Should Live and Let Die be removed from publication?

  • Yes
  • No
  • It is much more complex than Yes and No but that might mean actual discussion of underlying issues rather than polarising, and that’s boring

0 voters

Of all the Fleming novels, Live and Let Die is arguably the one that has most of all, not aged well (though The Spy Who Loved Me has also not really aged well). It’s the novel that has the most overt racism in the series. It’s got a chapter called ****** heaven. With HBO pulling historic films such as Gone With The Wind amidst the Black Lives Matter protests, it begs the question: Should IFP pull Live and Let Die from publication? Or if not, should a revised version be released removing some of the more racist bits? It’s easily the most uncomfortable read in Bond series and I no longer buy the argument that it was written in a different time.

Already been done. The chapter in question has - in some editions (most notably NAL) - been renamed and the dialogue at the Boneyard between the hi-yaller and her beau (like something from Li’l Abner) excised.
Dr. No would be next, then Goldfinger (Bond calls Oddjob ‘Ape’), then FRWL (stupid Bulgars), Then YOLT…
I’m glad I already own original prints and the reprints, in the interests of textual (not racial) purity. I hope I don’t have to hide them away ahead of a visit from the Firemen (Fahrenheit 451).

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Which edition has the revisions? I have the penguin edition from 2002 that still has the original text.

1959 NAL paperback (chapter 5: ‘Seventh Avenue’.)

Hmm, strange they reverted.

No, absolutly not.

I think these bit are neccerary, they reinforce the ambiance, the feeling the adventure/novel is set/from the 50’s/60’s and it’s something that I miss in recent continuation novel set back in the day. The problem of today society is that there is so much fragile people who offence for nothing, and want to censor everything (are we supossed to do like if racism is something that didn’t existed openly back in these days?). You can see it in France with the people who who seize the CSA (our censor orgasnism in TV) for all and nothing. And I really hate it (censor in some bond reedition and comics are bad). And for be honest, it’s not hampering my enjoyment, on contrary, I laught when I read theses bits cause it’s seems so shifted from today standars or the movie counterpart, that I find them amusing/interresting.

“I no longer buy the argument that it was written in a different time.”

You should, cause it’s not an argument, but a fact.

What would be the next step? A remove cause (that the carracters) killing people, drink, smoke, drive fast, have sex without condom, walk in streets without mask? There always be people who will complain even without “inapropriate” words in the novel (look the stupid debate who said that the franchise is racist cause James bond have never been portrayed by a colored actor).

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That Casino Royale.

It makes those poor white folks look horrible; everyone in it is either murderous, drunken, emotionally crippled, devious, physically disgusting, violent, conniving or French. I shall be basing my view of white people on this hugely influential work rather than considering whether I should be reflecting on endemic lack of opportunity for these wretched persons and inadequate social support and education both for and about them, and accordingly the book must be banned because that’s easier than actually bothering to tackle anything real.

Ban fiction, solve fact. Apparently. Not sure how, but it’s quick, gets a headline and we can move on without tackling anything.

In all the soul-searching that goes on about what to restore once - if - pandemic restrictions lift, evidently it’s not worth reinstating history teachers because either no-one’s listening to them, or they cannot do their job, or a mix of both.

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Well, HBO plans to reinstate Gone With the Wind after adding “contextual” material to the presentation. By the way, guess what’s the most purchased film on Amazon right now?
Gone With the Wind.

When Live and Let Die was first printed in America, the American publishers prevailed on Fleming to edit the text, as AMC_Hornet pointed out. The N-word, which was thrown around far longer and far more casually in the UK (it even showed up in Fawlty Towers, thanks to the old major), was excised, along with the conversation between the couple in Sugar Ray’s. But I think Bond’s reaction to their conversation is important: “Seems they’re interested in much the same things as everyone else–sex, having fun, and keeping up with the Joneses. Thank God they’re not genteel about it.”

