Of course, I did receive a fair amount of positive, or at least appreciative, feedback — all of which I posted.  But I made the executive decision not to post the hateful comments — in part because I had already decided that I would do a post like this one allowing such comments to see the light of day, but also, admittedly, because they were hurtful, as much as I tried to stay objective about them.  One can only take so much of being called a jealous, unintelligent bitch — although some were quite hilarious, as you’ll find below.

I’m certainly not the first to be subjected to such anonymous vitriol.  Lainey Gossip receives equally dismissive and vicious hate mail every time she posts on anyone and anything related to Twilight — including those who ridicule her race, her family, her husband, her looks, etc.  Dooce receives so many hateful comments that she has brilliantly decided to “monetize the hate” — creating a separate site, surrounded by ads, to generate ad profit off people reading the hate mail.

Looking through the comments, I find they can be divided into a few general categories: Believers/Evidencers, Defenders, and Ridiculers.

In general:

Believers voice their faith in the existence of the Stewart/Pattinson romance.  Even the suggestion that it was fabricated or suggested by the studio is blasphemy.  I’ve merged this group with the Evidencers, who counter my post with their own evidence — sometimes specific, sometimes tangential — that Pattison and Stewart are together.  They likewise point out that I have not done my research — and that if I did, I would know not only that they are together, but that some fans hate their romance.  Most interestingly, several posters accused me of not having ample evidence myself — and that I should either do more research (on fan boards, etc., to get a feel for what the fans are really thinking) and/or keep my nose out of their business.

Defenders take issue with what they read as my dislike or criticism of Kristen Stewart — her acting, her general look, etc.  These posters seem far more concerned with Stewart than the romance — indeed, many of them want to think of Stewart outside of her Twilight role, and dislike my reading of her star as intensely inflected by the Bella role.

Ridiculers are obviously the most hilarious as the bunch, as they go straight to my personal integrity and qualifications.  I’ll let these speak for themselves — and you should let me know which one you’d most like to have directed at you — but I’m struck by the presence of romantic individualism, a term Angela McRobbie uses to describe the ways that women attack each other in their quest for men, essentially dividing an otherwise powerful gender-bound coalition.

I’m posting the comments at length — not all of them, but the best of them — and would love to hear your feedback. Ultimately, I’m most struck by the ways in which a post wrote without jargon, intended for an audience of both academics and non-academics, could be interpreted so variously.  Importantly, almost everyone who regularly reads my blog is familiar with the idea of star studies and star construction; whether or not they voiced it explicitly, it was that suggestion of construction that inflamed most readers.

While I can’t monetize the hate as brilliantly as Dooce, I can make my own (academic) profit off such commentary.  Such is the purpose of this post.

BELIEVERS/EVIDENCERS

You could`ve just written 2 sentences.”I am so fucking jealous of Kristen Stewart&her relationship with Robert Pattinson.And let me count you all the reasons for my jealousy,which will be hidden very deeply in my faux *breaking down of their non-relationship*,which I am afraid as hell that it might actually be real,hence this entire post.”
You would save me 10 mins of my life,that I lost reading this BS,the time I will now never get back.Grow up&smell the coffee,hun.The writing is on the wall.Making yourself believe there is no R/K will get you nowhere fast.You`ll see what I mean soon.

Goodness, all that angsty filler. Pattinson and Stewart are together and have been *at least* since New Moon began filming. By the last month of filming, she’d moved into the Sheraton where he’d been staying.

They’re still together, and are a lot less interested in hiding it- staying at Chateau Marmont and the Charlie hotel in LA.

They are currently the only major cast memebers staying at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver. What a coincidence.

