Why I’m Still Shaken and Stirred by James Bond
Not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a new James Bond film coming out. Though they have rolled the red carpet in and out for this premiere more times than I care to remember, the 18-month publicity campaign for No Time to Die is over. Next week, you can actually sit in the dark and watch the film.
For anyone who’s been offline reading fantasy novels and opting out of popular culture for the last 60-odd years, James Bond is a spy. He’s a man running on instinct, adrenaline, and not-stirred vodka. If you’ve never seen a Bond film (how?), here’s what to expect: A big action opening with explosions and either a very fast car or boat or train or helicopter. There’s always a horny title sequence in silhouette when guns come out of girls’ mouths. Bond will chat with Judi Dench after sexually harassing her secretary. There’ll be gadgets like knife shoes or acid ballpoints with a chap called Q. Then the mission starts, and there are, like, 17 exotic locations; sometimes it’s very snowy too. The villain is always, without exception, camp as Christmas. There will be a girl, a gun, another girl, another gun. You might already know that a Bond girl is a very specific type of male-gazed woman. Bond women dress as if they have never been online—either with an impossible golden-era Hollywood glamour or a bikini and a knife, there is no in-between. There are car chases and a worldwide threat, and the woman to whom Bond has momentarily shown his vulnerability turns out to be crooked, and he is betrayed. The films always, always end with Bond speeding into the distance. That’s about it.
I understand the criticisms levied at the franchise. Bond is a caveman with an Omega, a misogynist with gadgets, a brute in a tux. His women are objects, his women are trophies, sometimes even painted gold. Bond is peak man, when we think of men as dominant and full of rage, of men as either horny or angry. I get horny, and I get angry but other stuff happens to me too. Bond has a smaller range of emotions. We spend 90 minutes experiencing the impossible fantasy of maleness. I don’t think the sexism of Bond can ever seriously be debated. It simply is. It’s more a question of how sexist or xenophobic this particular iteration will be.
The franchise has made pigeon steps toward modernity. This is Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond, and rumors of a new Bond swirl. Idris Elba has been referred to as too street for the role, proving that racial discrimination is alive and well. Millennial catnip Phoebe Waller-Bridge has been drafted in, presumably to up the ante on the double entendres and perhaps bring about a kind of colloquial modernity that Bond has never quite nailed. But perhaps next time we’ll get a Black Bond? Perhaps a Chalamet Bond? A twink Bond? A bisexual Bond? Our established fuckboi Bond becoming a Smiths-lyrics-quoting softboi or a reply-guy assassin? Will the future Bond be replacing martinis with Huel?
The problem is that despite all this rampant red-blooded maleness, I still enjoy a good Bond film. I’m genuinely trying to work out of this is harmful? If we’re actually normalizing misogyny with every film? I’m not sure if Bond weaponizing his erotic potential gives license to all men to do so too. Don’t men also realize this is a fake fantasy to indulge in rather than emulate? I cannot believe men are that dumb? But is Bond guiltless fun, or has it conditioned generations of us to find escapism in an undiluted male fiction?
I’m simply not convinced I need my Bond modernized. I like the hammy puns. I like the Spectres and the Skyfalls. I like the Bassey ballads. I like the espionage. Do we really need every enjoyable thing woken up? People do those “the feminism leaving my body” memes each year as Love Island starts, riddled as it is with archaic expectations of straight dating and idealized body types, and ultimately, I feel the same way about Bond.
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