In other words, though these characters are presented almost as if they were exotic aliens from another planet (and to Fleming they practically were), Bond regards them as human as everyone else. When Leiter says “I like the negroes and they know it somehow…And I admire the way they’re getting on in the world, though God knows I can’t see the end of it,” his mix of affection and now-repugnant paternalism mirrors Fleming’s attitude, which is obviously now very problematic. But it also shouldn’t be treated as if it were the same as that of George Wallace or D.W. Griffith.

When Penguin republished all the Bond novels in the UK in 2002, it decided (perhaps for the sake of simplicity) to use the same text for the American reprints. So the censored version, which had held court almost 50 years, disappeared. Reinstating it after the original text has circulated for 18 years would be pointless.

I also think whether or not a work is racist is one of the more boring things one can say about it. The more important questions are why is it racist? What makes it racist? Why did the author make those decisions? And you can’t really answer those questions without putting the work in context. And that usually begins acknowledging it was written in a different time and place. None of the vintage British reviews I read for LALD complained about its treatment of African Americans. Fleming’s white American editors on the other hand thought the original text might offend American readers (though Raymond Chandler praised the Sugar Ray’s dialogue). Now British readers would have the same reactions as American ones, because times and attitudes have changed.

It’s good to applaud authors from half century ago (and earlier) whose works anticipate our modern outlooks on race and gender. But there aren’t many such authors. Some of those who fall short do so because they were hellbent on propounding a specific ideology that is now vile and noxious. But most tended to replicate the attitudes of their time and socio-economic group. They followed their herd. Fleming’s racial attitudes weren’t remarkable among the English upper class. Luckily they’re not the source of his books’ appeal either.

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This isn’t an issue unique to Fleming and Bond, a lot of authors from bygone eras are going to be problematic by today’s standards (Agatha Christie had rather troubling views on homosexuality for example). But I don’t think the way forward is to try and hide or suppress the past as that runs the risk of making it look like these attitudes were never a problem.
Off the top of my head my thought would be the equivalent of a ‘trigger warning.’ Let potential readers know upfront that the book contains racist and outdated opinions that need to be viewed as a reflection of the time it was written.

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No need warning: it’s obvious too people who think a minimum, and if they are too stupid for not think it by themself or trigger by these bit, who care anyway?

As I see it, LALD is an at times an uncomfortable read, but like all books and films, TV and theatre of the past it shows up a mirror of what we once we’re as a society and an opportunity to teach us about how far we have come and more importantly how much further we need to go. Racism is an ugly construct of British bureaucrasy
in the latter 1600s until the Barbados slave act which sought to categorise the various people kidnapped from their homes (so many different tribes) and importantly differentiate them from Irish indentured servants ( who typically were forced into servitude for being Catholic but could essentially buy their freedom, unlike the displaced slaves who it was written into law were to be slaves in perpetuity) the concept of the black and white races were born. Back in England this new concept of the white race and the black race had to be taught and for a long time white referred to the motley crew of of Scots , Welsh, English and free Irish who inhabited Barbados.
Before this the kidnapped slaves knew where they came from this was through the insidious simplicity of the act became forgotten.
There is only one race we, in prehistoric times, killed off the other actual races on the planet. We are one race with different pigmentation. Racism is ignorance and by banning books we further fuel that ignorance.
Statues on the other hand, glorify the person and therefore the ideals they upheld so, in my opinion they should be taken down and used to study and help people learn from the past.

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Ian Fleming was a good writer - but his opinions were very often repugnant.

Were they a product of the times he lived in? Of course. We all form our world view based on our daily lives. However, it is just plain wrong to justify everything with that argument. We all have the capacity to evaluate our opinions. If we choose not to do it we are responsible for every consequence.

To ban a book, film or other work of art, however, is censorship.

Which does not defend any hateful drivel at all. In fact, if any work of art sets out to stir up hate those responsible for it should be called out and punished.

By not buying it. By not giving it any publicity. By not showing any interest.

