Robert Pattinson is in the news again, which means so am I.
He's on magazine covers as a well-respected actor. I'm on blogs as a crazed die-hard "Twilight" fan who is so deluded that she married a cardboard cutout of Robert Pattinson.
You see, on January 23, 2013, I married Edward Cullen.
Since my story is going through its second life (Perez Hilton has a brand new article ridiculing me even though the wedding happened more than a year ago), I decided to take this opportunity to break down the cycle of how a person becomes a media punchline.
For instance, if you read any of the articles about my story you have probably seen this quote attributed to me:
"People might think I'm crazy but my flat-pack R-Patz is the closest I'll get to the real thing and he's the one for me."
I Googled this quote, and there are more than 4,000 results -- for something I never once said to any reporter in my life, nor even really know what it means. "Flat pack"? I guess this is a British term for cardboard.
What you may not realize is that this entire project was done as part of my thesis exhibition for my MFA in Studio Art. This is a fact I've been straightforward about in any interview I've done with every reporter, but in much of the major press, it gets buried, misconstrued or not mentioned at all.
The idea for the project, titled "Love is Overtaking Me," originated in my small, windowless Las Vegas studio one day when a classmate had stopped by to see what I was working on. At the time I had been photographing and video recording my own OKCupid dates and analyzing the compatibility data (to find the “perfect match”) generated by the long, personal questionnaire that was part of my profile. I had also been experimenting with sporadic performance art at the time by pretending to take out this ridiculously life-size cardboard cutout I had bought of Pattinson for $20 at a record store on dates.
The point of the dates was to document people's reactions. Of course, since it's Vegas, the reactions usually consisted of looks of boredom and utter lack of surprise.
While my friend and I were looking at my recordings to see if there was anything there, my cardboard Pattinson (or "Edward Cullen" as his character is named in "Twilight") was standing in the corner of the room (as he does).
The conversation between my friend and I went something like this: “Ugh, dating seems so awful.” (This classmate was married.) Me: “It really is. I wish I could just marry Edward Cullen instead."
We looked at Edward. We looked at each other in a moment of clarity. “Why don’t you?” asked my friend, who knew my fascination with the series, having been with me the previous summer as I set out to attend all "Twilight"-related events at San Diego Comic-Con. Ahem. For research, obviously. And the rest is history.
In November 2012, as I was preparing for the performance and the exhibition itself, I got a phone call from a press agency in London. They wanted to do a story on the wedding, having found my crowd funding site for the project, they said. At the time, I’d had little to no experience with the press, and trying to think optimistically, I decided to do it.
I answered some questions on the phone at Starbucks at 5 a.m. one morning (to account for the time difference), and a week later, a two-page story was featured in a small tabloid called “Love It!” I read it, and it was either amazing or horrendous, depending on your point of view. It made me out to be a lovesick, crazed super-fan who had really, truly fallen in love with a piece of cardboard.
What quotes were real (several were just made up) had been manipulated and arranged to enhance their wackiness, and the story completely excluded the fact that it was art. I had sent them photos to accompany the piece, and the main one they used was a partially nude self-portrait of me standing behind Edward. They had cropped in and enlarged it so much that half of my butt cheek took up most of the page.
On the day of the wedding, the reality of the event was now in the shadow of the press itself.
I wore a sparkly white gown purchased months prior at David’s Bridal, during what may have been the most bizarre afternoon of my life (the sales staff made me ring a bell when I decided on a dress that was “the one,” and all the other brides-to-be -- probably not there as a part of performance art -- stopped and clapped for me). My hair and makeup were done, I’d spent 30 minutes being shoved into corset-style underwear, and I’d barely had time to consider what I was about to do when the coordinator came to let me know it was time. I downed the rest of my champagne and clutched my friend’s hand as she led me to the chapel doors. Peeking in, I could see there were about 100 guests sitting and standing, waiting for the ceremony to begin. “Oh god,” I thought.
Oh god, oh god, oh god.
Then it was over.
I had walked down the aisle, through the thick cloud of low-lying fog I’d had pumped into the room. I repeated my vows (very traditional, as Edward wanted) after the Elvis-coiffed officiator, and Edward was given the opportunity to say his.
I didn’t want to light the groom on fire in a moment of nervousness, so instead of an infinity candle ceremony, part of the wedding package, I arranged for several close friends to lay flowers around Edward and me in the shape of an infinity symbol while the officiator explained its significance. Everyone clapped and cheered as we kissed and were ushered outside for photos.
Edward and I were bound. Forever.
Let me be honest. This experience wasn’t easy or fun for me. It was the most work I have ever done in my life, and it took its toll.
The story spiraled, being printed and reprinted across the UK, none of the articles mentioning the purpose of the wedding. As I explained about this MFA thesis exhibition:
"This work focuses on the female escapist fantasy in its most popular forms-- primarily finding 'true love'-- and the extent to which it seeps into our real lives. I've looked at this fantasy primarily through a pop cultural lens; that is I've used film & television's representations of the love story and female characters in general in an attempt to understand my own expectations of love. Because of personal attachment to and experience with this fantasy or quest, which took a particularly strong hold of me when I discovered the intensely popular Twilight Saga, my thesis is going to touch on romantic expectation primarily through the main love interest, Edward Cullen."
