On January 26, 2013, Lauren Adkins—a Fine Arts student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas—married a Robert Pattinson cardboard cut-out at Viva Las Vegas Weddings, cementing her place as one of Twilight fandom’s craziest adherents. At least, that’s how many media outlets portrayed her.
The story resurfaced in September 2014, after UK’s Mirror newspaper published—what seemed to be—a follow-up story on their marriage. But the more I dug, the more it became clear there were much more disturbing elements to the story; much more worrisome than someone marrying an inanimate object.
I published my findings in “Twilight Fan Marries Robert Pattinson Cut-Out?,” but sought further clarity from the woman at the heart of the media storm. I contacted Adkins through her website, we corresponded, she agreed to an interview. I emailed my questions on September 19; she sent her replies on the 30th.
Anthony Hogg: There’s been a lot of recent news coverage about your wedding to a cardboard cut-out of Robert Pattinson. Can you tell us how you two met? Was it love at first sight? What was your relationship like? I imagine there must’ve been many hurdles to overcome. Like showering. And windy days.
Lauren Adkins: I read about Edward a couple of years before I actually met him, in a little book called Twilight. It was totally love at first sight— I saw him in a record store, walked right up, and we left together that night. The rest is history. Our relationship is a little one-sided sometimes— it’s really difficult to get him to chime in, but he’s a very pensive guy, so I understand.
AH: Speaking of recent news coverage, I’m confused as to why the story’s resurfaced at all, considering the wedding took place in January 2013. The resurgent media interest stems from Gemma Alridge’s Mirror article, “Twilight Fan Marries Cardboard Cut-out of Robert Pattinson in £2,000 Las Vegas Wedding” (September 10, 2014). If the wedding was last year, what do you think prompted her to write about your story? Did she explain her interest when she interviewed you?
LA: I did a small interview with a press agency in the UK back in November 2012, which is pretty much where all of press began. They sold it to a small tabloid, and it somehow got picked up from there. Contrary to popular belief, I never interviewed with the Mirror. The quotes they included were rewrites of the already inaccurate quotes from the original article from 2012. About a month ago, I was contacted by that same press agency from 2012. They said they had another publication interested in printing the story—this time it was the UK’s Sunday People, I believe—and wanted to know if I would be okay with it being reprinted in the same format as before. I agreed, and again, once that story was published, it spiraled. I haven’t done any interviews this year, aside from this one. Anything that’s been published has been rewritten from a different, probably inaccurate source. My guess is that Robert Pattinson must be active in Hollywood again, and that when people are researching him they’re coming across the story.
AH: Many articles omit mentioning that your wedding to the cut-out was actually an art project called Love is Overtaking Me, for your Master of Fine Arts thesis through the Univeristy of Nevada, Las Vegas (including Alridge, for that matter); something very basic research could’ve uncovered. Besides, since when is marrying cardboard cut-outs legally recognised, anyway? Do you feel this has been a deliberate omission—to sell copy or score site “hits”—or do you think it says something more about the state of modern media reporting?
LA: I do think the story has been misrepresented deliberately. Like you said, even the most basic googling leads to the fact that the wedding was performance art. But a lot of publications aren’t interested in the scholarly or artistic angles—what they’re interested in is what will garner readership. I’ve heard that press in the UK is particularly salacious, and my experience seems to confirm that. More importantly, though, I think what all of this speaks to is a larger cultural issue that my work actually recognizes and attempts to address, which is the public’s harsh judgment of Twilight fans and female fandom in general. I chose Twilight as my subject matter on purpose, as it’s pretty perfect for the point I was trying to make. It’s adored by millions, statistically, but it’s also widely scorned, a lot of the time by people who have never even cracked the book. The work was at its core about the widespread fantasy of “true love” and what it means for our relationships in real life, but it also dealt with themes of obsession and fandom and, as the work progressed, online harassment. Another theme of the work that I haven’t had much of an opportunity to talk about is its relationship to the city of Las Vegas, which itself exists as a simulation of real places and experiences meant to satisfy your every desire.
AH: The earliest article I’ve read that omits mention of your wedding actually being an art project—the same article that gave the story international coverage, incidentally—was Sam Smith’s “Obsessive Twilight Fan to Marry Cardboard Image of Edward Cullen” (Metro, November 18, 2012). Did Smith contact you directly for your story? Was he aware of the fact that you were using Indiegogo at the time, a crowdfunding site, to seek sponsorship for your art project?
