Shiver, Beautiful Creatures. Ink Exchange, Wings, Savvy, The Mediator, Starters, Twilight – only some of the titles that line the shelves of my childhood bookshelf. Dark, haunting, suspenseful and, somehow, deliciously sexy – written by authors with magical names such as Aprilynne Pyke, Mellissa Marr, and Maggie Stiefvater. Brim-full with bad boys, adorable nerds, and brave but insecure heroines. Of course, there’s some sort of supernatural fantasy that guides it all: fairies, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, freak families. In between these pages of romance, desire, near-death experiences, a whole generation of young teens found their escapist absolution.
But what was it about Twilight et al that fit perfectly into the zeitgeist of late 2000’s teens? Twilight (and the following 3 books and 5 films) aptly prefaced an emerging heritage of teenage goth fantasy. By tapping into both the childish dreams of supernatural occurrences while alluding to more adult themes like ~sex~, the genre lies in a suitably grey area for extremely liminal young adults. We all hoped to ~learn~ from these books while also being transported into a reality that seemed more darkly exciting than awkward middle school socials. This was also the time of tumblr, My Chemical Romance and NERD t-shirts. In a decade reigned by emo boys and mental health disorders, these books let us live a goth reality in superlatives.
These books paved the way for 50 Shades of Grey or other darkly sexualised adult fiction, easily marketed and deeply sensational, trying to fill the empty gaps that late night scrolling had now created. It makes sense that these particular teen novels attracted an audience that bore witness to a digital revolution that we were not quite part of just yet, perverting the fantastical (even Harry Potter took a dark turn, mind you) to try and appropriate it to our gloomy outlook. A good time to be Stephanie Meyer.
I like to think that all of the books we read leave a mark on us. One of the first manifestations of this mark was the large array of black and white tumblr feeds curated carefully by teens, limbs ornamented with song lyrics written in black pen, while sharpie-d quotes lined the white parts of their black Converse All Stars. We then discovered Taylor Momsen, and I don’t mean Gossip Girl (or even, the Grinch) Taylor. Oh no, we discovered The Pretty Reckless Taylor. Over-knee socks, all-eye-encompassing black eyeliner, and plaid shirts became our uniform.
Who are we now?
We’re a little more incognito, a little harder to spot and most definitely not a literal translation. We wear chunky boots, we listen to electronic. We’ve chased after stoners and all sorts of aloof characters. No sight of Edward Cullen. We might even own a record player. We’re prolific on Instagram. Our tumblr still exist in the fragments of the internet archives, with songs autoplaying and heart shaped cursors greeting you to an array of images from metal core to classical literature. We might have constellation tattoos. We might have become boho or grunge or, in recent manifestations, an e-girl. Some of us practice witchcraft or tarot reading.
I think there is a more poignant conclusion to draw here than that as 12-year-old’s we were obsessed with sexualised stories about teen fairies in apocalyptic romantic scenarios. We – the young millennials and older Gen Zs – are a generation that lusted after a very particular type of darkness. One that was easily marketable, heavily commercialised and let us live more exciting lives vicariously. They are a telling precursor to a generation that is now referred to as digital natives or IT Zombies, one that is more enticed by a virtual (fantasy) reality than that of lived experience. We are the social media obsessed generation because we have always been prone to obsession and our obsession is marketable. So the remaining legacy of teenage goth fiction, which in its current iteration I am completely unfamiliar with, is that maybe it was all a fluke. Or maybe, it is true insight into our complex psychologies. I’ll leave that up to you.