'Twilight' Stands In For Religion for Some Teens | Live Science
Twilight" and other supernatural tales may give some non-religious teens a place to grapple with the big questions of life, according to a Danish researcher.
In Denmark, where religion is not a large part of daily life, teens seem to use media — often, American media — to explore questions of good and evil, life after death and destiny, Line Nybro Petersen of the University of Copenhagen's film and media studies department has found. The communal experiences of hardcore fans of the series can even echo religious communities.
"Being a 'Twilight' fan allows the teenagers to engage in very intense emotional experiences," Petersen told LiveScience. "You can almost get the sense that these are transcendental emotions, the feeling that you are part of something bigger than yourself in a semireligious way." [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]
Vampires may seem an odd icon in which to find spiritual experiences, but "Twilight," "True Blood" and other supernatural series are part of a well-worn process of film and media turning old ideas into new stories. Media studies researchers call this process "mediatization."
For example, religious symbols such as the cross and holy water show up frequently in the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," but they're largely stripped of their Christian. Instead, they're simply weapons against vampires with little mention of theology. Vampires undergo a similar transformation in "Twilight." Instead of evaporating when they step into the sun, for example, they sparkle — a more effective convention for a romantic hero compared with turning into a pile of dust. [Famous Fangs: 10 Tales of Famous Vampires]
As part of her doctoral dissertation, Petersen surveyed and interviewed Danish teens with an interest in supernatural TV shows or movies, from "Twilight" to "Ghost Whisperer," in which Jennifer Love Hewitt portrays a woman who can communicate with the dead. She found that while many of these teens rejected organized religion, they still grappled with the big questions of life.
"You don't have any clear answer to what happens [when you die], so perhaps when you read different things and watch different movies, then it gives you something," Katja, a young "Twilight" fan, or "fanpire," as these teens called themselves, told Petersen.
"Perhaps not a clear answer, but more like, 'Oh, it happens like this,' and then you can choose to believe it."
Petersen reported these interviews in the journal Mediatization and Religion: Nordic Perspectives in 2012.
"Twilight" fandom became a big part of the lives of the fans Petersen interviewed, with one estimating she thought or talked about the books and movies for half of her day every day. Some teens met friends through "Twilight" websites and fan boards, building a community of mostly young girls entranced by the romance of the books' main characters, mortal girl Bella and vampire Edward.
As a result, Petersen said, the books and movies could act as a big part of the teens' identities, with fandom becoming something to "wear on your sleeve." Observing crowds at "Twilight" movies, Petersen noticed an insider-friendly atmosphere, complete with clapping at beloved scenes and humming along with the movie's soundtrack.
American fans, or "Twihards," as they've been dubbed, respond to the movie in similar ways. The semireligious aspect of fandom might be slightly different in America, where religious faith is more common, Petersen said. She found that religious Danish teens loved supernatural narratives as much as less religious teens, but they tended to see the films through the prism of their religion. One teen girl, for example, told Petersen that the show "Ghost Whisperer" fit perfectly with her Christian worldview.
It's hard to say whether intense fandom has any effect as the teens mature into adulthood, but the semireligious fervor generally fades, Petersen found. Many of the 13- to 18-year-olds she researched came to "Twilight" from "Lord of the Rings" or the Harry Potter series, and then moved on to "The Hunger Games" trilogy or other supernatural stories. In other words, teens take what they need from a story and then move on to other tales.
"It's something they can deal with for a brief period of time in their life and then they can move on," Petersen said, adding that teens' tastes should be taken seriously: "It's important to understand how media use can become a resource for thinking about the world."
Vampires give Danish teenagers taste for spirituality | University of Copenhagen
Religion and media
Danish teenagers are not looking for answers to life's big questions in established religious institutions. Instead, they engage in intense idolisation of American films and TV shows about vampires, angels and other supernatural beings. A new PhD thesis from the University of Copenhagen shows that a series like Twilight for some young Danes replace traditional religion and enhance their interest in spiritual and religious issues.
Many Danish teenagers reject old-fashioned established religious institutions such as the Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church and its traditional religious beliefs. The lack of a coherent religious world view will in some cases make TV shows like Twilight and the Vampire Diaries, in which vampires and other religious symbols abound, assume part of the function which the old religious institutions used to have.
