Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes #3: Bond, James Bond

When Felix Leiter, CIA agent, finally catches up with Bond, he’s right where he wants him (Miami Beach). Except for the fact that he’s undergoing a massage by a pretty young woman in a bathing suit. Felix approaches, interrupting the girl’s ministrations, but Bond doesn’t seem to mind. He introduces the girl as Dink, then quickly dismisses her:

“Dink, say goodbye to Felix,” Bond commands.

“Hm?” Dink squeaks.

“Man talk,” explains Bond, turning the woman around by the shoulders and giving her a resounding smack on the rear.

Within the next mere ten minutes of Goldfinger, we see James Bond overpower, dominate, and/or seduce no fewer than four people. Thing is, we are supposed to love the rascal (or should I say, rapist) for it. Throughout the rest of the movie, Bond exercises this easy and smug superiority towards everyone he encounters, from showing off his class (brandy knowledge) to his boss M, to cheating at golf, to rape-kissing Goldfinger’s pilot, destroying Tilly’s car… The list goes on. It’s the combination of high class paired with an almost sadistic domination of all.  Steeped in colonialism, it’s the blending of sexism, racism, and ‘good breeding’ that creates the perfect monster; the double edged sword we call a ‘gentleman.’ (And what does it say about the culture that produces both?)

Problematic Toxic Masculinity Trope #3 is called Bond, James Bond after the character that epitomizes this perfect monster/gentleman hybrid. Bond is so secure in his inarguable superiority that he rapes, maims, or kills anyone he deems inferior to him. Which is, of course, everyone. This is the very definition of colonialism, and it’s also where the definition of ‘gentleman’ comes from. Social status means everything to the Bond trope character, which means manners, etiquette and breeding must be displayed at every turn.

Ah, but this means that Bond is not as secure in his superiority after all–his utter domination doesn’t go unquestioned, not without his conscious, constant efforts. And here is where the damage of this trope comes to the fore. The gentleman Bond is another impossible masculine ideal, but a particularly ugly one: it’s the concept of precarious manhood. This ironically vulnerable version of masculinity means having to pass constant tests to prove oneself as a man, and Bond’s approach is to establish his dominance and superiority onto everybody – even to those above him in rank. It’s Bond’s way or the highway, even if you’re M. Bond knows best, and Bond is better than anyone–he’s right even when he’s wrong, which is a lot of where he gets his wide appeal.

This godlike egotism creates destructive disdain for those he considers below him (which, of course, is everybody), and especially those of other races and/or genders. Racism, exoticism, misogyny, and classism are what the gentleman/monster is all about. Bond exudes a smug feeling of superiority over everyone he meets, from the expendable savage (like Quarrel from Dr. No), to the squealing tart (Dink in Goldfinger), to the barbaric American (Felix Leiter). But it’s okay; he’ll still save the world at the end, so consumers of the Bond trope often overlook how horrible he was to everyone on his way to his heroic ending.

“But these books/movies are from a different time – before political correctness and SJWs!” you might well say. And sure, the racism and sexism rampant in the Bond, James Bond trope are obviously nothing to admire, let alone emulate. It’s all rather calculated in the books, and almost cartoonish in the older movies. The newer films (arguably starting with Brosnan) try to do better, but it almost becomes more insidious and damaging than when his bigotry was obvious, smacking Dink in the arse for man talk. Either way, these behaviors are overlooked and excused by those who aspire to the epitome of masculinity that embodies Bond’s character, and that’s what’s so damaging. We’re reminded over and over and over again how superior Bond is; we’re supposed to want Bond if we’re female, and want to be him if we’re male. (Which raises another interesting point – up to very recently, the heteronormativity of Bond has gone explicitly unquestioned, ergo: to be truly masculine, one must be straight as an arrow… More on this in Trope #5: Sassy Gay Friend.)

This idolatry is hugely problematic—he’s a monster–we shouldn’t want to be or be with him, and yet James Bond (and his tropey clones) has been a cultural icon for over seventy years. This institutionalized trope of masculinity can’t be good for the men who try to be him, nor the women who attempt Bond Girl status. Treating the entire world like garbage doesn’t make a real man in the real world a charming rake, but an asshole. And a woman who is treated the way Bond Girls are treated? Well, unfortunately that happens all the time,  and this is a big part of what #metoo is a reaction against. But it ain’t cute or fun in real life.

A brief note regarding BOOKS vs. FILMS: In Fleming’s books, we get to explore Bond’s inner emotional life, and it’s much richer than anything we’ve been able to get from the movies. The character is more intense, unlikeable, but understandable and human in contrast to the Prince Charming of all the films (particularly the old ones, when nobody gave a shit about being careful with the awfulness, portraying him as almost jovially terrible). It’s my impression that we’re not supposed to like Bond of the books—we’re supposed to be interested in his adventures and be fascinated by his actions, but we’re not supposed to like him. It’s easier to recognize the monster in the novels. But the movies force us to like him, be charmed by him, no matter what horrific acts he commits. There’s no time for Bond’s inner life in the flicks, so he’s less human, and far less complex. Actors like Brosnan and Craig have tried to show some of that inner life from the books with their acting chops, but it’s a medium that just doesn’t allow for the internal character development of a novel. After all, film franchises that focus predominantly on shallow action still rake in the cash…

And so here we are, fans of Bond and the other Bond-like trope characters, charmed by the man that treats everyone around him like garbage. What to do?

The main thing to do is just what I’ve been saying through all the tropes articles of both series: be aware of what we’re being spoonfed, and be a more active participant in the culture that is influencing us. Also, we can continue to call out the problematic aspects as we then catch them, and, more importantly, demand better.

And, you know, read the books instead.

Stay tuned for #4 in the Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes series: The Tale of the Nerd and the Neckbeard.

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