Tuesday, November 20, 2012

James Bond Is a Creep Who Makes Me Sad About Our Culture.


So, I saw Skyfall. It was a James Bond movie, in all the ways that count. I mean, there’s really not a lot else to say about it other than that it was all classic Bond, intentionally so. There was Q, beautifully played by Ben Whishaw. Moneypenny made an appearance, as did M. The old gang, doing it old school style.

And that was one of the major plot points in the film, the importance of the old ways even in a world that seems to be getting more and more transparent. I mean, even the head of the CIA can’t pull off an affair these days. But, as the film rightly pointed out, while some things are indeed becoming more transparent, much of the world is becoming more opaque. There is more to fear from the shadows now, as individuals and personal agendas are now more capable than ever of bringing nations to a halt.

The film, good though it was and enjoyable though I found it to be, was a veneration of the old school Bond films, an intentional classic and a return to the old ways.

Which, of course, means blatant misogyny and sexism in the workplace, coupled with some incredibly disturbing implications about sex and sexuality. Oh Bond, how I’ve missed you so.

SPOILERS from here on out for Skyfall.

We open the film with Bond and an unnamed for most of the film woman (Naomi Harris, later revealed to be Moneypenny) racing through the streets of somewhere in hot pursuit of a man with a hard drive. It’s a pretty standard Bond chase scene, where Bond does inexplicable parkour with a motorcycle, and Moneypenny follows him in a Jeep. 

Somehow he and the bad guy end up wrestling on the top of a train while Moneypenny sets up a sniper rifle and gets ready to take down the bad guy. She tells M back in London that she doesn’t have a clean shot. M tells her to fire anyway. Moneypenny misses and hits Bond. Credit sequence starts.

By now we are approximately five minutes into the film and already we have met a female agent and dismissed her ability to do fieldwork. For the rest of the film, whenever it is mentioned that Moneypenny is or could be out in the field, James makes a disparaging comment about how much he’s afraid he’s going to get shot again. In fact, his “death” is the reason she gets suspended, and his derogatory comments, we are to understand, influenced her decision not to return to the field ever.

This is five freaking minutes into the movie.

Now, I love Moneypenny. I thought she was sassy, fun, and a cool addition to the cast. I also liked the way that they implied that she was in a position to someday take over for M. That was a nice touch. But I hate the way that her story seems to be primarily written by people other than her, usually Bond. I hate the way that he determines her future with his careless actions. She took a shot that she was ordered to take despite making the issues with it abundantly clear, and as a result, she is suspended? That’s just bad management.

But the real crux of women issues in this film definitely lies with Severin, the damaged victim of sex trafficking that James “seduces” so that they will be brought to Silva, and Severin will be killed.

What I hate here is that the narrative actually supports Bond’s actions here. But when you look at them objectively, they’re horrifying. First, he meets with a woman he suspects is being mistreated. He finds out that she’s the victim of sex trafficking, and assumes that she “was asking for it” when she went with her current owner. Severin makes no such claim.

Then, when she offers to help him take down her master, Bond doesn’t reveal himself to be on the boat and in her suite until well after the boat is sailing, meaning that when he comes up to her in the shower, she has no way of knowing that this is Bond and that he’s going to help her.

He starts feeling her up well before she can see his face, and then, when she turns around, he kisses her before she has an option to object.

That is rape. That is straight up rape. There was no consent given or taken, and no indication that he was doing anything other than taking advantage of a woman who, not two hours before, admitted to having been a victim of sex trafficking.

This guy is supposed to be our hero?

There’s more in the film that I found cause to hate: from Silva’s advances on Bond, only meant to show how despicable and morally loose he was; to that random woman that Bond seems to barely even notice despite having enthusiastically banged in the previous scene (the one on the beach); to the weird Oedipal thing going through the whole movie; to that shaving scene. I mean, ugh. It was exhausting.

All of these things are bad, and all of them speak volumes about the character of our hero, but what bothers me more is that these actions are supported and condoned by the narrative. We’re supposed to think that Bond is a hero because he misses when he shoots at the woman he’s supposed to be protecting. Then he waits until after she’s beaten and dead before he quips, “Waste of a good scotch,” and actually kills everyone. He could have done that anytime, we’re supposed to understand. He just waited until the girl was dead.

I hate that Bond is our hero, and I really hate that we’re supposed to see him as the epitome of masculinity. If James Bond is the ultimate man, what does that say about how we view women?

