Twilight Moms: The Synergy between Fandom and Marketing
By Kenna Tasissa (2020)
Note: Twilight MOMS, stylized in all caps, refers to a specific fan website created in 2007. Twilight moms refers to any mother who enjoys the Twilight saga.
During its heyday, spanned across the cover of TwilightMOMS.com was the quote, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World.” By the time the second film, New Moon, was released in 2009, Twilight moms became something of a cultural spectacle. News sources and online commentators puzzled over how middle-aged mothers could become so obsessed with a teen fantasy-romance series. In this paper, I will give a history of the Twilight moms phenomenon, specifically the Twilight MOMS blog. Interest in the saga by this demographic was initially organic, but was eventually boosted by the film studio to manufacture interest and promote the series.
Twilight moms and Twilight MOMS
Perhaps the most influential of all Twilight moms was Lisa Hansen, the founder of the original Twilight MOMS website. She described her initial foray into the Twilight fandom at age thirty-six as a welcome distraction from the stress of her personal life and her job as a “little warehouse grunt” at a shipping company in Utah (Jackman). Her neighbor’s teenage daughter had recommended the first book to her, and despite admittedly not being much of a reader, Hansen was instantly hooked. Rather than feeling empowered by her newfound love of the book series, Hansen felt deeply ashamed. “I felt totally guilty and embarrassed because here I was obsessing over something like teenage vampires,” she confessed, “ I felt like I couldn’t talk to my neighbors or my friends at work about it because this was a teenage book” (Jackman). She immediately felt a need to find other fans who loved the books as much as she did and turned to online forums as a starting point. However, soon after venturing online, Hansen found that she did not have much in common with the girls who made up existing Twilight online communities. Feeling out of place among the online teenage fangirling over Edward and Jacob, Hansen worked up the courage to ask on a discussion board, “Is there anyone out there like me?” (Jackman).
At the time, she had expected to find five to ten mothers with whom she could discuss her Twilight obsession (Jackman). So when dozens of women reached out, Hansen decided to create an online space for Twilight fans like her. In order to join TwilightMOMS.com, prospective members had to be parents, married, or over the age of 21 years old (McKee). By December of 2007, Hansen’s Twilight MOMS website garnered 86 members (Brodesser-akner). Over the next six months, similar communities for Twilight fans who were mothers began to crop up and gain attention on the internet and membership for Hansen’s Twilight MOMS website swelled to the thousands (Fox). The profile for her website read:
Is your house a disaster with piles of piles of laundry in every corner and stacks of dirty dishes at record breaking heights? Have you imagined your husband is a vampire (or werewolf) and suddenly have the libido of a newlywed again? You still can’t tear yourself away from the book and damned be the consequences! The good news is, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! (Christiansen)
Hansen certainly was not alone–in addition to the hundreds of new memberships her website received every month, Hansen said that she received countless emails from women who were grateful to have found the Twilight MOMS community (Jackman).
Other self-proclaimed Twilight moms have described a similar feeling of community that online forums and real-life fanclubs brought to their lives. One administrator on TwilightMOMS.com said that she felt like she “had a home on the internet” thanks to the fansite (Brodesser-akner). Gabrielle Vittoria, a member of Twilight MOMS who co-created the New York-New Jersey branch Volturi Ventures, described the community as a sisterhood. “These women used to be my Twilight MOMS friends,” Vittoria said. “Now they’re just my friends” (Lo & Em).
A decade after the peak of the Twilight craze, I interviewed some self-identified Twilight moms about their experiences within the fandom. Debra, a middle school librarian who was fifty-two at the time she joined the fandom, felt a sense of community among the Twilight fans she knew at her work: “…We were passing around the books and talking about them at school, even discussed with students who had read them,” she remembered. “When the movies came out, we’d get a group together and go to the movies to see them. It was a very fun and very social thing to do, we had this bond of the love of these books.” Speaking to the widespread appeal of Twilight, one mother named Amanda recounted reading the books at age thirty-five at the same time both her mother and her daughter were reading them. Amanda wrote, “…Of course we felt a bit odd reading YA-leaning stuff at the time but it pretty soon became normal for adults to read YA.” Even though these women did not create their own fanpages, they shared a similar experience forming Twilight mom communities as the women who ran the Twilight fandom’s empires.