Beyond the mountain of evidence that they’re a couple, why would anyone expect that they are together? Well, you could go with the odds and it has nothing to do with their on-screen romance. Kristen and Rob and A-list celebs now. That doomed Kristen’s relaysh with Michael A. Women rarely, if ever, date down the food chain. Men might sometimes, but it’s rare for a woman

I would almost agree under any other circumstances. But there’s waaaaay too much evidence to point Robert and Kristen being together. I don’t expect them to come out and confirm any relationship (so many stars who are together do not ie: Beyonce, Jay-Z etc). To be honest at the very beginning I hadn’t read the books or seen the movie and I was drawn to do so out of curiosity. I would see magazine covers splashed with their photos all over so I decided to do my own investigating. I saw all of the interviews,panels,photoshoots,photo ops,premeires etc. I was fascinated by their closeness their chemistry that giddinesa and sparkle I would see in each others eyes that was so clear to see. I’m a 31 yr old married woman and definetly not delusional..I could planely see the that these two were falling in love with each other..To me it’s very interesting when I see others who don’t see the obvious but I guess some people are cynical or their minds are clouded by other things..but to me it’s as plain as day…

You cannot be serious. I suggest you go to Twilight fan sites where they ALL worship RP’s ass and see how much they DO NOT want him to be with Kristen.  So, yeah. Before you write something like this , do a little research beforehand and avoid coming across as such an ignorant person.  I know this won’t go through since you don’t have the balls to let everyone comment and all the comments are being screened. But, hey, at least you read it.

idk about them..lol..and as far as not wanting us to like her..ok your opinion..more like i would say she’s just over people like you ..who are obviously not fans of hers and do and say everything you can to bash her and then think this is intelligent mature conversation..umm no its not..i really dont know who you are ..where you come from..or what kind of blog this is..but one things for sure..you have a major issue..with Kristen Stewart..”sigh”..but then again..who doesnt these days..its really getting old..get your facts straight and do a little more research on this young lady next time you decide to write an article about her..because you are greatly misinformed and your research is way off.

DEFENDERS

Just tell me one thing: do you know Kristen or Rob?
Cause the way you talk (write), it looks like you’re really close to them…
Get over yourself, hon, you’re trying to look smart and insightful, but instead, you’re just doing exactly like the tabs, trying to come up with explanations about something you know nothing about.
Who are you to judge Kristen, when you’ve never even talked to her, had a conversation at least?
How can you be so shallow to talk about someone you don’t really know?
I don’t know her either, but as far as I see, she’s just a 19 year old trying cope with all the twilight craziness and not loose her mind.
It’s so easy talk about people when you have no idea how they feel.
You should be ashamed, you never know who are going to read this BS you wrote.

Kristen Stewart is an accomplished actress who has been working in the industry for 10 years. She has been praised by people she has worked with over and over again and has a huge fan base who adore her. It just appears now that Rob Pattinson is quite taken with her, his jealous fans such as yourself, feel the need to criticize her openly in your blogs. What’s your purpose? Do you think Rob or Kristen care what you think? Does it make yourself feel better? Your bitter jealousy is visible in this article and it’s unattractive. Get off your high horse because you will never have what Kristen Stewart does.

I’ve been a fan of Kristen Stewart for years. I find it sexist that apparently in your mind Kristen has to always wear dresses, watch her word words, and just sit and look pretty. She is famous. She has done movies with some of the biggest actors and actresses. Bella Swan might be well know but not famous in that sense. Unless you mean that everyone wants her vampire boyfriend, then yes. The magazines are wrong with all their BS covers that try to make it sound like Edward and Bella but most people don’t think of them like that. When I read the the book, sure I see Edward and Bella as Rob and Kristen but I don’t expect them in real life to act like that. Really the way you hate Kristen I think you are expecting her to be like Bella. Bella is a weak little girl that just needs a mans help which then maybe its good Kristen isn’t like that.

No offense, but you seem to dislike Kristen.  I’m disappointed that you aren’t more objective.   Although Bella put her on the map with the general pulic, Kristen was already on the map and respected in HW and with HW insiders.  I disagree that “Bella” will define Kristen.  Once this series of movies is over, she will move on to better characters.  The fans of Twilight will not follow Kristen to other movies.  Thank God!  For some reason a good portion of this fan base comes accross as extemely irrational in their criticism and hatred of her.  Methinks some jealous little girls and cougars wish they were “Bella”.  I am in the middle ground over whether a real relationship exists between Robert P. and Kristen, but I have to ask; who are your sources that youare so sure its NOT a real romance?  I’m very confused about your claim that this is a publicity stunt.  Why would a romance between Robert and Kristen would be a publicity stunt deigned by the studio?  Don’t most of the twi-hards hate Kristen?  Don’t most of the Robsessed think Rob is better off alone and waiting for them?  Only a small percentage of the fans are actual “shippers” so a publicity stunt makes no sense whatsoever.