LA: As I mentioned above, most of the press originated from the original article in Love It magazine, the English tabloid, and this is the case for the Metro article as well. I never spoke with Sam Smith in any form. I don’t remember if the group of articles from that same month mention my using Indiegogo. If it isn’t mentioned, your guess is as good as mine.
AH: The subsequent spread of the story, particularly on Facebook and Twitter, generated a wave of commentary, like “mental slut” and “It should be legal to kill Twilight fans.” Did you anticipate this kind of backlash? How did it affect you?
LA: Having experienced some people’s eye roll reactions when they found out I was a fan of Twilight just in general, way before this project even began, I knew I would face skepticism with this project. Twilight is so hated that around the time when it was at its height of popularity, people were extremely hesitant to publicly admit they were fans. I did a lot of research into fan communities, particularly Twilight’s, and met women across all ages, races, and classes that seemed ashamed to talk about Twilight except in safe environments like the online fan community or real events within the community. I went to a few Twilight fan fiction gatherings, one of them at San Diego Comic-Con in 2010, and one in Las Vegas in 2011, and met groups of women who were, for the most part, extremely kind and thoughtful people. Why is it that Twilight fans are so hated? Why not Star Wars fans? Why not Batman fans? Why not pro sports fans? My research and experience suggest that it’s particularly because the series is marketed specifically to girls and women and deals with content that’s considered to be “girlish” and therefore unimportant, and even despicable—love and romance.
All this being said, I’m not sure I anticipated the story being printed as widely as it was, but I did start to expect backlash after the original articles omitted the fact that I was doing this as art and in an educational setting. Luckily, I’ve been interested in online harassment against women for some time, so I knew what to expect and for the most part didn’t allow it to affect me or the work. I spent a lot of time documenting the comment sections on the various articles’ websites and Facebook and Twitter comments, and I have to admit that reading them over and over did start to get under my skin a little bit. I was starting to get creepy emails and messages that were overtly sexual in nature and started to worry a little bit for my safety. Thankfully, nothing dangerous ever happened, and everything went smoothly with the wedding and exhibition. I was lucky enough to have a community of people surrounding me that understood and fully supported me and the work, so that carried me through.
AH: Some have also suggested you were doing it for “attention” because you wanted your “15 minutes of fame.” What’s your take on that? Did you find yourself “going along” with the story? Apart from quotes in articles, I note that your Instagram and Twitter accounts are named “lauren adkins cullen”, with your Twitter description reading “disbelief suspension professional who may or may not have married a cardboard cutout.” Do you feel, in any way, responsible for perpetuating—or stoking—an idea about yourself which was already getting negative feedback? Did you feed off it in some way, or is there a deeper meaning behind it?
LA: Well, my response to that argument is— why would anyone willingly put themselves under such scrutiny? I’ll be honest. This experience was not easy or fun for me. It’s definitely the most I’ve ever put into artwork, and it’s probably the most work I’ve ever done in my life. I planned an entire wedding by myself while juggling a full-time job and my responsibilities as a full-time graduate student. There was a lot of pressure and many, many sleepless nights. The stress of it all got to be so bad that I began seeing a therapist pretty early on, in November 2012, around the time when the press started to get out of control. Graduate school is tough in itself, but being in the spotlight for something so odd (and even detested by some) was not a walk in the park. However, I’m not ashamed that I made this work or that I’m a fan of Twilight, for that matter. I’ve found that the easiest reaction to people’s negativity is to let them think I’m crazy and then prove them wrong. I don’t take myself that seriously. This work was meant to be funny, too. I can poke fun at myself while still taking the work’s underlying issues seriously.
AH: Let’s discuss the actual project. Your thesis was quite interesting—but to clarify its points for readers who haven’t had a chance to view it, could you summarise its intent? What was it all “about”? What was the “message” you wanted to convey through your project? What does marrying a cardboard cut-out of Robert Pattinson “mean”?