Many have speculated as to why the Twilight saga became so popular among middle-aged women. Nancy Kirkpatrick–head of worldwide marketing with the film studio that would produce the Twilight series–concluded that the reason why the series became so beloved with multiple demographics was due to its treatment of sensuality. Kirkpatrick explained, “While it is about vampires, the book is very chaste. [Stephenie Meyer] takes her Mormon faith very seriously” (Brodesser-akner). Its decidedly PG-13 approach to Edward and Bella’s love meant that mothers and daughters both could read and enjoy the series. Meyer’s voice in shaping Bella’s personality may have captured the hearts of mothers for other reasons as well. Kristen Starkweather, the media director of TwilightMOMS.com, described a personal identification with Bella’s character: “Bella is a responsible caretaker—she cooks, she cleans, she takes care of her family. Those are maternal traits that a lot of moms can relate to” (Em & Lo). Despite the presence of supernatural creatures, for some mothers, the fundamental appeal of Twilight was its incorporation of traditional gender values. For others, the high-stakes first-love romance reminded them of high school, and brought sparks back to their marriages. Lisa Hansen recounted her own surprise that she became a fan of the series, admitting that she “would never have picked up a fantasy book, or a vampire book, let alone one that was in the Young Adult section” (Jackman). When asked why she believed older women gravitated towards the Twilight series, Lisa Hansen suggested that its YA category was just a “label put there to market it to a group.” She went on to say that such labels should not define what good literature is and who should enjoy it. “All I know is that Twilight is a damn good story and people love it,” Hansen declared. “ I would really like to break through the idea that this is just a guilty pleasure” (Jackman). From the time she founded the website, part of Hansen’s mission was to break the stigma against Twilight moms.
As Twilight MOMS’ online presence exploded between 2008 and 2010, the fandom shifted from the underground to the mainstream. During filming of the first movie in May of 2008, the Twilight MOMS website had grown to over 6,100 members (Christiansen). By July, that number swelled to 8,000 to coincide with the final book’s release (Fox). When the first film in the series was gearing up to be released in November of 2008, TwilightMOMS.com had doubled to over 16,000 followers (Brodesser-akner). Hansen’s operations grew in scale and she recruited administrators to help run her site. By the time the second film, New Moon, was set to be released in November of 2009, Lisa Hansen was in the process of coordinating an event of over 5000 women in Salt Lake City to celebrate its worldwide premiere (Jackman). At this point, her website had garnered over 34,000 active members (Em & Lo). As the third movie, Eclipse, was set to open in June of 2010, TwilightMOMS.com had cultivated an active membership of over 40,000 users (McKee). The amount of attention that Lisa Hansen received as a result of her devotion to the Twilight fandom was overwhelming at times. “One day my husband said: ‘I told you to make some friends, not built an empire!’’ Hansen declared in November 2009. “It has kind of turned everything upside down. I haven’t had a clean house for three years. Every so often I have to stop and remind myself that I need to feed people, that the kids need clean clothes…” (Jackman). Along with the site’s exponential growth would come unexpected repercussions for the mothers involved.
As Twilight moms grew from followers of the books to fans of the film adaptation, they became more visible and even more influential. Summit Entertainment, an independent film studio that was formed in 2007, had secured the rights to adapt the bestselling book series onto the big screen (Kaufman). As part of their fan-service marketing, Summit allowed fans to be on set of the first film–which was relatively low budget and had minimal security. Actor Justin Chon, who played Eric in the films, revealed that the strangest fan interaction he had was in this setting. As he was walking to his trailer on the set of the first film, he was intercepted by a group of fans. “I noticed this group of middle-aged women hanging around,” Chon recounted in a later interview with MTV. “One of them kind of loudly whispers, ‘Hey, come here.’ I walk over and she hands me a business card. I flip it over and it reads, ‘Twilight MOMS.’ She wanted me to call her” (McKee).
As it turns out, Chon’s bewilderment at the Twilight MOMS’ presence and self-promotion strategies was not entirely founded. By the time the first Twilight movie had begun filming, the producers had already taken notice of the stunning online presence of the older faction of the book series’ fandom and were in direct communication with fansites. Perhaps unknown to the cast, Summit Entertainment arranged to have a group of bloggers from the Twilight MOMS website spend several days on set to post about their experiences in order to help promote the film to mothers (Brodesser-akner). Nancy Kirkpatrick explained that a key marketing strategy was to expand the movie’s audience beyond the core YA demographic of teen and tween girls, with Twilight MOMS leading the charge (Brodesser-akner). The way to cultivate a devoted Twilight moms following was to give the fans exactly what they wanted. Kirkpatrick revealed that “what we’ve learned is to involve the fans and make them feel part of it” (Brodesser-akner). By recruiting Twilight moms in the film’s promotion, the film studio actively participated in making Twilight moms the visible cultural phenomenon that they became.
