A cold, quiet day circa June 1985. I’m bored to death by the inertia of winter. There’s nothing to do so I creep into my older cousin Peter’s room to have a root around. Under his bed is a stack of magazines and a few books. One of them catches my attention. It’s vividly blue and illustrated with the drawing of a luscious woman whose back is emblazoned with octopus-shaped stencilling.
I reach for it, my 11-year-old heart beating with a mix of fear of being caught (my cousin is playing soccer outside) and the forbidden pleasure of reading a M+ rated book.
From page one, the words are riveting. The story, based at the end of WW2, follows a retired English major who once had a fine career in military intelligence but made a terrible decision. He’s visited at his Jamaican home by a mystery man named Bond who makes the major pay for his mistake.
Before the last chapter of ‘Octupussy’, I’m hooked, becoming a life long fan of Commander Sir James Bond, the fictional spy agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS; commonly known as MI6). Created in January 1952 by British journalist Ian Fleming while on holiday at his Jamaican estate, Goldeneye, the character’s name was the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name Fleming could find. “James Bond was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers.’ Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.”
Nevertheless, speculation abounds about real spies or other covert agents after whom James Bond might have been modelled or named, such as Sidney Reilly or William Stephenson, best-known by his wartime intelligence codename of Intrepid. Although they are similar to Bond, Fleming confirmed none as the source figure.
A self-styled Bond
Most researchers agree that James Bond is a romanticised version of Ian Fleming, himself a jet-setting womaniser. Both Fleming and Bond attended the same schools, preferred the same foods (scrambled eggs, and coffee), maintained the same habits (drinking, smoking, wearing short-sleeve shirts), shared the same notions of the perfect woman in looks and style, and had similar naval career paths (both rising to the rank of naval Commander). They also shared similar height, hairstyle, and eye colour. Some suggest that Bond’s suave and sophisticated persona is based on that of a young Hoagy Carmichael. In Casino Royale, the heroine Vesper Lynd remarks, “Bond reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless.” Likewise, in Moonraker, Special Branch Officer Gala Brand thinks that Bond is “certainly good-looking . . . Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold.”
The images that have come to define the James Bond phenomenon:
Bond, James Bond
The Lure of James Bond
How could any man not want to be Bond? First of all there’s the cars – the V8 Vantage (80s), V12 Vanquish and DBS (00s); the Lotus Esprit; the BMW Z3, BMW 750iL and the BMW Z8. Bond’s most famous car is the silver grey Aston Martin DB5, first seen in Goldfinger; it later features in Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Casino Royale.
Then there are the women – the innocent Ursula Andress (‘Honey Ryder’ in Dr. No), the alluring Eva Green (Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale), the exotic Halle Berry (Jinx in Die Another Day), the je-sais-se-quoi of Michelle Yeoh (Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies), the sultry Jane Seymour (Solitaire in Live and Let Die) and the stunning Olga Kurylenko (Camille Montes in Quantum of Solace).
Let’s not forget the lifestyle: exotic locations, hi-rolling casinos, the lush five star hotels, the wine, martinis and cigars, the endless wads of British tax payers cash, the gadgets and the glam, the spectacular edge-of-the-seat car chases, the explosions and things that go bang. Bond is a man who never fails and who always gets the girl in the end. It’s a comic book in 3D – and we all know how much men like comic books.
However, Bond is an equal opportunity hero – women love his flawed “not easily shaken, not hardly stirred” cool character and the fact that he’s rogue who still has the capacity to make as well as fall in love; he fights for justice and he always, almost always protect his ‘woman du jour’ in the process. Bond lives on the wild side, and because all women secretly want the lone wolf in their lives, they pine away for the covert spy with as much passion as their men.
Bond and Modern Masculinity
In the 60’s, Sean Connery brought to James Bond an image of charismatic machismo, a womanising, hairy-chested, hard drinking, constantly smoking representation of the man’s man of the time. Of the several representations of James Bond in film, Doug Brode, professor of television, radio and film has said, “Sean Connery emphasized the macho.”
Sean Connery’s Bond carried with him a great deal of the chauvinistic menace of Fleming’s Bond. However, he also softened the overt misogyny that the Bond of the novels projected. This Bond merely saw women as playthings, albeit potentially dangerous playthings.
Roger Moore, who came into the role in 1973’s Live and Let Die, was a distinctly different Bond. Rather than projecting the unyielding machismo of Sean Connery, Moore presented a more polished and sophisticated Bond. According to Alexander Walker, “Moore looked like such a nice lad; Connery had brought with him a faint hint of Macho relish.”
Roger Moore depicted a character than was more polished, more sophisticated than Connery’s Bond. While still a womanizer, he respects the skills of the women he encounters, and presents for the viewers far less of the blatant chauvinism Sean Connery did. In comparing the two actors, critic Alison Gilmore has said, “Moore was basically a clothes-hanger, excelling at sophisticated insouciance but lacking any sense of macho menace, especially in the twilight years of the 1980s.”
Pierce Brosnan was a Bond for the late 90’s and the new millennium. With feminism firmly entrenched – women were filling the corporate world, even in Bond’s world – and homosexuality challenging societies concepts of manhood and masculinity, this was a new Bond for a new world. Chapman discusses how the film GoldenEye addresses Bond’s place in our changing world, “In the most-quoted line of the film, M makes it clear to Bond that she regards him as an anachronism, telling him to his face that he is ‘a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War.'”
In 2006’s Casino Royale, things seem to have come full circle, with the new Bond, played by Daniel Craig, serving to reboot the franchise. Portraying James Bond on his first mission as a 00-agent, he is rough, violent, and in many ways, far closer to Fleming’s Bond than any other portrayal in film.
At one point, Bond is asked if he is bothered by the killing required in his position. His response is cold and savage, “Well, I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did, now would I?”
At the same time, he is distinctly different. Where, in the novel of Casino Royale, Bond beds Vesper Lynd out of selfish desires, he does so now out of love, at one point leaving MI6 to live a life with her. This Bond is not the misogynist of the 50’s. Though certainly a womanizer, we begin to see that, in this incarnation, his actions stem from severe personal loss, making this a far more relatable character.
In today’s Bond world, his immediate superior is a woman. He is paired with a woman agent. This is certainly a Bond for today. He is unmistakably male, portraying a very rough image of masculinity, but never threatened by femininity. He is comfortable in a very integrated world.
Despite being cast against strong female characters, Bond continues to be popular, demonstrating the level of change in male/female relationships in society. The changes in these films show that, even in a male dominated, testosterone drenched format, masculinity has been redefined, and society as well.
With a lifespan already stretching beyond 50 years and a potential continued cultural presence for 50 more, James Bond shows us and will continue to show – we’ve come a long way baby!!
Skyfall, Bond’s new film opens in November 2012. View the official site here.
Brian Westover – A Look at How James Bond Reflects Changing Views of Masculinity (January 16, 2007)