This removes everything from publication.

Is LALD still a big seller, stirring up racism? I doubt it is read by anyone but hard core Fleming fans anymore.

As for GONE WITH THE WIND - the film is offensive in so many ways that anyone could only enjoy watching it because of nostalgia for the times he/she had watched it before, not thinking about the astonishingly horrible depictions of practically everything in it. Should one ban such a bad movie? No. But I applaud HBO Max for their decision to put it in context, so viewers who do not recognize the film´s fatal flaws can be educated on it.

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The same was done for the recent comic adaption, too.

I have little to add to the arguments already cited here. Evidently there is a difference to how works of art depict their time and how we react to that depiction in our time. We can hardly expect from Fleming to be cognisant of how later generations would view his work; how could he? All we can and should ask of him, of any writer, is to paint as true a picture as he’s able to.

Our part then is to digest that work, ponder its significance - or lack of - and define our own position relative to the contents. We’re not condoning or accusing by mere reading, we do that in our reaction to the lecture. Every time we read a book we position ourselves again.

It’s of course entirely possible for a racist to read Fleming with glowing feelings of warm affection for the depiction of any number of people and nations. But people who do so come with the steadfast intention to enjoy their own snivelling complexes and hysterics justified by another voice. Fleming doesn’t invite them nor does he glorify his own. You need not agree with his or Bond’s views to enjoy the tale. Try that with a real pamphlet, anything from the current mob of racists, and you will easily see the difference.

Finally, what would not printing Live and Let Die any more achieve? Would there be one criminal in office less because of it? Or one victim less of racism? It would come down to a fairly inconsequential gesture that helps nobody and achieves nothing.

What then is the difference to, say, toppling statues? Is there a difference at all?

I think yes; though I think it may be a surprising one.

What we witness is not so much a ‘revolution’ as a reassessment. An acknowledgment that, in spite of all the huzza and glory, writing history is a process that’s not finished as such. And can sometimes take unexpected turns.

When historians come up with the thesis that Churchill was a racist that’s less of a zinger than the furious backlash from the right. Because nothing really new was presented and the verdict would perhaps not even have surprised Churchill himself - even if he wouldn’t have included it in the history books he planned to write himself. The important thing is, it still doesn’t put him on the same page as Hitler and that’s probably all Churchill would have cared about.

Immense riches were earned with the lives of millions by the slave traders and owners. The victims were treated as property, as chattel. And from there it’s only a small step to treat humans as cattle. These things do not happen isolated from everything else, they resonate with each other, reverberate to and fro in our lives. And the statues that are toppling these days, the real statues and the imaginary ones, fall because they glorify a deeply inhumane, amoral injustice.

But does that actually help a single victim today?

Maybe not today. But depending on how people proceed from there it may help preventing countless victims of racism in the future.

Here are two recently published articles that partially touch on our topic, the monuments of the past and how we react to them in our time:

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Noooooo!

Hold on, would it make existing copies collectibles :thinking:

I do agree with the argument that censorship is bad. Often times, it can go too far. Some of the language used in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not acceptable by today’s standards and shouldn’t have been in 1884. However, Mark Twain was very much not a racist and wrote the book specifically to educate people on race as he was angry that attitudesa and laws hadn’t really changed much in the south after the Civil War. There’s really no reason to ever ban a book. Catcher in the Rye was banned because one person claimed it made him want to kill Ronald Reagan. Fahrenheit 451 was banned for its depictions of book burning when in fact the entire message of the book is the exact opposite. I think in the case of LALD, the original racist text is not there for any integral reasons to the plot. It exists because they reflected Fleming’s views. Yes, Bond and Leiter both express views that show they really aren’t racist, but they are not sensitive in the way they talk or think. Personally, if I were IFP, I’d stop publication of the versions with the offensive text and reinstate the altered text. As pointed out above, if publishers in the 1950s recognized that the text was offensive then clearly it wasn’t acceptable back then, let alone today.