You leave no doubt that you do not care for Kristen Stewart’s acting abilities.  But to imply that she is without talent negates the opinions of Sean Penn, Jodie Foster, Donald Sutherland, etc., who have VERY high opinions of her abilities.  Then you twist her relationship with Robert Pattinson to paint them both as studio puppets who pretend to be dating.  And because you still feel the need to insult and condescend, you paint the fans as unable to distinguish between what they see on screen and off.  Obviously, you have an agenda and you attempt to disguise it with seemingly thoughtful analysis, but your “analysis” fails in that it doesn’t consider the real story.

Im sorry i completely disagree with you. First of all, Kristen has been well known in hollywood inner circles for a LONG time for her acting. Her acting in Speak, Into the Wild, and Cake Eaters, were critically praised, and she is considered one of the most talented young actresses in hollywood. She had all this before Twilight. Heck, this is a girl, who is praised by Sean Penn and Jodie Foster, two of the best actors in cinema, as being one of the most talented young actresses Hollywood has ever seen.  Second, fans of Kristen Stewart love her because of her the way she dresses, the way she speaks her mind, and the way she doesnt care about hollywood’s expectations. How refreshing, that there is a young actress now days who doesnt care about the publicity and the fame, and all she cares about is the craft. In a sea of superficiality and disingenious people, Kristen Stewart stands out as a talented, individual.
While you attempted to be intellectual and dissect why people are fascinated by Kristen Stewart, you failed utterly and proved yourself to be another KStew hater. i think its you who doesnt understand why a lot of fans have fallen in love with this girl

Kristen Stewart is one of my favourite actress and that’s been the case since way before Twilight. I think she’s a stunningly beautiful young woman and a very talented actress. Despite her young age, she has worked with many important names in the business and all of them have a very high opinion of her. I appreciate K’s efforts to maintain a somewhat normal life despite the hype caused by everything Twilight. And I am very happy that she and Rob have found one another.

Okay wow..i dont even know where to start..whats with the Kristen hate..good lord like i said..you’ve called her out and insulted her on so many different levels..not really sure where to start..umm but i’ll try with this first..sorry but i have never seen K wear ugly clothes in public..she has her own style obviously..so totally different than anyone else in HollyWood..and i admire her for it..but not ugly by any means..and have never seen her wear 2 day old make up in public..and if she did..well that tells me the cameras were a little to close up in her business..because come on ladies..who hasnt done it from time to time..if u say you havent went out in public even briefly with out washing off your make up a couple of times..then u are telling a fib..lol..and her mullet..how many more times does it have to be said..she did it for a movie role people..i admire her all the more for cutting off her beautiful long brown hair for this role..and some people seem to forget..yes she did have beautiful long hair at one point..and sure she will again..it hasnt always been a mullet..lol..and as far as her acting style..you need to go back and read what all the people that have worked with her has said about her acting style..and skills..nothing but praise..from names that mean something..and i would think know a little bit more about someones acting abilities than you..no offence intended of course..and as far as not speaking up on her relay with Rob Pattinson..well i think we could say he’s just as tight lipped as she and that would be their business..and really..you think maybe its all for PR huh..well i guess time will tell..have to say that really throws your take on Kstews acting skills out the window..lol..it would take one heck of an actress and actor by the way..to fake their off screen chemistry and all those meetings and hotel stays and concerts and pics..yes it would take a really dedicated actress to fool us all for the past year and 1/2..luv her truly..and him…great method actors those 2.

“I may be all alone in this, but I like Kristen BECAUSE of all the reasons you mention we should not ” I LOVE HER! and you’re a so jealous Person… Ok ROB IS YOURS… ARE YOU HAPPY? GROW UP! PLEASE!

RIDICULERS

anne you’re a jealous b*tch. leave kristen alone and quit trying to tear her down. she’s done nothing to deserve your scorn and doesn’t care what you think of her. you look like a jealous fangirl with this drivel.

