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Twilight Fantasy Rupture: Why I'm Glad Kristen Stewart Cheated

How a 22-year-old's infidelities rocked the world, and why it matters.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Angie22Arts at Flickr

 

For Twilight fans, July 25, 2012 is a day that will live in infamy. It was on that day that Kristen Stewart, the wan but tough young actress who portrays the cinematic series heroine, released a public letter apologizing to Robert Pattinson—her love interest in Twilight and real-life boyfriend—for cheating on him with a married 41-year-old director, Rupert Sanders. Stewart’s letter was short, sweet and to the point:

I'm deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I've caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected. This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry.

The admission came after photos leaked of Stewart, 22, kissing Sanders, who directed her in Snow White and the Huntsman. It was curious that Stewart acknowledged her indiscretions so publicly, given that the reluctant Hollywood ingenue has cultivated a reputation for being red-carpet sullen, and has thus far appeared unwilling to play the typical Hollywood game demanded of young starlets. She is known for rocking black Converse sneakers and affecting vague, disinterested looks at film premieres. 

But it's less about the letter's personal content made public, and more about: Who knew Stewart actually gave a shit what anybody thinks about her and her private life? It's that attitude (not to mention her proximity to Pattinson) that has made a lot of Twilight fanatics spit vitriol at her. Immediately after her apology, social media was alight with disdain for her, from both fans and fellow celebrities. By cheating, Kristen Stewart has shattered the fantasy that Twilight's gooey, breathless rendition of true love—soulmates!—could carry on into reality. A YouTube video of a Stewart-Pattinson fan crying over her infidelity garnered over 2 million views.

Fans' reactions say a lot about how films like Twilight play into and perpetuate an essentialized, unrealistic concept of love and relationships -- an unhealthy appendage of princess culture. In the films, Stewart and Pattinson play star-crossed lovers, soulmates who rise above their differences (she's human; he's a vampire) to be together no matter what. Because some fans have internalized this ideal to the point of delusion, they expected Stewart's and Pattison’s real-life relationship would mirror that ideal. So when news broke of Stewart's affair, the Internet went into high-level slut-shaming mode, Tweeting and Tumbling and opining about what a horrible "hoe" and "bitch" and "tramp" Stewart is because she transgressed this sacred(ish) relationship. What’s more, the hatred directed toward Stewart wasn't about her being with a man who has a wife and children; it was about violating Rob Pattinson … OMG. What was she thinking?

Pattison is an actor who holds court among the hottest men working in Hollywood today, whose onscreen persona—a vampire who would offer up his life to save his beloved—has been transposed upon his real-life person. Gossip blogs wept for poor young R.Pattz, who has reportedly moved out of their shared mansion in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the same blogs wonder if Stewart's career is over. They called her a "dumb whore," a “homewrecking slut.” A hack musician with a million followers called her a "slutbag" on Twitter. 

All this with nary a mention of Rupert Sanders, who is twice Stewart's age, and met her while in a position of power as her director. Having an affair with your married boss is a stupid move, careless and insensitive, although sadly not uncommon. But the end result is so common as to be cliche: the young girl is expected to act on her best behavior while the man may act as he pleases, and when they're caught it's the woman who is sacrificed at the public altar. This was compounded against the backdrop of Twilight; some fans seemed to feel that Kristen Stewart broke her contract with them, that she had somehow burst through an imaginary fourth wall. In this rubric, Rupert Sanders was nothing but an avatar, a symbol of her infidelity. Sanders could have been anyone; it doesn't matter, because the point is, he's not Rob. So with Stewart, the slut-shaming is doubly piled on, not just because of her perceived lack of respect for the fantastical fairy tale fans expect her to uphold, but because she never fit the nice-girl narrative to begin with.

Stewart is currently on the cover of Vanity Fair, and the story by Ingrid Sischy is quite fascinating. She comes across as aloof as ever, but also intelligent and self-aware about how she is perceived. Of her red carpet photos (or, more specifically, her red carpet looks):

If I took perfect pictures all the time, the people standing in the room with me, or on the carpet, would think, What an actress! What a faker! That thought embarrasses me so much that I look like shit in half my photos, and I don’t give a fuck. What matters to me is that the people in the room leave and say, ‘She was cool. She had a good time. She was honest.’ I don’t care about the voracious, starving shit eaters who want to turn truth into shit.

That last line is why her public apology for the affair is so fascinating, and also very weird. She says she does not care about the press, and so her plea to Pattinson—"I love him, I love him"—seems almost as if she was put up to it. Perhaps she was under PR pressure to continue the narrative on the cusp of Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2 (which, incidentally, comes out on November 16). Others might reasonably think that her public disdain and lack of fucks given is put-on, a front by a young actress in a rebellious stage who's eager to differentiate herself from peers with Disney pedigrees. 

But it's also true that she seems much smarter than most actors her age—despite her coolness, she's quite articulate and has been described as intelligent by plenty of her elder peers. Also it's not hard to imagine a young woman in a relationship she started when she was 19 wanting to explore other kinds of love, particularly when the public has pressured her to stay within it, happily ever after. Of course it's depressing when anyone cheats, but it's not hard to imagine that all the unrealistic expectations for her relationship would lead her to do something drastic to get out of it. Katie Holmes uprooting her entire life cross-country to shock-and-awe Tom Cruise into divorce is one extreme example as of late, but Hollywood's got a slew of similar cases: Julia Roberts leaving Kiefer Sutherland at the altar, or Mariah Carey fantasizing about being kidnapped to escape Tommy Mottola. 

Stewart is a macrocosm of the archaic moral expectations the country increasingly puts upon young women, particularly famous young women, whose entire personal lives are on display yet who are expected to be picture-perfect role models for young women in a country with wildly diverse mores. It is 2012 and yet we are still expected to stay virgins, stay faithful, be monogamous, not get pregnant, not use birth control, not have abortions, keep our legs closed. It is 2012, and yet the onus for maintaining the relationship is still put on us, whether through our churches' gender expectations or through Cosmo's neverending "keep your man interested" articles. 

Kristen Stewart's indiscretions have branded her a slut, but no questions have been asked of her lover, while the public continues to assume that her relationship with Rob Pattinson was perfect. And, of course, that R. Pattz was the perfect angel—a fan assumption made not on his behavior, but on his pretty face. 

Twilight is problematic in many ways, but most of all it promotes a destructive message of abstinence and sex only after marriage (and then only to procreate, and oh, sorry if the baby's gonna kill the mother, you've got to give birth to it anyway). So in a strange way, it's slightly good, and important, that Kristen Stewart cheated. Stewart has inadvertently ruptured the Twilight narrative in a way beneficial to the scads of young women across the world who worship the series, and believe that the fairytale begins and ends with the cutest guy ever.