Edward or Jacob? That is the burning question for an unholy number of moviegoers this summer. Or as Robert Frost puts it in the poem Bella (Kristen Stewart) reads in the first scene of Twilight: Eclipse, “Fire or ice?”
Frost, like most people, went with the heat: “From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favour fire”. Bella, as the whole world knows, has a thing for the cold-blooded vampire, even though werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) can tell Edward (Robert Pattinson) with scientific certainty that “I’m much hotter than you.”
Up to now, fans have been more than happy to go with Bella and the much ballyhooed Stewart-Pattinson pairing. But despite the movie’s strong US opening numbers, the producers could be in trouble if the audience switches allegiance to Team Jacob. And the teenage girls who are Twilight’s bread and butter might be so inclined: after all, in Eclipse, it’s Lautner who spends most of the movie with his shirt off, while Pattinson is stuck with such unromantic fare as (a) turning down Bella’s sexual advances, insisting that they marry first and (b) ducking the big climactic showdown.
Could the masculine, 18-year-old, all-American Lautner eclipse the somewhat passive, all-too English Pattinson in the pin-up stakes? At 24, some might say Pattinson is getting on a bit, and a teenage girl’s infatuation can be a fickle thing.
Still, it would be a brave – frankly, foolhardy – producer who redrafted Stephanie Meyer’s best-selling novels. Let’s not forget that the current teen craze began with books, quaint as that may seem. So did the last one of real significance, the Harry Potter phenomenon that gave us Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and of course Robert Pattinson. Whatever the critics may say, for many fans the success of the Potter films springs in large part from their fidelity to the source.
It also seems that the characters are the real objects of obsession here, not the actors who play them. Neither Stewart nor Pattinson (in The Runaways and Remember Me, for instance), nor any of the HP cast has proven his/her popularity outside of the roles that made them famous.
Depending on how you look at it, this fetishisation of books would seem to be a recent development, along with the whole teen-lit publishing trend, though it’s also obvious that Twilight owes a considerable debt to the Bronte sisters: you could say that Heathcliff was the original teen idol, unless that honour belongs with Mr Darcy? Last year Jane Campion even made a case for John Keats (in Bright Star).
All the same, at least in movie terms, teen crushes have more often than not been transfers from pop music.
In the 1940s, probably the closest equivalent to Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson would have been Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, whose equally abstemious relationship was only ever consummated in song. A few years later Frank Sinatra was the number one crush for bobbysoxers everywhere, a crooner whose love-sick laments laid the foundation for what proved to be a lengthy Hollywood career.
Elvis Presley, Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard and the Beatles all followed in Frank’s footsteps, finding in movies the natural next step after topping the pop charts. More recent examples of the same trajectory would include Justin Timberlake, Mark Wahlberg and Miley Cyrus…
For all of the above, the seemingly enviable status of teen idol ultimately proved too constricting for comfort, and the reason for that takes us back to the Robert Frost question: hot or cold?
The teen market wants sex appeal, just like any adult audience, but as a rule it doesn’t want anything too hot and heavy. Desire is good, but as Stephanie Meyer obviously figured out, anticipation is everything. Your ideal teen idol has to be a sex symbol, but not a living, breathing sexual being; that might spoil the fantasy. Just ask Rob Lowe…
That’s why it’s rare for any teen idol to last for long – getting old automatically invalidates your claim to fame.
Which must be good news for Team Edward. Like James Dean, he lived fast, died young, and left a good-looking corpse – which is about as close to immortality as any teen idol could hope for.
Top Five Teen Idol Movies
1. Rebel Without a Cause (1982)
James Dean in the movie that invented the modern teenager.
2. Grease (1992)
John Travolta and Olivia Newton John: the bad boy and the good girl get it on.
3. Viva Las Vegas (1996)
Elvis and Ann-Margret supply the va-va-voom in this otherwise typically anodyne Presley vehicle.
4. Titanic (1998)
Leonardo DiCapio goes down with the ship in this deathless romance from James Cameron.
5. Dirty Dancing (2000)
Patrick Swayze trips the light fantastic with Jennifer Grey.