“My thesis demonstrates that a film series like Twilight offers young people a playground for exploring life’s big questions, moral judgment and to imagine the possibility of the supernatural in a pleasurable and informal fashion. The fictional worlds challenge their presuppositions about themselves and their surroundings,” explains PhD Line Nybro Petersen from the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen. She adds:
“A number of the teenagers I interviewed did, for example, express their fascination with the fact that vampires that are traditionally portrayed as evil often come across as heroic characters in current TV shows. They see that as an invitation to reconsider their own assumptions about good and evil. But apart from this it is of course important to stress that the TV shows attract the teenagers' attention because they to a great extent deal with the very problems the teenagers grapple with themselves."
Line Nybro Petersen's PhD thesis "Wicked Angels, Adorable Vampires!" consists of a qualitative study of the consumption of TV shows with supernatural and religious content among 72 14- to 18-year-old Danish teenagers, a smaller study among a group of nine teenage Twilight fans as well as a more general analysis of American TV shows' representations of religious themes and issues.
Serial fictions become sacred
According to Line Nybro Petersen, some young fans' idolisation of a film series like Twilight can become so intense that it resembles a new form of religious worship. The film or TV show itself becomes sacred and the fans compare all other supernatural shows to the “canonical” and original show.
“I have observed the Twilight fans at premieres and noted how they through a number of rituals show or perform their affiliation with the series. They cry, shriek, and sing – and this performance is central to their sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. They do, in other words, invest a lot of emotion in the fictional universe and the events that form part of it,” Line Nybro Petersen points out.
The mediatisation of religion
Line Nybro Petersen emphasises that her qualitative study among a fairly small group of Danish fans cannot be considered representative of all young Danes’ interest in religion and American TV shows with religious content. But the results of her study do confirm the results of a quantitative studies in for example the mediatisation of religion.
“Other studies have pointed to the fact that TV shows and films with a supernatural content tend to increase people’s interest in religious themes and my thesis underpins that these shows also have the ability to reshape young people’s religions imaginations because, among other things, the religious elements which the shows draw on must be subjected to a certain narrative logic in order to fit into the fictional universes. In this fashion, the religious elements are recontextualised and seem very different from the traditional representations we all know from the Bible and other religious institutions,“ Line Nybro Petersen concludes.
Renegotiating religious imaginations through transformations of "banal religion" in Supernatural
Line Nybro Petersen
Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
[0.1] Abstract—Supernatural is saturated with a wide range of religious representations. These elements often serve to instigate the storyline for one or more episodes, but do so in a way that is removed from their original setting in, for example, traditional religious contexts. In Supernatural, religion is subsumed to media logic, and thus transformed religious representations are an example of a continuous process of mediatization of religion. This essay applies a three-sided theoretical approach, considering mediatization, cognitive anthropology, and social theory. The concept of mediatization applied here implies long-term processes in which media play a role in cultural and social change. The theory of cognitive anthropology of religion allows us to understand how the series activates shared implicit knowledge of supernatural agents and events to evoke recognition and emotion; but by transforming these representations, the show challenges our imaginations. These transformations of banal religious representations in Supernatural come about in three ways: (1) as a mainstreaming of occulture, (2) through connecting banal religious elements to existential themes, and (3) through playful intertextuality. The series applies these narrative devices, which heighten plausibility and familiarity, while simultaneously offering viewers a change in perspective, thus creating opportunities for viewers to renegotiate existing religious imaginations.
[0.2] Keywords—Intertextuality; Mediatization of religion; Occulture; Television; Television fiction
Petersen, Line Nybro. 2010. Renegotiating religious imaginations through transformations of "banal religion" in Supernatural. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 4. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2010.0142.
Of further interest:
The romanticization of abstinence: Fan response to sexual restraint in the Twilight series
Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, and Melissa A. Click
Department of Communication, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, United States
[0.1] Keywords—Feminism; Gender norms; Girl culture; Postfeminism; Power dynamics; Sexuality; Teen fans; Virginity
Aubrey, Jennifer Stevens, Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, and Melissa A. Click. 2010. The romanticization of abstinence: Fan response to sexual restraint in the Twilight series. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 5. doi:10.3983/twc.2010.0216.
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