Bond as influencer - from catalogue philosopher to moral authority and back again

Splitting a part of the SKYFALL plothole conversation for further discussion here…

This is necessarily a wide field given the fact Bond’s creator was born in 1908 (brought up following customs and values of the 19th century) and the films started in 1962, a time when Hollywood still routinely used scenes of men spanking women as part of the ‘romantic comedy’ template.

Nearly sixty years have passed and several generations of fans have grown up with Bond, no doubt with vastly varying attitudes towards his general philosophy and treatment of women - also because a significant part of that fanbase happens to be actual real women. I suspect their insights would add significant depth to the topic here.

However, I can only speak from my personal perspective: I discovered Bond in the 70s via TSWLM when I was ten. My interest for love films was back then not terribly developed, so I was relieved to find out the bed scenes didn’t take away too much time from all the BANG, BOOM and ZING of the action. The aspirational element for me was the Lotus toy and a cap gun looking like Bond’s.

Later on I discovered the books, a vastly different world - and yet eerily close, intertwined at odd
angles. And for me the aspirational angle of the written word was more alluring than that of the big screen. As a kid, what could you take away from the films? Some dialogue, some cool ideas for playing. But from the books you took away a whole world, a worldview, a longing for travel and adventure.

The films started a fire, otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about Bond over 40 years later. But the fire itself largely burned on the pages, on the scent and smoke and sweat of a casino and Berlin, Zimmerstrasse and the black sands of the beach at Crab Key. And what I took away from them was decidedly more than some brand label - best avoided - or car or timepiece I don’t need anyway.*

To finally come to the core of the topic, Bond’s attitude towards women and how it influenced my own: it will not surprise anybody to learn that Moore’s - or Connery’s - interaction with women wasn’t at all a promising template for a juvenile boy in the 70s and early 80s. You could wear black polo neck jumpers and imagine yourself to be magnetic and sophisticated as much as you wanted, it didn’t help you with the ladies, nor with the girls my age.

So I did what we all did in my generation. Well, most of us who had the good fortune not to suffer from delusions of grandeur and misguided sense of entitlement: we grew up, we grew out of a juvenile comic book worldview and made our own, authentic experiences and learned as much from our girlfriends and wives as we did from our peers. This doesn’t mean we couldn’t still enjoy the Bond fantasy. We just knew it was - and is - just that, a fantasy. Maybe there our generation was luckier than laters ones, I cannot say for sure.

What I think will definitely have changed is, in my time Bond was an early hero with an interest in sex, so he naturally shaped much of our early imagination in this regard. This is almost certainly no longer the case for a huge number of young people today. Sexuality and gender roles are either addressed at school - or they are not and YouCorn.pom is doing the job for youngsters. Personally, I would prefer school to educate teenagers.

Is Bond A.D. 2020 going to be a role model, a moral authority even? I think that train has long since departed. And this is not a Bond thing but a wider trend of our age: heroes in general are no longer an unquestionable authority, even if this uncomfortable truth hasn’t been acknowledged by everybody yet. Even comic book heroes are allowed their darker, less heroic sides. This need not be something bad as it allows audiences - real people - to aspire to something other than merchandise and bling-bling.

*I suspect that the aspirational factor of Bond, or any other franchise for that matter, is overrated today. These vehicles serve to sell stuff, yes. But they all do now. And the stuff they sell this summer must clear the shelves before October because by then there will be other vehicles selling new stuff. So the core meaning of ‘aspiration’, to hope to achieve something, is no longer valid here. People just buy stuff, they achieve nothing.

The subculture of Bond props and clothes and gimmicks is today a market catering to a very particular clientele, largely consisting of people pursuing their hobbyhorse with the zest and passion of the seasoned collector. You will find a wide variety of possible items to collect, from posters and books to cloths and props. But this largely remains a hobby for a niche target group, say dentists or lawyers willing to pay for an exclusive pair of desert boots that wears down the first time they drive their Porsche to their carpeted private practice. It’s a bit of fun chasing ‘Bond moments’ - but that’s really all it is, tiny slices of escapism for people willing to pay for it.

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This would be my argument in a single, concise, sentence, so i’ll just like and quote this.

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We all look for adventure in our lives and that’s what the Bond films gave me as a kid, even if it was daydreaming. I think it was Robbie Coltrane who spoke about this feeling, saying he left the cinema after seeing a Bond movie looking over his shoulder like a spy and feeling cool.