I’m not trying to bring down the James Bond franchise. They’re fun movies, and worth a nice watch with some popcorn and Junior Mints. But I want us to look at this critically. When we praise Bond, when we idolize him, what are we really looking up to? A rapist whose massive intimacy issues nearly bring down a country? Why the hell would you want that in a hero?

And, more importantly, why aren’t we more pissed off about it?

Side note: Ben Whishaw is dreamy and snarky as Q. Perfect casting.

12 comments:

  1. I have to take serious issue with one thing in this post. Junior Mints. Really. No gummy bears, M&M's, or Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean? Other than that, very brilliantly stated. I am a huge fan of this movie and I never thought of these issues. (except the shower scene, that one was pretty messed up) I loved your arguments and now I will have to follow this blog. Thank you.

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    1. I feel that the minty freshness of the mint mixes perfectly with the sweet chocolate shell to create a delectable companion to my buttery popcorn.

      (Yeah, I like M&Ms and Snowcaps too - pretty much anything chocolate.) :D

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  2. For the rest of the film, whenever it is mentioned that Moneypenny is or could be out in the field, James makes a disparaging comment about how much he’s afraid he’s going to get shot again.

    The one mitigating factor of this is the effort Daniel Craig puts into playing it as banter, without Bond really holding it against her. But everything else, yes. And they could have made her an analyst or case officer rather than a secretary at the end. Which I know is disparaging to secretaries.

    I'm surprised you don't have more to say about M spending the second half of the film as the damsel in distress, being bossed around and protected by whichever male was closest, even if it was a civilian.

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    1. Daniel Craig was doing his level best, I'll certainly give him that. The blame really lies in the writing. As for M, I'm actually saving all those tidbits for a whole separate article. They really ticked me off regarding her.

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  3. I enjoyed Skyfall, but you're right on every point. Silva is hardly necessary as Bond's dark side when Bond is dark enough as it is.

    Looking forward to your piece on M in this movie!

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  4. I mostly agree with your assessment of Eve's character portrayal and arc, but I wonder, how different would it be if it were Evan Moneypenny in that situation? If this Evan fellow were the one being subject to all these barbs from Bond (if he would give those barbs to a man, which I'm sure he would, since he seems equally skeptical of Q, a man), then how different would it be then?

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    1. If it were Evan Moneypenny, then the situation would be completely different. Evan Moneypenny would have had an entirely different experience in MI-6. He would have had to deal with institutional racism, but not institutional sexism. His relationship with Bond would be utterly different, as Bond relates to women sexually and men platonically. He would have faced much less degradation of his values as an agent - it would be a mistake if he shot Bond, not a career-ending incident. Studies show that women in combat positions have their actions judged much more harshly than men. So, yes. Evan Moneypenny would be a very different person. Evan would feel differently about the barbs, they would have a different impact on him and his view of himself in the agency. They would not be compounding years of sexism and frustrated ambitions. It would be very different.

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  5. I'm watching this movie for the second time today (as in, I'd never watched before and I just watched it twice in a row). And i agree whole heartedly about the shower scene (and tried to explain something similar about season 1 ep1 Jason Stackhouse and had people all 'what? that's rape?' yeah, she couldn't see who it was before he was penetrating her. wtf how is that NOT rape?) there's always this "haha, you dog!" flirtslap associated with this behavior in media. it's really gross.
    And, yeah, Moneypenny was totally scapegoated and that shaving scene was nonsensical and stupid. She does save him later, though. And he trusts her as back up and rightfully blames M. Not that he can do anything about that.
    But there's more going on -like Bond failing all the physical and psychological tests, he has no business being there but he has privilege his default is that he's "supposed to be there" so he stays in the field because M. favors him even while he's missing shots and reacting impulsively and foolishly. Blind to the fact that he's a pawn and not even adequate, let alone the phenomenon he's touted as. Silva taunts him and with the truth, that he is infact not as exceptional as society and his cohorts have made him out to be, it's all a lie. We shouldn't see him as the pinnacle of masculinity, he's screwed up, flailing and held together with duct tape; he shouldn't be where he is. But authority decided they needed him and he reaped benefits from this privilege, no doubt, but only institutionalized privileges and marginalizations kept him there and Bond had to face the hard truth: he's not that great, he's not even good. In that respect they did address a powerstructure that is unfairly structured (albeit from the POV of a benefitting party)

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    1. That's a really good point about Bond's privilege. I hadn't thought of that...

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    2. I'm thinking about writing a post... will you still like me if I'm all "Oh the poor straight cis white menz"? LMAO I haven't committed yet

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    3. As long as you acknowledge the institutionalized power structures... :DDD

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