I find this post highly disrespectful, cynical, hateful and ignorant towards both Kristen and Robert and their fans at large. I have to give you credit for trying at least to sound intellectual. This sounds like a sociology paper i did in college freshman year. But you’re straining. First of all, the attacks against Kristen are so off-base I don’t have enough time to get into it here. Secondly, it is FACT they they are best friends and in love, dating, shagging, whatever you want to you call it. That isn’t because I read tabloids (they all suck) or because of some naive wish- fulfillment. I’m 34, divorced, attend grad school, and have worked since I was 15. I’m happy, have tons of friends, like my parents, realize world peace will never happen, and can separate fact from fiction. Hence, I am no “fangirl”. I don’t scream, stalk, wish Rob bit me or that Kristen would walk the plank. I know they are together because I have paid attention. I have watched them; You Tube videos and in person. I’ve read countless interviews and aritlces, and seen thousands of photos; I’ve read comments from the interviewers, photographers, directors and actors they’ve worked with; I read facial expressions, body language. And because of this knowledge, I WANT them to be together… becuase THEY MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY. Shocking, I know. Direct sources? yes, I have them, but that’s besides the point. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. The truth is staring us all in the face; the question is do you want to admit it???

You could`ve just written 2 sentences.”I am so fucking jealous of Kristen Stewart&her relationship with Robert Pattinson.And let me count you all the reasons for my jealousy,which will be hidden very deeply in my faux *breaking down of their non-relationship*,which I am afraid as hell that it might actually be real,hence this entire post.”

You would save me 10 mins of my life,that I lost reading this BS,the time I will now never get back.Grow up&smell the coffee,hun.The writing is on the wall.Making yourself believe there is no R/K will get you nowhere fast.You`ll see what I mean soon.

I think you need serious help. Weather you like it or not there is a Robsten. Alot of ppl do ont appreciate your bashing of Kristen and i’m sure Rob does not. This is not for PR for the movies.

I dare you to post even the negative comments. A true academician and a real scholar can dish it out as well as take it.

Otherwise, I suggest you go back and talk to your professors and ask what academic means.

Strange that only positive comments get posted. You’re too chicken shit to accept a negative comment yet you want to appear scholarly. You’re a poser. A fake.

If you cannot be intelligent enough to accept both negatrive and positives, at least try and not to be so superficial.  Playing Bella doesn’t define Kristen Stewart.That’s why she couldn’t care less walking around being un-Bella like.

Being Edward and Bella in the Twi franchise may define or may not Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s relationship to each other. Even if it does, you can only wish you were Kristen so you could at least be with Rob in some way. And then maybe, you should also stop and think that maybe, they really do like each other and they really do have a relatiionship. Unless you know for sure that they don’t, stop assuming they don’t have one.

But with a brain cells like yours, you’d never get it.

Annie Petersen, you’re a journalist, and you should have done more research. These two are a couple. You’re right, Kristen Stewart matters, and you don’t, so get over it. Jelousy is not a good thing. Leave her alone. You know nothing about her, so why judge her. Just because you’ve seen a few movies she’s done, or some pictures of her, all of a sudden you think you know her. true fans who have had incounters with her, had nothing but good things to say about her. The reason why they don’t shut down the dating rumors, is because they are dating. If you did enough research you would know that these two are extremely private people who don’t like to flaunt their relationship like the rest of the Hollywood does.

Anne, insteresting read.  So basically what you are saying is that this is a plan by the studio to make fools believe that Robert and Kristen are a couple, and that all the sightings of them together, which you didn’t include in your piece, are basically a PR stunt.  Plausible, but that would mean that Kristen and Robert are putting their lives on hold for the sake of their paycheck which would really turn people off.  So your assessment is that they are playing their fans, or at least the fools who believe they could be a couple.  Wonderful.  My question to you is, do you know for a fact they are not a couple, or are you trying to make sense of how fans view these people?  Because I can tell you that I know the difference between fictional characters and real people, and so do other Twilight fans.  Many of whom like Rob and Kristen in spite of the characters they play.  Many became fans after watching their inteactions during interviews, which to many, seemed honest and not staged.  So basically you are alluding that Rob and Kristen are just playing the studio game, collecting their paycheck and laughing at the fans who support them.  Not to mention, you clearly dissed Kristen in your thought proviking piece.  I still haven’t decided if this is your opinion, or you have the facts to back this up.  I guess we will never know.  Or yet again, we may know after Rob and Kristen collect their paychecks.