I think a lot of my enthusiasm as a youngster had to do with the likability of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. They were affable and took everything in their stride. It’s easier to make the case Bond is an aspirational figure when he’s placed in this light. Someone who wears the best clothing, has a nice watch, drives amazing cars and has a quip for every occasion. The EA games rammed this point home to me as well. Bond was something fun.

Bond’s treatment of women didn’t bother me as a kid. I was less interested in the romance side of things but accepted it was part of the Bond package, probably equating it to Bond being a popular person, which isn’t a bad thing to be. On a simplistic level I also accepted the life of a spy. Bond was a loner who met people as part of a particular case, used people if he had to, and then moved on.

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Thanks for starting this thread with your response Dustin.

I have several lesbian friends who adore Bond movies–I have learned a lot from them.

The books also possess a longing for past glories, dominance, and a lost stability. From Fleming and other mystery/suspense writers–Christie, Sayers, Stout, Macdonald, Hammett, Chandler–I learned that the novel could be a vehicle for cultural critique and at the same time tell a compelling story. What never involved me as much was the mourning for a society’s passing since that world was inhospitable to me. These writers also showed me–inadvertently probably–that who and what I was represented a change agent feared and loathed by those in power, who wished to conserve their privilege. And yet…we disrupters–queers and others–kept appearing and had to be continuously battled. There was a strange type of affirmation in the continuing peril we represented, and occasionally there is the reverse: in Agatha Christie’s AFTER THE FUNERAL the character who yearns for tradition is the murderer, and women seem to be the ones who will take postwar society forward (I think Christie is more than slightly ambivalent about postwar changes, but she is a more astute writer on social/gender issues than many give her credit for).

I am curious since the women in the films always seem to be so available to Bond–even when there is initial resistance. I wonder if I had a child–male or female–how I would explain the easy availability of Manuela or the rape of Pussy Galore. Part of the explanation is that such portrayals were part of a larger history of representation where women were shown as not exercising autonomy, but rather prioritized being responsive to the needs of men. When they deviated from such behaviors, they often met with violence.

Being gay, I was drawn to art about those who resisted and who were outsiders. Poirot, the Op, Marlowe, Lew Archer were all outside of society with a view of its faults and injustices. They usually solved the crime, but there was not always justice. Bond was interesting since in the novels he seemed to deteriorate over time–as if the burden of being a man in the Bond fashion was ultimately debilitating.

For me, Movie Bond starts with DAF and OHMSS on television, and then goes into the bijou with Moore Bond. When I finally got around to the earlier Connery Bonds, I kept wondering why they felt so unsatisfactory. I now realize that DAF, OHMSS, and the Moore Bonds up until MR had been a good match for my emerging queer aesthetic–DAF and OHMSS were especial favorites (for their portrayal of Bond I now think). DAF also had the advantage of great queer characters and women acting autonomously (even if sporadically so). I was queer and so was DAF, but I did not have the language to explain the bond until much later (neither did society for that matter).

And this is the element missing from my life–I never had wife or girlfriend, and because of this lack, the insistent message of Bond films and other cultural artifacts seemed to exist unopposed in any significant way. I am unacquainted with the private pushback that a girlfriend/wife can provide–though sometimes such pushback is overruled.

But what puzzles me is how a fantasy that features supremely compliant women remains enjoyable as a person matures. And when a man emerges from such a fantasy, does the reality of female resistance irritate him? In my life, I have never fantasized about either compliant men or being one (though I have known men who did entertain the latter fantasy). Do you just skip over that part, and like your teenage self concentrate on the “BANG, BOOM and ZING of the action”? Do those parts interrupt the flow more than they did in the past–comparable for me to the character of Sheriff J.W. Pepper in TMWTGG. When I watched the film the other night, I just could not get past his introductory scene–it was as fantastical as anything else in the film, but somehow it threw me out of the movie (much like the representations of black characters in LALD. As SAF once wrote, the whole movie is a cartoon, but the cartoons of the black characters possess a cultural history which interferes with them being rehabilitated when merged with the cartoon that is Bond. If only EON had hired Gordon Parks).

