restricted access Teams, Tears, and Testimonials: A Rhetorical Reading of the Twilight Time Capsule
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Teams, Tears, and Testimonials
A Rhetorical Reading of the Twilight Time Capsule

Set against the gloomy backdrop of Forks, Washington, the Twilight Saga chronicles the tumultuous love story of Bella Swan, a bookish and clumsy teenage girl, and Edward Cullen, a (perpetually) 17-year-old vampire. Bella and Edward face many unusual challenges throughout the series: Edward’s nearly insatiable thirst for Bella’s blood; Bella’s werewolf best friend and potential suitor, Jacob Black; a vindictive redheaded vampire named Victoria; Bella’s life-threatening pregnancy; and an ancient clan of malicious and dictatorial vampires—to name only a few. The Twilight Saga has captivated audiences across the globe, garnering an impressive transnational fan base. The four-book series has sold over 115 million copies worldwide; all five films have topped the box office charts upon release; the fifth and final film installment, Breaking Dawn Part 2, released in November 2012, grossed over $828,000,000 worldwide.1

Tapping into Twilight’s substantive fan base, Summit Entertainment, the film studio that produces the Twilight Saga films, launched the Twilight Time Capsule in October 2011. The Time Capsule is an interactive and updatable web-based archive of both official and fan-generated content concerning the Twilight Saga. In the introductory demo video with Twilight Saga film star Nikki Reed, who plays [End Page 61] Rosalie Cullen, fans are told that the site will serve as a user-friendly hub for Twilight Saga “memories.” Referencing the endurance and agelessness of time capsules, Summit purports to be giving Twilight Saga fans an opportunity to “commemorate [their] personal memories forever and become a part of Twilight Saga history.”2 Fans are here encouraged to post photos, videos, and comments about the Twilight Saga via social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, Photobucket, and Instagram. Visitors to the site can peruse the content without logging into one of these networking sites, but users must be signed in to post content. Organized chronologically around the release dates of the Twilight Saga films (2008–2013), the Time Capsule has several search options and preset filtering features. For example, users can click a box to search only fan-generated material or only official content. They can also filter their search results according to a particular character (Edward or Bella, for example), film director (Catherine Hardwicke, David Slade), or writer (author Stephenie Meyer or screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg). Summit Entertainment vets submissions and reserves the right to edit, use, or remove submissions at its discretion. Yet it claims no legal responsibility for the fan-generated content on the site (a more thorough exploration of these guidelines follows). As of March 2013, the film studio was not charging fees to submit to or visit the site; and the Time Capsule already housed more than 17,900 photos, videos, and comments, over 17,700 of which were fan generated.

To situate this unique site and more fully understand its functions, potentials, and limitations, it is helpful to turn to scholarship on fan culture, on the Twilight Saga and its fan base, and on new media. The primary audience for the Time Capsule is, of course, fans of the Twilight Saga. Though the Time Capsule website is owned by the film studio Summit Entertainment, it targets both fans of the films and fans of the book series, including author Stephenie Meyer as one of its preset search options. There is no clear distinction on the Time Capsule between fans of the films and fans of the books, which reflects the fluctuating, migratory practices of Twilight Saga fans, who tend to engage both franchises interchangeably. On a site like the Time Capsule, which promotes the Twilight Saga in all its iterations, media converge and the layers of reception intermingle. It is often difficult to decipher to which text fans are responding, but it is clear that the site targets Twilight Saga fans, broadly defined. The scholarship on fan culture that has proliferated over the last twenty-five years can help us to contextualize this audience. Early fan studies scholarship worked to establish fan communities as cultural sites worthy of serious scholarly attention, and fans as creative, critically...