Bond Phenomenon: The Name is Bond, James Bond–Part Two
The adulation of James Bond wavered in the 1980s, as the series has struggled to keep up with new competitors, like Indiana Jones and Batman, as well as with the post-Cold War world. But Bond’s hardcore fans are as strong as ever.
In 1990, 200 devoted fans attended the James Bond Fan Club Convention at Pinewood Studios in Slough, England, where the Bond films were shot. Often put on the defensive by reporters, the Bond fans found themselves protecting Bond against the challenges of a “new world order.”
One fan defended Bond in this way: Bond is entertainment. You’ve got your Indiana Jones and your Star Wars, and they’re all escapism, a bit of break from the old routine. It’s Adult Disney really.
The attention the press gave to this Fan Club Convention, however, proves that Bond is not just entertainment, but a social force to be reckoned with as well.
In 1991, People Weekly carried an article about the ultimate James Bond fan. Doug Redenius was a 35-year-old rural letter carrier from St. Anne, Illinois, deeply obsessed with the Bond legacy. Over a period of a few years his house became a virtual Bond museum, as Redenius spent more than $ 25,000 purchasing over 4,000 items of Bond-related “Baby Boom memorabilia” (90). The cornerstone of his personal collection is a 21-foot mini-submarine, the Neptune, used in the 1981 film For Your Eyes Only. The Neptune now rests in his back yard.
At the age of 8, Redenius had a transcendent experience with Bond, similar to that of many other young American males, when his baby-sitter took him to see Goldfinger (1964). Redenius was transfixed at the beginning of the film when Bond unzipped his wetsuit to emerge “immaculately dressed in a tuxedo.” Redenius can only explain his subsequent, long-term obsession in this way: “Every man dreams of being like him, traveling to exotic places, having lots of women. The fact that he always seems to win is important.”
Bond’s remarkable endurance as a popular hero suggests that he is a mythical figure. Many intellectuals have attempted to describe Bond in this way, and to identify those aspects of the character which give him this status. In an essay entitled “New Light on James Bond,” H.R. Harris goes so far as to compare Bond to Sir Gawain. He also compares Bond’s boss M to King Arthur, and so on. Harris convincingly links the exotic locations and beautiful women of Bond’s world to the castles and damsels in distress of King Arthur’s world. Richard Maibaum, one of the Bond screenwriters, once similarly described Bond as “a ruthless killer who is also St. George of England, a modern-day combination of morality and immorality.”
In 1965, French critic Claude Mauriac gave a Jungian explanation of Bond: “He is one of the archetypes that Jung discovered in the collective unconscious – the strong man, the all-powerful one who triumphs over evil incarnate in the shape of dragons and monsters.”
Around the same time, Bond’s popularity then at its peak, Jacques Barzun wrote in The American Scholar that “The soul of the spy is somehow the model of our own. His actions and his trappings fulfill our unsatisfied desires.”
To many loyal fans, however, Bond’s appeal is more simply understood, although often in the same vein as these scholars’ thoughts. Natasha, a 17-year-old fan, reveals, “When people ask me, `Why do you believe in Bond?’, I say to them, `Why do you believe in God.’” Believing in Bond has become a significant part of American culture.
One of the problems with the Bond films, in retrospect, is their overt sexism. James Bond was born as a cultural icon at the same time that a new permissive age of sexuality was just arriving. In the world of James Bond, the sexual revolution becomes translated into the meanest kind of sex, casual sex engaged in for ulterior purposes. James Brosnan writes that Bond “was ruthless too, using his lovemaking not only as a means of casual gratification but also as a means of achieving some exterior purpose.”
The James Bond films use the sexual revolution as an excuse to be sexist: we see women used over and over again to further Bond’s pursuit of criminals. The litany of women who passed through Bond’s hands include offensive names like Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead, Plenty O’Toole, and of course Octopussy.
The character of Miss Moneypenny creates another sort of sexist image, the woman who wants but can never have Bond, is always left behind, and so on. For some fans, however, Bond’s apparent chauvinism is hardly a problem. Jane, another 17-year-old fan, proudly declares, “I think a lot of women would love Bond to have his wicked way with them, don’t you?” It must be noted, however, that due to the influence of AIDS, the producers of the Bond series have taken steps in the most recent Bond film, License to Kill (1989), to restrict Bond to one woman.
Many fans that once strongly identified with Bond in their youth are now reassessing their idol. One such fan is William Grimes, who in a 1991 essay for The New York Times Magazine, confessed his growing annoyance with Bond. First, however, he admits that his “early adolescence was devoted to the cult of 007.” At 13, in 1963, when Dr. No was still in the theaters, Grimes became hooked. Bond impressed Grimes, because he “moved easily and masterfully through all situations because he knew things.”
Into his adult life, Grimes sought out small-scale “Bond Situations” where he could emulate Bond’s style and grace: passing on a two-lane highway, checking into hotels, tipping taxi drivers, and ordering food and wine in French. The passage of time, however, has led Grimes to the unfortunate realization that “The 007 approach rests on the notion that every encounter is a struggle from which only two kinds of people emerge: a winner and a loser.”
When Grimes reread the Bond books, he was disappointed: “He apparently knows nothing about literature, music or art.” Dramatically, Grimes concluded: “I put down the Bond books with cold resolve in my eye and a cruel twist to my mouth. The super spy had gotten old, stale. He was no longer up to the job. The time had come to retire 007. The game was up. Sorry, Mr. Bond.” Grimes raises the question: Is Bond’s career over and done with?
When interviewing Timothy Dalton, the newest Bond, Alexander Cockburn commented to him, “As a species, secret agents aren’t looking good these days.” Dalton countered, “No.” But then who has looked good of late?
In a confused and complex world, it was rather inspiring to find someone—Bond–with the same malaise, but overcoming it with commitment. Whether Bond is overcoming the times or being swallowed by them, becoming nothing but a parody of his former self, remains debatable.
Meanwhile, the Bond phenom continues to have an amazing life-span in popular culture. In popular music, the films’ title songs have become a tradition, while Bond has also inspired popular tunes not used in the films, such as the Detergents’ “Double-O Seven” and the classic “Secret Agent Man.”
In film and TV, Bond’s successors are seen everywhere: Our Man Flint (1966), The Intelligence Men (1966), the Indiana Jones movies, the Fletch movies, Get Smart, the Pink Panther films, the Superman films, the Naked Gun films, even the Mad Max films.
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