Along with all the other cultural products that transmitted sex/gender mores: poor Lucy always afraid Ricky would be upset if he knew she had bought a new hat, and Donna Reed being the perfect wife and mother–self-effacing to the max. Only Gomez and Morticia Addams ever expressed any eroticism–which was allowed only because they were cartoon ghouls (but a truer family than almost any other on offer).

Agreed, though I think the films can raise interesting cultural questions and provide critique.

The situation is similar to what happened after WWII when the heroes of the 1930’s and early 1940’s became the darker heroes of noir and Westerns (especially those of Anthony Mann).

But isn’t that the endgame of Western culture: I consume therefore I am. No critique in my art please, we’re pleasurists.

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Occurs to me that this is essentially Bond of the books. The question of what you do with a soldier when there’s no longer any war (ah, a simpler time)
Skyfall touches on this with Bond not knowing what to do with himself during his “death” as there’s no villain to fight.

Depends on the Western culture, whilst that is certainly true of American culture, English culture is (depressingly) still built around a need to enforce cultural superiority, or, as Eddie Izzard once put it “Do you have a flag?”

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Thanks for this knowledge–I never knew.

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Boris Johnson is a characiture of (one of) my native countries worst traits, in the same way Trump is a characiture of yours.

Edit: there is an ambiguity as to whether I meant traits or country. I meant country, Boris is Britain’s perceived worst traits personified.

Edit 2: am intrigued at what @Dustin is writing given just how good his opening was.

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That mourning for a better past that is so frequently identified as ‘conservative’ trait - I’m not sure that’s really such a political thing. I suspect at the core it’s much more the very prosaic whining and whinging of the middle aged who simply can’t come to terms with their own ageing bodies and minds: the guts getting bigger, the behinds fatter, the memory and temper weakening.

And as all this happens it’s perhaps much easier to put it all down to culture wars and sense of impending doom. People born in the 90s complaining about snotty millennials, forgetting how they’ve been not so different just a few years earlier…

Those postwar changes - WWI, that is - have themselves been ambivalent: while a huge part of that generation was fed to the giant mincer of human beings knowingly, deliberately by their respective military commanders - 10.000 lost? Send in 30.000 more! - the women for the first time earned their own money on a greater scale.

The loss of so many young men damaged society profoundly. But at the same time it opened up working life for countless women who suddenly could pay their own way, could with the earned money shape their own lives without necessarily having a husband. This was a huge push for women’s suffrage and perhaps as important as birth control would become decades later.

The films today, especially those from the 60s/70s, often show a caricature version of courting and seduction; little more than a raised eyebrow and a knowing smile are supposedly necessary to get things going. But on the other hand - and this is especially true for the books, which have been written before the swinging 60s - it’s practically the same from the women’s point of view: Bond is available and they decide to make use of him. They don’t expect longer emotional investment and certainly not anything like marriage.

The availability goes both ways and is not just aimed at serving Bond’s needs.

Not at all. I think the resistance angle is entirely overplayed and misrepresented by the GOLDFINGER scene in the film and the scene from Thunderball‘s book where Bond kisses Pat Fearing. Those are remnants of the spank-your-woman tradition of John Wayne and Tyrone Power - they don’t belong to Bond and his conquests are never about overcoming resistance.

Bond never actually courts with anything other than food. And either a woman is interested or not; in the latter case Bond consequently avoids being refused. Bond is the very opposite of an incel - and would probably call such characters simply imbeciles.

I have to admit I love the black characters in LALD because they are so much more memorable and colourful than most other goons and henchmen. Teehee, Whisper, Baron Samedi all have a particular impact beyond just being bit players.

And this not because they appear to be deeper characters, they are not. But they live in that particular comic book world as if it’s their own: it’s their circus act and Bond is just a visitor from outside. There’s a particular charm to this strong atmosphere they bring with them; almost like a parallel world from a Stephen King novel.

Ach the endgame of Western culture, that has been prophesied - or promised? - so often now that I’m no longer sure it’s not a sale scheme itself. Like Amazon’s Prime Day, only happening over and over since Napoleon lost at Waterloo.

In reality our culture is whatever we decide it is. Or what we let happen. And that definition happens every day anew, a constantly changing, evolving process that never really stops: prior to WWII the transport of the masses was the bicycle. Then came the car, the airplane. And now the circle is closing again and we buy bicycles expensive like little cars and keep them on racks in our houses like sculptures.

