Kathryn McKay is a Postdoc Fellow in the School of Rural Medicine at UNE, and is a researcher in the field of mental health and wellbeing in regional communities. She has co-authored multiple papers with Associate Professor Myfanwy Maple on the subject of the Twilight books, deconstructing the dangerous effects they may have through the demonisation of sex and romanticising suicide.
- What is the focus of the work you have done on Twilight?
Essentially, I’m really fascinated about how relationships, self-harm and suicide are written about, and demonstrated, in the Twilight series. It’s marketed as a teenage romance - and references ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ within - but the way in which suicide particularly is written is concerning. It’s romanticized and glamorized and Bella is shown to survive a method that in real life would have killed her. We don’t know enough about how young readers interact with pop culture to see how best to protect them from seeing this as a way to end sadness after a relationship breakdown.
- Why Twilight?
At least 100 million copies of the books sold - and that would be an underestimation in terms of people sharing books and re-reading. Plus the fandom and social media interaction it’s spawned. Twihards (including Twi-Moms, Team Edward, Team Jacob) who interact with each other over so many different social media and fan sites in a way that crosses time and space but also requires fandom to be absolute and complete. A true fan seems to be required to believe wholeheartedly in Bella and Edward’s love - that if someone loves you enough it will protect you even from death - and that this belief needs to be broadcast over the internet. The example of the fan who sobbed while begging for people to understand Bella/Kristen and Edward/Rob on youtube comes to mind.
- What’s next for you two?
For me, an extension of this project. I have a little study attached to see how Twilight readers interact with the story (the link to participate is https://www.research.net/s/twilightrelationships). I’m also beginning to examine how mental wellbeing and reasons to live are written and demonstrated by female characters in other examples of global literature including the Harry Potter and 50 Shades of Grey series. It’s really important to unpack these stories that are consumed by so many people on a global scale. However, Myf and I are also working on projects closer to home - seeing how community-based programs help those most vulnerable to self-harm and suicide in rural and remote parts of Australia.