And my personal favorite:

This is a ridiculous article. Are you really a journalist or a work experience student trying your luck? FAIL!

Why Kristen Stewart Matters.

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Kristen Stewart is Cooler Than You

Kristen Stewart doesn’t want to be your friend.  She doesn’t want you to like her.  Or rather, she doesn’t care if you like her or not.  She wears ‘ugly’ clothes in public, doesn’t bother to take off last night’s eye makeup, looks hungover, and uses a marijuana pipe in public.  She has a mullet.  She wears skinny jeans.  She offers no comment on her relationship (or lack thereof) with costar Robert Pattinson.  She has one acting style — which mostly employs putting her hands through her hair, not saying much, and biting her lip.  But none of that matters, because Kristen Stewart herself is no star.  But Bella Swan — that’s another matter entirely.

joanjett1joanjett2

But she’s an immense object of fascination — photos of her are at a premium, no matter the mullet or generally dismissiveness of fame, adulation, publicity, etc.

And what really fascinates me about Stewart — or rather, about the amount of attention directed towards her — is that it’s almost entirely rooted in a specific persona that has subsumed her identity.

And that specific identity — and why she could do anything, truly anything, save becoming a lesbian, and would still maintain her popularity — is that of Bella Swan.  For those of you not in the know, that’s the heroine of Twilight, and the fount of her fame.

Of course, Twilight was not Stewart’s first role — she was best known for her work as Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room and as a skinny, young, hopeful girl in love with the protagonist of Into the Wild.

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Kristen Stewart and Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild

Before Twilight, she also filmed her role in Adventureland – a music obsessed 20-something with a penchant for older men, being angsty, and running her hands through her hair.  (In other words: the same character she plays in Twilight, only she digs Lou Reed, et. al.  See Alyx Vesey’s excellent post on her character as music geek here.)

But the role of Bella has truly defined her — and defined what her image means and will continue to mean to the general public.  Even when she is photographed smoking pot on a doorstep, or holding hands with her boyfriend (who is NOT, or least WAS not, Robert Pattinson), or even appearing with non-Bella hair (as she’s currently filming the Joan Jett bio-pic), they cannot usurp the conflation of Stewart with her Bella persona. It’s as if Bella Swan is wearing a mullet wig — a total inverse of the actual situation, which has Stewart putting on a Bella wig to cover up her ‘real’ mullet haircut.

kristen-stewart-smoking-pot-photos-1Being very un-Bella-like

Ultimately, the Stewart star image emerges as a hybrid between the inaccessible — the hipster Stewart — and the wholly accessible — Bella as near-universal point of identification. For in the narrative of Twilight, Bella is crafted as an almost non-personality…besides the fact that she is clumsy and likes cooking dinner for her father, there are very few specifics as to her looks, her hobbies, etc. Indeed, Bella functions as a cipher into which any reader — mom, daughter, whatever — may insert themselves.  Hence the widespread Edward fascination: when so many women can identify so closely with the female protagonist, it’s no wonder that her love interest becomes the newest heartthrob, inspiring, in several cases, truly fanatic and destructive behavior.  Thus: Stewart may be too cool for you, but Bella is you.

To my mind, this is a somewhat unique phenomenon, as the extraordinary/ordinary paradox is usually embodied within the star’s public image and simply accentuated/underscored by various film roles.  Here, one specific film role performs the majority of the labor.

Other stars have been subsumed and their futures controlled by a particular role.  Yet this phenomenon is most often associated with television personalities — people who play the same character every week, oftentimes for years at a time, thus firmly conflating themselves with a very particular character.  In the case of Stewart, however, the phenomenon is rooted in the avid Twilight fandom.  In other words, even though only one film has been released — the second Twilight film will be released this Fall; they’re currently filming the third — her face is now mapped onto each and every reader’s journey through the books.

I read the books over a year ago, at the hilt of the Twilight frenzy in the weeks before the Breaking Dawn release.  The film had yet to be released, but I had seen the preview; Stewart’s face (and Pattinson’s) were the ones I unconsciously inserted into my visualizations of the text.  Every time a Twilight fan — and trust me, readers, there are many of us, of all ages, feminist and non-feminist, with various feelings of ambivalence, rapture, and disgust — thinks about the character of Bella, it is Stewart’s face that pops up.  She is Bella.  And Bella loves Edward.  And they are meant to be together — no matter what.  No matter that one is supposedly a vampire.  As the tagline of their romance would read, they are fated.

