Thursday, 27 October 2011

FYI Only

There may come a time when I am dead. It sounds unlikely, I know, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make some preparations, you and I. Just in case. So, in the name of prudence, I feel I should pass on some important information that you will need.

To that end, here's everything you need to know about James Bond.

What's prompted this? Well, as you'll have gathered, I've placed my In Tray on top of the Guardian and that's where I get all my ideas. Firstly there were the answers to a set by David Mitchell where John Finnemore revealed he thinks Brosnan is the best 007 (!) and secondly there's this 'news' 'report' which mentions Bond 23. What struck me was the utter certainty with which people talk about James Bond. As if their opinions were somehow valid interpretations or something! This alarmed me. I tried to set a few things straight in the Comments section (see if you can spot me!) but that's not really the forum for such re-education and besides I have a lot of important stuff to get done today so of course I should witter on here instead.

Before we get started, many Bond titles are infernally long. I'm using my own bespoke abbreviations which are explained in the Glossary.

Some Initial Thoughts:

I'm not a fan. But I'm not not a fan either if you see. I've enjoyed the books, films, video games and so forth but there is plenty wrong with the man, his world and his cultural impact on ours. The trick to enjoying the back-catalogue today, I think, is to admire the wit, the style and the jeopardy whilst refusing to turn a blind eye to the failings.

Being constantly of-the-moment, James Bond is both a hideous post-war anachronism, forever stuck in the 1950s, and a time-shifting pop culture magnet, forever stuck in whenever a particular film was made. (See: TMWTGG, 1974's Kung Fu craze; YOLT, rocket launches in 1967; Moonraker, 1979, the space shuttle; TWINE, 1999, the Millennium Dome, Y2K Bug and many many more.) Every single film quickly becomes very dated, sometimes horrifically. The films' contemporary attitudes to sex and violence have been torpedoed by 'the ever-changing world in which we live in'.

It's telling that the films are much less racist than the books (although the baddies are still nearly always foreign, a typical meme of British adventure fiction), but hardly any less sexist. Even as recently as TWINE, the series' concession to feminism amounted to putting Denise Richards into cut-off jeans and a strappy top and calling her a nuclear physicist. There are worse examples than that of course, but we should also note the progress that has been made: Bond no longer smokes and occasionally he doesn't even coerce women into bed.

The violence is much less of a problem, but it is still a problem. In the age of water-boarding and extraordinary rendition, 007's murderous antics can not be dismissed with a raised eyebrow or a laconic quip. The first time my (then very small) son saw a Bond trailer, he cried "Who is that BAD MAN and why is he doing those BAD THINGS?". I think we might say the same if we saw our real intelligence communities in action, but tacitly we excuse them and Bond because the killing is done on our behalf. These are our bad men, after all.

This sense of ownership is crucial, because James Bond is absolutely a British figure. For more than fifty years we have cheered him on, literally letting him get away with murder, because he represented Britain to the world and showed them all we were still, actually, bloody brilliant.

Damian Dovarganes/AP
So what if we're useless at sport? James Bond can win any game at all: cards, backgammon, more cards, and even preposterous video games like in Never Say Never Again. So what if we drink, eat or smoke too much? It doesn't matter - Bond can electrocute a Korean at twenty paces and that's with a bellyful of Mint Julep. So what if we're vulgar, uneducated or hideously unattractive? 007 can sniff the vintage of Sherry or pull the most gorgeous - if bizarrely monikered - women there have ever been, and that's while wearing a safari suit... So what if Roger Moore callously pushed informants off of Cairo roof tops? He had a Union Jack parachute for Q's sake! Surely that made it all all right? It might be dangerous for Prime Ministers or governments to believe that we are still a capable power in world politics, but it's a delusion that we Brits have rather come to depend on.

In short, if Bond is snobbish, old fashioned, socially backward, occasionally embarrassing and prone to unjustified acts of savage violence, well, we just don't care.

Because so is Britain.

What You Need To Know:

Well, in a nutshell this: QOS is really very good and DAD is awful, awful, awful. Lazenby's underrated. So's Moore. Connery is, for better or worse, definitive, but he has lapses. Dalton deserved another go and Brosnan is really quite annoying. Craig is excellent, but well, we'll come on to him later.

First up: Dr No.

(But you know, as and when I get around to it. There's no rush, is there. Not as if I'm going to drop dead or anything!)

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