From the perspective of only 100 years ago we are richer than kings used to be. But neither are the riches spread equally, nor do they really enrich those who amass them. So maybe the purely material side isn’t the key to our culture. But we have somewhat lost the connection to the underlying system of values and virtues. Maybe we’ll find a way to re-establish that connection. Or define other values.

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Magnificently laid out arguments for a really interesting discussion.

Aa for my teenage self discovering the world of Bond before I became a man: at first I did think MooreBond was a male role model. He was self-confident, witty, charming, almost never lost his cool, and the ladies naturally responded to his polite and courteous ways.

ConneryBond was more aggressive - but even in the 80‘s I got the feeling that this was just how men were in the old times. When MooreBond misbehaved I eagerly justified it as situational.

However, I never thought I or anybody else could achieve the kind of suaveness Bond displayed. It was always recognized as a movie fantasy. Sure, one could try to be as refined or charming but real life would always get in the way. And I quickly discovered that women are much more complex than Bond girls and therefore more challenging but also much more interesting and,yes, easier to get along with. Imagine a relationship with a Bond girl - nah, much too stressful and also one-sided.

Maybe that was a positive learning effect: one cannot and shouldn’t model oneself after Bond because he is as fictional as the women he prefers. But it might be helpful to aspire to his knight in shining armor-qualities, just because it is a better than emulating the dumb machismo of too many other entertainment figures young males look up to.

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One thought: contrast to Bond another icon from his days of origin, John Steed. Steed - the latter Steed past his trenchcoat days - has a caricature quality about him. You immediately realise he’s a fictional character; probably Steed himself knows he’s fictional. His attitude towards females is much more chivalrous, courting without actually courting.

Steed’s approach is entirely artificial. He doesn’t pursue a seduction because in his world he’s not allowed one. In this regard, Bond is closer to reality. And probably also preferred by women if they are really interested in a guy. A sex scene with Steed, even if alluded at times, is downright unthinkable.

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Given both the Tv and movie Steeds appear in Bond movies, this seems like a vulture over Bond’s more…willing? Attitude to women.

Steed is not actually available - Bond is.

image

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I think it is conservative in the sense that they are mourning what they have been unable to conserve, and any change allowed should be incremental at best. There is an element that the traditional institutions/solutions are the best, even for addressing problems which never existed before, e.g., the argument that marriage is properly defined as only being between a man and a woman since it has always been defined that way.

Yes, Rosie the Riveter was not going back to the kitchen. Film noir is fascinating as it creates deadly liberated women who are threats to the wounded male hero. Two of my favorite films turn the usual noir tropes inside out: Delmer Daves’ DARK PASSAGE (1947) and Mankiewicz’s SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946).

I like Gala Brand and Tiffany Case in the books with Tiffany being one of the most well-rounded female characters Fleming created.

What comes to my mind is Pussy Galore saying at the end of the novel: “‘I never met a man before.” Bond then presses his mouth down on hers "ruthlessly, " and voila–no more lesbian. In correspondence Fleming wrote that all a lesbian would need is for “the right man to come along and perform the laying on of hands in order to cure her psycho-pathological malady.”

For Fleming, the knight-errant not only rights wrongs, but also combats societal sicknesses–think of the physical deformities with which Bond’s antagonists are characterized. The kiss must be ruthless since the malady must be stamped out. There is always the threat of contagion. Those of us with a psycho-pathological malady will resist since we do not understand ourselves that way.

Agreed, but they achieve this status by re-purposing the worst stereotypes used to portray black characters as colorful/sassy–think of all the colorful Negroes who populated the films of Classical Hollywood. The idea behind LALD is intriguing–Mankiewicz and Hamilton were just not the artists to bring it off.

I am not sure we have that much freedom. I was too terse in what I wrote, but when I write that the motto of Western (Abrahamic) culture is “I consume, therefore I am,” I am postulating that the West developed a materialistic/consumerist culture as a result of certain (incorrect) assumptions about human existence made centuries ago. This is neither the thread nor the venue for an involved post on the subject, but in shorthand: any and all decisions about what our culture is are delimited by a misapprehension made more than 2,000 years ago. Rather than losing connection to “the underlying system of values and virtues” of our culture, we have actually come to the logical endpoint of their achievement/fulfillment.