Poll added

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One reviewer for TIME magazine noted in 1973 (and I’m paraphrasing here): “James Bond has already kicked and chopped his way through most of the minorities of the world - it’s about time black Americans had their turn”.
Upon reflection, I realized he was right, and of course 007 went on to kick and chop his way through more Asians, Italians, Greeks, Indians, Russians, Colombians, Russians, Koreans, Bolivians, etc. Foreigners, in other words.
Bond has always represented the British way; like Basil Fawlty, regarding the Englishman as inherently superior to everybody. Bond doesn’t dislike these people because of their race, but because they chose to be enemies of the crown.
In YOLT (the novel), after Tiger delivers a scathing criticism, Bond rebuts,defending England by first acknowledging that there may no longer be an Empire to defend, but the British still climb mountains and win awards, etc.
Of course Fleming has a condescending attitude towards the non-English, even when presenting sympathetic characters like Quarrel and Kerim. It is this refection of British attitudes that needs to be preserved, for the sake of historical comparison.
As for abridging LALD, go ahead; it’s the same story without the dialogue at Sugar Rays and the chapter 5 title.

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But for 1973 that just wrong factually. At that point Bond had more Brit villains than non, then the next film would have Christopher Lee - the most British man who ever existed.

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The parts that were changed in the US versions are evidently not necessary for plot reasons; Fleming included them for reasons of atmosphere. They reflect not so much authentic dialogue as atmosphere he felt would interest his readers. I’ll come back to this but bear with me for a moment.

My first Fleming was Moonraker and I read it at the ripe old age of 10 - only that it wasn’t Moonraker but Mondblitz, the German version of the book. I use ‘version’ here intentionally since it wasn’t just a translation but a heavily edited text that omitted large parts of the novel, namely most mentions of German war crimes, torture, werewolf kid soldiers and the like.

It was back then published about ten years previously, early sixties. For readers who had either fought in the war themselves or remembered it vividly enough as kids. The publishers thought it was a bit longwinded, so an entire chapter went to the cutting room floor. And a bit anti-German, so most references to SS and Nazi ideology had to go too. They even cut the fact Drax was cheating with the unwitting help of the jew Meyer, who was just Meyer in that version. As a kind of sick joke the title became Mondblitz in German, which would surely have raised eyebrows in the English edition and urged authorities to start questioning Drax’s intentions…

This book was for decades not available in an unedited German version. If you wanted to read Fleming’s original work you had to do so in English. On reflection I even have to be thankful for this deficiency since it lead to my early learning of the language, to living in London for a stretch in later years and even to a brief posting in Dublin and with the EU. On balance I cannot complain at all about that publishing house censoring their book.

But could Fleming be expected to be sensitive about German readers? Should he have thought about coming generations who were born decades after the war? Why ever?

Fleming wrote as he did in Moonraker because that was precisely the way he and many of his countrymen thought about Germans. He was spinning a ludicrously illogical, fantastical tale. But he was doing so with an authentic atmosphere. This was, more or less, the mindset of him and his peers. He didn’t push it on you - but neither did he keep it in his closet.

With Live and Let Die now there is a related function attached to his scenes in Harlem. For British readers the US, contrary to much of the official language, was equal parts bizarre and fantastic, a country and a people that could stir deeply uncomfortable feelings in the psyche of the average Briton. The recent help in the war not withstanding, the cultural gap was real and present and many Britons looked at the US with a mixture of baffled incomprehension and outright paternalistic condescension. Mind you, not necessarily with xenophobia - but often with a kind of mild disapproval and, consequently, chagrin.

Insofar the Bond/Leiter exchange is authentic in their commentary to events. Leiter is even a contributor to the Amsterdam News, knows his way around Harlem and might actually be more use to Bond in his off-CIA persona. But the authentic thing about the scene is the atmosphere and the reaction of these two to it. However it reads today, it’s a reflection of the mindset Fleming was in and was writing for.

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