Sunday, 9 February 2014

Why Do People Like James Bond?

Ah, James Bond. That super-awesome lovable badass super spy and all-around really great guy and excellent role model-

Hang on, what is this?

 James Bond is in a barn with his latest girl and... HE FRIGGIN' RAPES HER! Um... yeah... this guy was supposed to be the hero right? He's supposed to be the good guy that we're supposed to be rooting for and here he is sexually assaulting a young woman. Okay, you could argue that the woman does eventually consent but Bond still has to force himself onto her and she clearly tries to fight back. And the worst part? This scene is somehow supposed to be charming.

Ever since I watched Goldfinger for a class a few years ago I have found myself perplexed by this situation. The fact of the matter is that James Bond is incredibly sexist, and the worst offender is, ironically enough, Sean Connery i.e. the Bond that everyone else usually says is the greatest. Every time I hear someone (especially women) talking about how much they love Bond I always find myself thinking about scenes like this one, where Bond is, like it or not, a misogynistic jerk who seems to see women as little more than sex objects.

In the old films he'd sometimes go through four or five girls in one movie, usually moving onto one almost immediately after the last gets killed with almost no time to grieve (another example comes from a different film I'd seen before Goldfinger: You Only Live Twice, where Sean Connery's Bond spends about three quarters with one girl, only for her to get killed off and Bond to end up falling in love with some other female agent who was only present for the climax).

So why is it that Bond has such a fan base after all these years? That is hard to say, part of it may stem from the fact that more recent films have gotten a bit better about this (say what you will about Goldeneye, at least Bond didn't go through five different love interests), but many hardcore fans still defend Connery's Bond.

To bring up an analogy, let me refer to an older movie: Birth of a Nation. This was a film made long before Bond and was every bit as significant a part of film history as Bond, and possibly even more so (given most modern film making techniques came from it). The thing is, most people who aren't film historians or students tend to pretend this movie doesn't exist. Why? Because the story is incredibly racist and involves a glorification of the Klu Klux Klan.

From Birth of a Nation (1915): the heroic Klu Klux Klan has captured an evil black man and... WAIT WHAT?

I cite this example because it seems a double standard to me. Why is that most people will shun a film as blatantly racist as The Birth of A Nation and then go on to ignore the prominently sexist elements of James Bond films while talking about how awesome he supposedly is? (or might have been if he didn't treat women like crap)

As you've probably guessed from this post, I am not a fan of James Bond. Before anyone brings it up: yes, I am aware that some of the more recent incarnations have gotten better about this, at least starting with Pierce Brosnan in the 90's if not earlier. One of these days I might even work up the nerve to try watching one of Craig's Bond films. However, that does not change the fact that most fans point to Connery as the definitive James Bond. In other words, they look at a misogynistic pervert who likes to sexually assault every woman he sees and think "Wow, THIS is the guy I want saving the day."

The name's Bond. James Bond. I'm going to save the da- Wait, what do you mean I'm under arrest for multiple counts of rape?


  1. I'm not as familiar with the Connery films, but he certainly fancies his women like his cars: fast and expendable. When I watch the Connery films, I will keep your thoughts in mind. I do recommend the Craig films, especially since Casino Royale offers an "explanation" (though on the weak side) as to why Bond blows through women.

  2. Two things
    1) I think you've completely missed is that Bond (both in the original novels and in the films) is intended to be a male power fantasy.

    2) I really believe it's wrong to force the morality of one era onto another.

    1. Both valid points. I see your reasoning. However:

      1) So you admit that James Bond was intentionally written to be a misogynistic pervert and yet still played as somehow charming? I would think that would be grounds to despise the franchise even more, since it can't even be said to just be a product of the time but is in fact intentionally made sexist.

      2) Fair enough. My problem is less so with the morality of the time and more with how easily people overlook it today. To provide a straight forward analogy, while we may watch "Birth of a Nation" for its historical significance, we can also recognize the fact that it is extremely racist. We acknowledge that it was important to the history of film, but you don't see very many modern viewers seeing it and going "Wow, I want to be like those awesome Klu Klux Klansmen!" Meanwhile there are numerous fans who will overlook the blatant sexism of the Connery era and still label that particular James Bond as a super awesome action hero and role model.

      Also, even if Bond's general attitude was okay for the 1960's, I still don't think that excuses the rape scene from "Goldfinger". Since I've heard someone before attempt to argue that it wasn't actually a rape scene I'm just going to address this now: Bond throws a woman on the ground and forces himself onto her while she fights back. I don't care if the woman ultimately consents or what foreplay might have been present before, the fact that Bond has to force himself onto her and she resists still makes it an act of rape. I didn't even get into the whole homophobic angle either, where Bond not only rapes Pussy Galore but somehow "cures" her of being gay.

  3. Let me start this with a simple disclaimer. I am HUGE fan of the James Bond franchise and consider the movies to be among the most influential pieces in cinema. James Band has been around for fifty years, which is nearly half as long as cinema itself has existed. Because of the vast time span of the movies, I believe that Bond also works as a scale to measure our own culture over the years. History, art, fashion, and attitudes toward women can all be seen in the decades long progression of the James Bond character.

    Because of this, it is important to look at the films in a cultural perspective. Consider seeing Goldfinger in theaters in 1964. James Bond was not written as a character that would appeal to 2014 audience. He was meant to appeal to people in the 60s. If you have ever seen an episode of Mad Men, it should be obvious that the attitudes toward women in that time period are frankly insulting and demeaning. However, just like our nation’s views on sex and violence, James Bond movies have also matured as they moved forward in time While the Bond of today has some of the same tendencies that Connery’s did, they are shown in a much darker and realistic light.