I agree. The knight-in-shining-armor qualities seem more pronounced in Moore Bond than any other for me (and also present in Travis McGee and Philip Marlowe). Connery Bond #1 was too brutal for my taste, and too close to the bullies who made grade school hell for me.

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Which is why I found him appealing-his actions were all performative and self-aware–two valued paradigms in queerness.

Another example would be the ‘tang of rape’ Bond detects in the sex with Vesper. And this from a man whose private parts had been given a treatment so convincingly soul-breaking he couldn’t even stand the thought of seeing her at hospital first and whose eyes flickered at the mere mention of the villa where this happened. The weeks Bond spends at clinic recovering from his worst beating are revealing in various ways and often don’t get the attention they deserve.

But is the ruthless kiss really a cure for lesbianism? At closer inspection we find Bond often kisses hard, Jill Masterton for example gets the same from him. Because Bond’s mouth is cruel and he is, like his creator, a fan of the rougher mating rituals. But Pussy Galore changed sides before he had a chance to kiss her, so one might argue what ‘cured’ her was Bond’s personality…

Goldfinger, although perhaps one of the best known books due to the film, is a specific case since it’s at least in part a self-parody of the by then established template; all the elements are turned up a notch or two, Bond isn’t actually doing anything productive and succeeds largely by luck.

Then it contains introspective parts like the opening and the night shift duty which serve to lend greater depth to a character who isn’t on the whole depicted as shining knight; rather as a fairly bored middle aged slogging civil servant without greater ambitions beyond a sexual adventure when abroad.*

The real Bond-women dynamic reveals itself from Casino Royale’s passage:

With most women his manner was a mixture of taciturnity and passion. The lengthy approaches to a seduction bored him almost as much as the subsequent mess of disentanglement. He found something grisly in the inevitability of the pattern of each affair. The conventional parabola - sentiment, the touch of the hand, the kiss, the passionate kiss, the feel of the body, the climax in the bed, then more bed, then less bed, then the boredom, the tears, and the final bitterness - was to him shameful and hypocritical.

Bond in other words cuts it down to the essentials. He’s never meeting actual resistance, not even in the vein of GOLDFINGER stable scene, simply because Bond only approaches those actually interested in him. This way he never is turned down and never needs to cope with refusal.

*Though we learn that Bond is surprisingly sentimental and worries how to explain his current company to Vesper when they arrive at afterlife…

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Growing up with the usual movie trope of the man and woman quarrel - the woman modest and resisting until the man forcefully embracing and kissing her - I was under the impression that this is how the mating ritual can be like.

However, I only remember this trope being applied to the hero meeting the heroine, expecting them both to end up with each other anyway - so it never had a connotation of sexual misconduct by the man. I think it mostly was a sign of 50-60’s morals which implied a woman either did not have the same sexual urges and had to be forcefully reminded or that a woman who showed her readiness was a prosititute, so any honest woman had to show resistance as a signifier for being desirable.

As for Pussy Galore (a name which makes this discussion terribly uncomfortable and almost absurd) - I also never thought that Bond had turned her into a heterosexual. But she agreed to join forces with him, fir this particular mission.

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So the question being does the aspirational aspect of Bond spill over to the treatment of women?
I don’t believe so, in the sense of wishing to emulate his treatment of women , but this what makes Bond so fascinating, you have within this sexist framework really strong , beautiful women ( Moore’s films enhanced the shivalry sometimes downgrading the independent coolness of the female characters)
For me Bond movies gave me a teenage template for the surface of attraction,
Dress well- I wanted Connery could only afford Steve McQueen
Know things- I credit 007 with my continual pursuit of new experiences
Be polite - but have a bit of steel
Be as erudite as possible -girls quite like having conversations
Walk like an animal - Connery said Panther (God I tried)
On the other hand , they did shape the type of person I was and am attracted to, women who are glamorous and tough who look like they cut their own hair.
No surprise that Cary Lowell’s Pam Bouvier is my ideal Bond Woman.
A final thought , unless you have read Goldfinger , which a casual viewer will not have , you have no clue that Pussy is a Lesbian, unless you read the subtext, so that scene becomes a sexually charged playfight that ends in a roll in the hay.

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Actually, Steve McQueen dressed rather well, on screen and off. He didn’t play the rich characters like Thomas Crown often. But when he did he came across very convincing.

I agree , it was a happy medium, as a teenager I lived in a navy roll neck sweater and tweed jacket.