Source: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Summit Entertainment
Part of the reason why Summit Entertainment had initially enlisted Twilight moms to help with promotion was to counteract some of the negative reaction to the series ahead of the first film’s scheduled release (Brodesser-akner). Kristen Starkweather of Twilight MOMS explained, “We consider ourselves a Stephenie Meyer fan site. It doesn’t all have to be sunshine and roses, but we don’t allow bashing of any kind. We have ‘mommy rules’ about what language is appropriate, and we watch very closely for people who are being mean or cruel” (Brodesser-akner). However, the content of the books and films were not the only parts of Twilight that the public scrutinized. As Twilight moms became more visible online, on red carpets, and at fan events and conventions, the fandom itself experienced waves of backlash.
Lisa Hansen acknowledged the struggle of having such a large platform on the receiving end of hostility from the public: “It was horrible. There were trolls on our message boards, and people posting at other sites, saying we were pedophiles. I was getting hate mail. They were very blunt about saying we were sick old women who were just obsessing over teenage boys. It was everywhere” (Jackman). Perhaps as a response to the extreme accusations being leveled at older fans of the Twilight saga, TwilightMOMS.com became one of the most rigidly self-policing fan forums on the internet, particularly in contrast to other Twilight fan sites that were more explicit in their sexual content (Hare). In addition to its rules against negativity with regard to Stephenie Meyer, Twilight MOMS were not allowed to gossip about the personal lives of the cast, use profanity, or post pictures of any cast members without a shirt except when in character (Jackman). Despite the best efforts of those at Twilight MOMS to regain control of their narrative, their public image was often defined by extreme fans and the critics who satirized them.
Shortly after the release of the fifth and final film installment of the Twilight saga, TwilightMOMS.com shut down for reasons unknown (Twilight MOMS LLC). Though its history is somewhat erased with the closure of the website in 2014 and the disappearance of all of the archived posts (its web domain is currently for sale), its impact on the women involved is undeniable. Twilight MOMS’ affiliate Facebook page is still open, though Debra informed me that it is not as active as it once was. Many of the recent posts reminisce on past experiences–when I emailed Debra on March 1, 2020, the post of the day was a memory of the Breaking Dawn Part II premiere.
Source: TwilightMOMS Facebook
The women who were involved in Twilight MOMS created a genuine source of online community, and remain a powerful example of fandoms shaping public discourse surrounding media and being utilized to promote works.
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Christiansen, Katie. “Twilight Beckons to a Mature Audience.” The Sundial. California State University Northridge, November 25, 2008. https://sundial.csun.edu/7379/archive/twilightbeckonstoamatureaudience/.
Em & Lo. “Why Middle-Aged Moms Are Swooning Over The ‘Twilight’ Series.” New York Magazine. November 11, 2009. https://nymag.com/movies/features/62027/.
Fox, Elizabeth. “’Twilight’s’ Last Gleaming.” https://www.inquirer.com. The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 2008. https://www.inquirer.com/philly/entertainment/20080729__Twilight_s__last_gleaming.html.
Hare, Breeanna. “Older women crave ‘New Moon’ vampires.” CNN. November 16, 2009. https://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/11/16/older.twilight.fans/index.html
Jackman, Christine.“Guilty pleasures of a twilight mum.” The Australian Magazine, November, 2009.
Kaufman, Anthony. “Case Study: Summit Entertainment.” Variety, 31 Oct. 2009. https://variety.com/2009/film/markets-festivals/case-study-summit-entertainment-1118010680/
McKee, Ryan. “Confessions of a (Male) Twi-Hard: Twilight MOMS Rule My World.” MTV News. MTV, September 7, 2010. http://www.mtv.com/news/2800256/confessions-of-a-male-twi-hard-twilight-moms/.
TWILIGHT MOMS LLC. https://secure.utah.gov/bes/details.html?entity=7190869-0163