Which likewise explains the truly fanatic and sometimes absurd attempts to link Stewart with Pattinson in real life.  Fans love a ‘real-life’ romance that mirrors the one that seduced audiences on-screen: that’s why the studios made up false relationships during the studio system, as best hyperbolized and satirized in Singin’ in the Rain.

Sometimes real life ‘mirror romances’ do occur — most recently, see the engagement of the two leads of True Blood (Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer), the off-set relationship between Gossip Girl‘s Serena and Dan (Blake Lively and Penn Badgely) and my personal favorite, the now-defunct romance between The Notebook‘s Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling.

In some cases, these romances occur outside of studio machinations — McAdams and Gosling supposedly became romantically involved months after they filmed The Notebook, when the re-enacted their famous kiss for The MTV Movie Awards and felt a spark.  (Oh, what a great PR piece.)  Sometimes they date because they spend a lot of time together on set.  And sometimes, as in the case of Stewart and Pattinson, they might not date at all — but they do very little to shut down the illusion that they might be.

The producers of Twilight are keenly aware of how a spectre of real-life romance will appease fans who have long willed such a connection to exist.  As such, they have legislated how Stewart can appear in public: when she was officially dating her (supposedly now ex-) boyfriend Michael Angarano, she was not permitted to be photographed holding his hand or being intimate.  Why? Because it would serve as proof that she was not, in fact, involved in a backstage relationship with her one and only love, Edward Cullen Robert Pattinson.

Bella and Edward

In Character as Bella and Edward

And any number of official publicity shots and appearances do very little to dissuade those who would like to believe in such a romance, as evidenced by the pictures below.

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Out of Character: Extratextual Twilight Porn

What’s crucial to note here is how non-Bella (and non-Edward) both appear in the above photos — not only does Bella/Stewart suddenly have a sense of style (Bella does not — and she especially does not in the books, in which she regularly sports ugly long jean skirts).  As for Edward/Pattinson, in the books, he is a VAMPIRE.  With pale skin.  Here, however, he just looks sexy/dirty.

The last picture is particularly fascinating, as it works very arduously to conflate the pair with their onscreen roles.  The shot was taken at this past year’s MTV Movie Awards — and, as was the case with McAdams and Gosling, they were asked to recreate their kiss (or lack thereof) as Bella/Edward for the audience.  The two moved in, very hesitantly, just as they do in the film, and simply let the tension sizzle for several moments, never actually kissing.  Yet they were ‘dressed’ as their ‘real’ selves — while engaging in their characters’ behavior.  They were, in essence, confirming what all Twilight fans would most like to believe: that the sexual tension and passion of the film is not a construction or an act — but real. Essential and vital.

And if it exists in ‘real life,’ then a fan’s fantasy of that love is not simply a fantasy — it’s authenticated and substantiated.  A Stewart/Pattinson romance is proof positive that Twilight is not a silly, derided, absurdist, vampire text.  It’s possible: something on which to stake one’s hopes and dreams for what love can and should look like.

Stewart and Pattinson matter, then, because love — and our fantasies of what love looks like — matters.  No matter how silly you think Twilight fans are, fantasies — whether they involve Star Trek, Megan Fox, or drafting individual players onto football teams and competing with friends across the country — matter.  What we think about when we’re not living our lives — how we’d like our lives to be, the ways we project our perfect selves — say so much about what may be lacking in our lives, and how we manage to make up for that lack and still live fulfilling lives in our non-fantasy worlds.

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That’s why I don’t get grossed out or frustrated when I see the mags attempting to construct a torrid secret romance between the two.  As unrealistic as the Bella/Edward romance is — and not only because it’s supernatural, but because it has some truly unrealistic components of devotion, selflessness, sacrifice, etc. — it brings people pleasure.  This pleasure may be different than the pleasure I experience in breaking down this romance for you in this very post, but it is a very real pleasure nonetheless, and cannot be discounted.