Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Twilight Zone

I wanted to loathe The Official Twilight Convention ©™. Everything I have ever read about the books and movies—by most accounts a collection of slackly constructed, dead-eyed romantic longings without dramatic incident or tension—together with their baffling popularity suggests a further slide in the decline of Western Civilization. The chance to witness a gathering of this benighted franchise’s readership in the throes of celebrating it, then, seemed a fine opportunity to document said cultural atrophy. And yet it felt mean to hate on an event so stunningly ill-attended.

(I should add before proceeding that I have not read or watched any of the Twilight books or movies, for the same reasons I was only recently exposed to the scribblings of Dan Brown. While arguing from a position of ignorance is almost always to be frowned upon, I should hope those who have had the misfortune of slogging through one or another of the Twilight saga’s installments would defend me in my (obviously unfounded) assertion that Twilight is bad enough to present an exceptional exception.)

The proceedings of the Official Twilight Convention ©™ started somewhere around 11 AM. I was late in getting started and without a ride downtown, so I put on my running shoes and set out around 11:45. In a little under an hour-and-a-half I made the 17 blocks west, 12 blocks north, 3-4 mile walk, arriving around 1:15 PM.

A word on expectations: I was wondering if how packed the convention center would be, whether I would be able to get in. When I hear the words “Official Twilight Convention ©™,” I think booth after booth after booth, dressed down with moody black and gray backdrops bearing Kristen Stewart’s vacant stare, gazing into the romantically-malnourished souls of hundreds of Hot Topic-shopping attendees, young and often teen-aged girls whose excited chatter creates a background noise broken only by shrieks of hysteria whenever one of the series’ principals makes everyone there more beautiful by their presence.

And all that was there, but on video.

Being projected onto a large screen in the Sheraton hotel’s convention room , was a 2007 Twilight convention interview in which leads Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner had to field such questions as “Which movie [of two, I note] is your favorite?” with their every other sentence being interrupted by rapturous, presumably female, screaming. Stewart and Lautner (who is a beauty, I’ll admit, but nothing worth losing one’s mind over) made do as much as they could, but Pattinson seemed distinctly annoyed with the whole thing, at one point being unable to think of a favorite trait of his character, Edward.

I reiterate, this was all on video that surely must be floating around the internet somewhere. Yet the fans present seemed to be eating it up, all thirty-five of them, plainly dressed except for a little girl with a black cape, clustered in the reserved front three rows of some 150 seats, laughing at things like a story about Pattinson looking like a large teletubby during the shooting of a CGI scene. I later found the vendors sitting at their kiosks with nothing to do, and ditto the guy manning a gimmicky photography booth.

This was unreal: that the total number of fans in attendance was less than my graduating high school class was almost as baffling as Twilight’s having become popular in the first place. Had the absent majority already gotten their fill on Friday and Saturday and sat this one out? Had the advertising department fallen down on the job? Or was the Twilight juggernaut in reality a Potemkin fad invented and embellished by shrewd marketing? I know not the answer, but I can be fairly certain this caught some of the involved parties by surprise. The MCs noted the “intimacy” of the crowd, and the woman from whom I bought a ticket (which included an “officially autographed” photo of…someone) remarked to one of her friends while I was paying, “Yay, I have a customer!”

I got some satisfaction in seeing the Twilight beast humbled, but felt a twang of sympathy for the ladies and occasional lad who, at least for now, did not have the vague comfort of being a part of a mass phenomenon. Myself, I felt a little vulnerable for similar reasons, sticking visibly out instead of disappearing into an aggregate crowd. But the other attendees didn’t seem to mind me, or their own underwhelming numbers.

Shortly after the video finished the second Q&A guest of the day was introduced, Chaske Spencer, who plays one of the second-tier (so designated because I, the uninitiated, have never heard of him) character known only as Sam. Dark-haired and olive-skinned, clad in a green V-neck tee and jeans and carrying a can of Mug root beer, he walked onstage and, instead of sitting on the fold-out chair provided, sat on the edge of the stage, due to the crowd’s previously stated intimacy. The MC mentioned the other guests had done this too, suggesting that the previous days had had a depressed turnout as well.

I was expecting the same inanity that saturated the just-finished video interview, and occasionally there were turkeys like “If you could take three items on a desert island, what would they be?” (which was asked of the next guest as well). But there were occasionally some questions of substance, with intriguing answers. Hailing from Montana and (Lewiston) Idaho, Spencer is of Sioux, Nez Perce, Cherokee, Creek, Dutch and French heritage. The book he most recently read was Jon Krakauer’s Pat Tillman tome: “He was an interesting, mysterious person,” Spencer said, and “what they did to him after he died, lying to his family, was unacceptable.” He is also a photographer, had once wanted to be a war photographer, and would want to live in Berlin for its architecture, its artists, and the fact that David Bowie recorded a trilogy of albums there with Brian Eno.

Perhaps his most surprising comment, especially given the setting, was that he was really excited about his next movie, Shouting Secrets, because he gets to, you know, act. “I love it when I actually get to work. I love Twilight, but it’s really just take off my shirt, beefcake stuff.”

The last thing I ever expected from attending The Official Twilight Convention ©™ was to empathize with one of the people responsible for foisting it on the world, yet Chaske Spencer came off positively alright, someone with whom I would actually want to hang out and bullshit. He was obviously having a good time fielding questions, but it’s clear he has no illusions about it all being just another acting gig, which are hard enough to land to begin with.

The next guest, the unfortunately named Booboo Stewart, didn’t come off nearly so well. He had the look and affect of a clueless teenager, because he was, being only 16 years old and soon to get his first car. This made me feel tremendously old, and I was losing interest in everything that was going on, except for a bubbly older woman covered in Twilight memorabilia named Donna; she must have been one of the handlers for The Official Twilight Convention©™, for Stewart got to play harmonica and dance. Occasionally she made such interjections as “What the fur?” and “I feel sheepish. I feel baaad…” She was more interesting than Stewart, in any case.

That was enough for me. I’m on vacation, and two hours is more than enough time to spend at The Official Twilight Convention ©™. I left feeling more sad than anything. Many of Twilight’s participants seem to be aware that the series is microwaved junk food, but are content to ride its pop tsunami for all it’s worth. The fans’ devotion is genuine, if terribly misguided. They really do deserve better. Yet the sparse attendance of the event (which may have precipitated the markdown in ticket prices from thirty dollars to ten) is perhaps a telling sign of, pardon the pun, a breaking dawn of prevailing good taste that may yet put the Twilight saga in its coffin for good.

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