The Twilight cascade: vampires and network theory

Posted: 05/09/2010 in ARIN6901 Network Society, Uncategorized
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Almost two years ago, when I was an editor at Cine PREMIERE magazine, I went to the Four Seasons Hotel in Mexico City to, out of curiosity, record a round table of a guy named Robert Pattinson, who had been welcomed by thousands of fans at the airport. He was the protagonist of a new vampire movie called Twilight, which apparently was based on a very popular teenage-lit series. I had no clue who Robert Pattinson was, and had only heard distant comments about the book series. But even if the movie hadn’t been released yet, thousands of teenage girls wanted to meet Pattinson. I recorded the interview, uploaded it to our website and…. what a surprise! The numbers for both the website and our YouTube channel suddenly went off the chart, and our online forums started to get new users with names such as “twilightchick”, “amoacrepúsculo”, “edwardloveme” and such. Literally thousands of new users flooded our website. I had no idea that the Twilight saga had such a following and that it would translate so successfully from the literary to the cinematographic milieus. After the trend continued for some more weeks. After everything we published about Twilight in our website got record numbers, we had to sit down and discuss how we were going to profit from this unexpected phenomenon in the printed version of the magazine. It was a loooong meeting. Some said that the magazine couldn’t fall for it and that it was too respectable to put Twilight on the cover. Others like me said that if all those fans that had invaded the website were to buy the physical version of the magazine, we would get record numbers. We did it and…. we got record numbers. We identified a trend that we didn’t know existed. I watched the movie and the crappy dialogue, bad FX and terrible acting made the phenomenon all the more intriguing. Why would a story as crappy as this get thousands of fans? Why would all these teenage girls camp on the airport just to get a glimpse of this Pattinson dude?

When discussing “Thresholds, Cascades and Predictability”, Duncan Watts (2003), offers some insight into that enigmatic question. Although he accepts that mass cultural contagions have an element of randomness (“But once in a while, for reasons that are never obvious beforehand, one such shock gets blown out of all proportion in the form of a cascade”. p.97), he is clear in establishing a model in which phenomena can be understood. In the case of Twilight and under Watt’s terms, the “early adopters” of the innovation were the avid readers of Stephenie Meyer’s fiction… and they truly became “apostles” of the teenage-vampire universe. These early adopters propagated their creed through a vast network of online discussion forums, which elevated the saga to a cult status that was, in turn, brought to the surface by the more publicized release of the theatrical film and the thousands of words and images it has gotten via tabloid coverage of the romantic whereabouts of the protagonists. But the question remains. Why is Twilight so popular? Why is the love for it as intense as the hatred  it inspires? Once again, Watts’ notions can be of help: because as a random innovation, Twilight struck on a “vulnerable cluster”. That of the emo culture (listen to the saga’s soundtrack), the teenage attraction to “bad boys” and the popular love for vampire stories that hadn’t been served on a mass level since Anne Rice reigned as the vampire queen in the 90s. The cascade triggered by Twilight has benefited other vampire movies, TV series and products. The most prominent among them is HBO’s series True Blood, which relates to a more mature audience. Watts also says that in order to understand these success stories, these sudden almighty cascades, “the trick is to focus not on the stimulus itself [Twilight] but on the structure of the network that the stimulus hits [a vast informational web brought to life by savvy, young Internet users]” (112).

I still don’t get a vampire with glowing skin, though.

Reference

Watts, Duncan (2003) ‘Thresholds, cascades and predictability’ in Six degrees: the science of a connected age, New York and London: W.W. Norton, pp.220-252.

For ARIN6901, Network Society, The University of Sydney (Master in Digital Communication and Culture).

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