LA: It’s really hard for me to summarize, but I’ll do my best. This work started with my realization and subsequent analysis of my own quest to find “true love.” As I write in my thesis, it was my attempt to demonstrate the fantasies of consumerism, romance, and the resulting sense of unfulfillment through a series of performative artworks. To do that, I carried out collaborative simulations of familiar events like the traditional bachelorette party, wedding ceremony, and reception as explorations of desire and social expectation, all within the consumer-driven environment of Las Vegas. Twilight was, to me, the perfect vehicle for what I wanted to say, as it capitalizes on the power of the romantic myth through its external commercial value and within the source text itself. I think the myth of “true love” is perpetuated all around us, in film and TV, advertising, literature, and music, and I think a lot of us go through life not even realizing how much it sneaks into our lives to influence us. So, to conclude, this work is about all of that… and more.
AH: There is an interesting feminist aspect to your work, especially when you discuss “Victorian-era, gendered words”—“hysteria”, “crazy, obsessed, feverish” —often used to describe female fandom, particularly for the Twilight saga (Smith’s Metro article used it, too). Clear parallels can be drawn between that and the gendered words popping up in criticism you’ve received, too. Do you think there’d be as much of a backlash if a man had undertaken your project, be it marrying a cardboard cut-out of Edward Cullen or Bella Swan?
LA: Actually, a Japanese man married a video game character back in 2009. If you research it yourself, you’ll see that there was quite a bit written about him, but none of it was very criticizing. He certainly wasn’t called a “mental slut” or a “fat cow” as I was. Most of the articles talk about him as a normal guy with a slight addiction to video games. I think the most derogatory description I could find was that the wedding was “bizarre.”
AH: As a Twilight fan, yourself, what’s the saga’s appeal to you? How did you get into it? You’re no doubt clearly aware of its criticism, ranging from poor writing to misogyny. I’m not sure if you agree with the latter criticism, but if you do, do you feel it is at odds with your feminist leanings? Also, now that widespread interest in the saga’s settled down after the release of the last movie adaptation of the series, what does Twilight fandom’s future look like to you? Will its fandom endure as other pop culture fandoms have, like Trekkies, for instance?
LA: Its appeal to me is the same as its appeal to most of its other fans. I’ve always enjoyed romance, especially of the supernatural variety. Obviously, girls are more allowed and even encouraged to explore this interest, whereas boys learn early on that it’s not acceptable for them. Twilight drew me in for a number of reasons, I think. For one thing, it was something I bonded over with several friends (like the one who recommended the book to me in the first place) and eventually many others I ended up meeting, both online and in real life, through our shared interests in Twilight. Its narrative is arguably just as silly or misogynistic or poorly written as any number of others out there. It’s hard to be a feminist and still consume fiction, as a ton of it has misogynistic undertones. That’s why I’m a big proponent of media literacy. Hopefully, if we can learn to critically engage with the media we consume, we can become aware of its shortcomings and fight to change them. So, sure, I recognize Twilight’s misogyny, but I also don’t think it’s as simple of a story as people make it out to be. There’s actually quite a bit of female heroism in there, too. Bella ends up saving Edward a lot of the time.
AH: What’s your future plans, “Mrs. Cullen”? Will you be doing something to celebrate your anniversary in a few months? Will there be—or is there—a continuation of the project? Will Love is Overtaking Me go on the road? Will your thesis be expanded, reprinted or published in a book? What other projects are you working on?
LA: At the moment, this thesis of mine seems to be over. Right now, I’m ready to move on. I’ve been refocusing on photography and making music. And I’ve still been working with themes of romance, but mainly through a kind of performative dating. I recently started a series of performances wherein I go on blind dates and bring along a stenographer and courtroom illustrator to document the experience. It puts a light on the dating ritual and so far is going well, but like anything else I work on, I’m not sure if it will go anywhere. For the most part I’m like anyone else—just trying to pay rent on time and find happiness wherever I can.
Visit Adkins’ website here. As mentioned, you’ll also find her on Instagram and Twitter. As an added bonus, Adkins has kindly allowed us to host her thesis, Love Is Overtaking Me, right here on Vamped. Click here to read it (pdf document).
The chapel that hosted Adkins’ wedding did a blog post on it, which you can read here. As to the story that prompted the media revisit in September 2014, I’ve tried contacting Mirror reporter, Gemma Alridge, about her September 10, 2014 article on Adkins, through Twitter and email—but received no reply.
The story Adkins mentions, “a Japanese man married a video game character back in 2009,” refers to an anonymous man dubbed “Sal 9000” who married a video game character called Nene Anegasaki. Read Lisa Katayama’s Boing Boing article, “Video: Man in Japan Weds Anime Game Character” (November 24, 2009, 8:40), for more.