    I can enjoy movies like Birth of a Nation because I put myself in the shoes of the original audience. I won’t deny that Bond’s behavior in the 60s was offensive but to men of the 1960s it was a representation of their own fantasies at the time.

    Bond is not meant to be a realistic character. People don’t like the character of James Bond, they like the idea of Bond. RedLetterMedia makes an excellent example of Indian Jones.

    Just like Jones, Bond is male power fantasy. And just like the movies, the idea of what an ideal man is has changed. The difference is that the audience has grown to be more aware of the real world consequences of a lifestyle that James Bond leads. If you watched movies like Casino Royal, Quantum of Solace, or Skyfall, you would see that the behavior of Bond is almost universally detested by his coworkers. He destroys the life of almost everyone he comes in contact with and he proves to be a pathetic and broken man.

    Attitudes toward Bond have evolved since Sean Connery's initial portrayal of the character. This is evidence as early as Live and Let Die. Roger Moore hits a woman and is visibly uncomfortable onscreen. While that might have been seen as acceptable in Connery’s era, it has already become taboo by 1973.

    Bond is a cultural representation of man’s ambitions and desires. It’s not fair to compare the ideas of men in the 1960s to the values we hold now. Goldfinger is a wonderful movie that must be viewed in the context of it’s intended audience. Today Bond is shown to be little more than a blunt instrument because that’s how an audience today can best accept his abhorrent behavior.

    It’s been over fifty years since Goldfinger came out. While some may be embarrassed to look back on it, I still hold it to be among my favorite movies. Not just because of the fun and adventure but because of the window it provides into the attitudes and beliefs of the past.

    Bond is an artifact of his time. There have been twenty-three James Bond movies and each is a representation of societies views and politics. The character is a time capsule and I have no doubt that fifty years from now James Bond will still be around and audiences will be looking back at films like Skyfall with the same disdain you seem to hold toward Goldfinger.

  4. Actually, you are reading this thing completely incorrectly. Male/female sexual politics are not as simple and one sided as your viewpoint suggests, IE: that if she is engaging with him in what you would say is unwilling aggression. If she didn't want an interaction with him, she merely would have left, and made is spectacularly clear to him that he was unwelcome; she did not. She circled him like a cat, she engaged with him in an obviously interested manner, and she made herself physically available to him in the way that women do with alpha males.

    She obviously wasn't actually trying to hurt him in their confrontation. This was the same as that initial wrestling/tickling match that is so common in first sexual encounters, but between two alphas. A female alpha will not respect a weak male, and willing, overt physicality between men and women is not uncommon.

    Your viewpoint limits the human experience; not all people (especially women) are the person may take a hard slap on the backside as an assault, another as a bit o' fun...pulling the misogyny card for everything that isn't about a man sitting and patiently waiting for a woman to take him by the hand is not only unrealistic, but a bit reactionary.

    Personally, I don't care for Bond films; they're silly, crass fantasies about a smug, helmet-hair, stiffo, going about in suits, drinking pretentious beverages, tossing off lame quips, and wasting most of his time gambling.

    I find it amusing that one would be offended that a humourless sociopath, whose job it is to kill human beings without mercy, wrestles an obviously willing woman into a kiss.

  5. I'm glad to hear your thoughts on the subject. I agree that the early Bond films can be disturbing because of their attitudes, just as Birth of a Nation is disturbing. I took three classes from a college professor who managed to work an Ian Fleming Bond book into each one. There you will also find some racism and xenophobia. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for you comment. I get a lot of die hard fans repeating the same arguments, it's nice to see someone agree for once.

      I mainly discuss the sexism of Connery's James Bond, but I have heard people discuss the racism of the franchise and in this case I didn't even get into the homophobic aspects: one thing that a friend pointed out after I wrote this was that not only does Goldfinger have a rape scene that tries to be charming, but apparently getting raped somehow "cured" Pussy Galore of being gay.

  6. I'm not a huge James Bond fan, for the reasons you cited in your excellent post. Plus, I just don't really care about ol' 007. I know he's an iconic character and the movies are hugely influential, but I can't get excited about it.

    Anyway, here's to your post and other, more fascinating movie characters. *Clink!*

    1. Thank you. It's nice to hear a bit of sense once in a while.

  7. Oh wow, I see the Connery fans were unleashed again. Yeah, I've learned the hard lesson that the minute you imply that Sean Connery isn't the greatest thing in the world to a certain segment of James Bond fans... well the fire is unleashed. :)

    I see where you are coming from and actually my wife feels much the same way you do. She really doesn't like the Connery films much at all because of the way he treats women and the whole vibe to them. She is much more on board once we hit the Moore era (although there is plenty of free lovin' going around in those movies too).

    I'm a James Bond fan and I can watch most of the films from a more historical perspective. Part of the longevity of the series is the fact that it was able to hold up a mirror to the times it was made in. It really is a pop-culture film series. Bond films in the 60s broke a lot of rules (especially those first three) and hit at the perfect time. Anyway, it explains why some people connect so strongly with the Bond films that were made in their era.

    Not explaining myself too well here. Anyway, I appreciate where you're coming from, not sure I entirely agree. But I will say that the films did evolve as they went along, and that is one of the fascinating aspects to them. Bond is entertainment for the masses on a scale that really hasn't been rivaled in film history. It really is a interesting legacy to examine. So don't be so quick to write it off. But yeah, those Connery fans... :)

    1. If it is any consolation I have since had a chance to see Casino Royale with Daniel Craig, and it actually managed to win me over. Admittedly it was a complicated plot that wasn't always easy to follow but it did manage to get me emotionally invested in Bond. I even wrote an article discussing it at length:

      I am planning to see Quantum of Solace and Skyfall when I get the chance. Craig's films are actually not too bad, so I don't hate the franchise as a whole, I just don't like what was done with Connery's films.