How many stories mentioned this? Barely any. It was an interesting inadvertent proving of my thesis in a way. Pop culture cannot even conceive of an exploration of this relationship in a thoughtful deconstructing way but instead only understands: "Crazed Twilight fan does something crazy. Now let's laugh at her."
I followed the articles as closely as I could and began documenting comments, which were by and large very negative, if not insulting.
“Fat cow,” wrote someone on Facebook. “It should be legal to kill Twilight fans,” tweeted another. “Mental slut,” said someone else.
The list goes on for pages and pages of Facebook comments, tweets, and other social media posts.
Growing up as a girl, I was of course familiar with the public’s scorn of female fandom, but this was something totally new and fascinating in its hateful misogyny toward an audience largely filled with young women exploring their own relationship with romantic love through larger-than-life iconography.
And these comments were directed at me, personally. What made me perhaps the saddest was the public’s complete and unquestioning belief in what these publications were releasing.
The popular media is dedicated to a soulless manipulation of the facts solely to sell more stories and generate cash. Even after my story began to be picked up by legitimate publications and told more accurately, the vast majority of readers vilified me.
They didn't want to abandon the punchline, the idea of the crazed "Twilight" fan who had no self concept or ability to self reflect.
I find the unquestioning hatred directed toward this fan base particularly gross.
Why is it so easy, so acceptable, to hate "Twilight" fans? The statistics are staggering and undeniable. The four books from the series have sold 85 million copies worldwide, been translated into 37 languages, and collectively spent 143 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Summit Entertainment, the owner of the franchise, produced and marketed "Twilight"-themed everything, from umbrellas to underwear.
People read "Twilight." People watched it. People loved it. Millions of us.
It makes sense to me. At its core, "Twilight" is a shiny package of common fantasies we see constantly in the media and particularly appealing to young women working through their ideals and relationship to fantasized romantic love. We all want to be considered beautiful, to live for all time and never age, to possess unlimited money and power, to love and to be loved, truly and wholly and forever, and for that love to never be complicated or boring.
At its heart "Twilight" is a story about just that -- true love prevailing against all odds -- and my MFA project "Love is Overtaking Me" began with a desire to analyze and enact this narrative. In the beginning, the idea was centered on the exploration of the popular cultural fantasy that’s both specific to me and shared by many other girls and women. One that I’m sure you’re familiar with -- finding “true love.”
This “soulmate” image of love has saturated our culture, and without knowing how it happened, it has also become a major existential goal in our lives. Romantic love seems to be in the forefronts of our minds, especially for myself and my peers -- if we’re not in love, we feel we’re missing out on life’s most important and rewarding experience.
After all, what are you if you don’t have a boyfriend? Here in the U.S., we’re taught that this idea of love will deliver ultimate happiness and satisfaction, and, most importantly, a sense of self-worth.
Women in particular are preyed upon, made to feel like if you don’t have forever love, you should want it so much you’ll do anything to get it. Anything. Even marrying a cardboard cutout of a fantasy figure who is a vampire.
A crucial part of "Love is Overtaking Me" was to willingly submerge myself in the experience of being a bride-to-be.
I planned the whole thing completely on my own. It felt like a second job (or third, in my case), taking up nearly all of my free time. I followed blogs and lifestyle advice of real-life brides as well as collecting images of potential dresses, hairstyles, and makeup. Prior to the wedding, I conducted a bachelorette party performance at Treasure Island, and I went on to create a solo exhibition of the artwork, which was the culmination of my thesis and took possibly even more work than the wedding planning. It involved installing the artwork (large photographs, video of the ceremony, and objects from along the way), stringing 300 lights, finding food and drink (which involved a 5-tier white cake complete with toppers of Edward and me), finding and setting up flower arrangements, recreating the atmospheric fog from the ceremony, and figuring out how to do all of this and about a million other things for one specific day in March.
The press has recently picked the story back up for some reason, and it’s begun to spread again.
Even now, going on two years after the wedding, Edward still lurks, both physically and metaphorically. Every time a young woman is mocked or her passions are ridiculed, I think of him. Every time a little girl feels ashamed for wanting to be the weird one in a crowd or do a "crazy" art project, he comes to mind. And whenever I see a tabloid news story blow up, I have to laugh.
If you want to be Mrs. Edward Cullen -- for an art project or not, don't ever let anyone stop you.
Sure, my art project "husband" still stands in the corners of rooms sometimes, but I also find him in the back of my mind, when I compare the guy I’m actually dating to the Edward Cullen, Lloyd Dobler, and Mr. Darcy types of fictional fame that will be intertwined with young women and their images of self worth for all of eternity, I'm sure.
Marrying a cardboard cutout hasn’t taught me to curb fantasy. Fantasy is so embedded in our everyday lives that we’d hardly know what to think about without it. But it has made me more cynical.
So the next time you're tempted to let the media spoonfeed you another ridiculous narrative where they conveniently leave out self-awareness (because that would ruin the story wouldn't it?), just remember: That's crazier than marrying a cardboard cutout.