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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the day: James Bond: ethical patriot or international man of menace?

He’s saved the Empire who knows how many times, but what kind of collateral damage has he left in his wake? James Bond: ethical patriot or international man of menace? Discuss.

I think it’s kind of sweet, all that saving of the Empire, considering that the Empire went the way of the Model-T, but I’m not so sure that that’s enough to stick a medal on 007. But I need to sit this one out, because I’m not familiar enough with the Bond films — certainly not the pre-Daniel Craig ones — to mount an effective defense or prosecution of the secret agent.

Have fun. And show your work. This will be on the final.



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  • Ralph

    The Empire is a figment of the imagination in the mind of the British public, who live under the impression that it is still alive and doing well. The rest of the world knows better, but is too polite to tell them.

    James Bond is a figment of the imagination of movie producers who come up with unlikely plot after unlikely plot to show James sipping martini´s or expensive champagne (although I am glad he is now off the Dom Perignon, Bollinger is soooo much better) and making love to girls who would never give him a second look in real life.

    Meanwhile some unlikely villain hams it up big time and his evil plot to rule the world is thwarted last minute à l’improviste by our ever spotlessly dressed hero. So not so much a man of menace, but a man of doing things in an offhand way whilst binge drinking and kissing beautiful women.

    I must admit that I like some Bond actors (Connery springs to mind) and hate some others (Lazenby, Moore and Dalton spring to mind). Brosnan is sort of in-betweenish. Craig has only made two movies and impressed me in the first one. The second one I haven’t seen. He should stop pouting, though. Bond is not a pouter.

    All in all, not a bad series, but not a terribly good one either, but certainly the longest living franchise of them all. Bond is critic-proof, which is an accomplishment in its own right.

  • Gee

    The Empire was dismantled straight after WWII. We are way, way into being a post-Empire/post-colonial state – two or three generations away from the Empire. I don’t think you’ll find many that hanker after it, except in an ironic way.

    Bond is escapist hokum with knowing humour. Any imperialist tendancies are there to poke fun at ourselves.

    Connery was always “my Bond”, with Brosnan second.

    Favourite Bond films: “Diamonds are for Ever”; “From Russia with Love; and “Goldfinger”.

    Bond (spreadeagled on table as laser beam approaches a sensitive region): “Do you expect me to talk?”

    Goldfinger: “No, Mr Bond. I expect you to DIE!”

  • t6

    Well he can’t be an ethical patriot because he does the things that regular citizens can’t or won’t do…i.e. cause international menace for Queen and Country.

  • Heather

    I misread the question and thought it was ‘ethical parrot’.

    I worry about my sanity sometimes.

    I’d agree with Gee’s description, certainly of the films (its been too long since I’ve read any of the books to comment on them.

    I certainly wouldn’t say the British public believes in The Empire any more, certainly not seriously. The Empire to me is no more – the commonwealth is the collections of countries that used to form it, and therefore have something in common, but we know we can’t boss the world as we did (and nor would we want to!)

  • misterb

    Without question, if a CIA agent were breaking the law in the way that Bond does, I would consider the whole agency an international menace; after all, wiretapping some phones seems tame compared with serial murder. While I enjoy the Bond films as a responsible adult, I wonder how much of the underlying message that the end justifies the means resulted in America’s cowboy diplomacy and other excesses.

    MaryAnn, you posed the question so I answered, but normally I’d be willing to accept fiction for fiction. I don’t believe in horror movies either.

  • Joanne

    The problem nowadays is that the concept of James Bond is completely outdated. He was created in a post-war era for readers who could remember Britain being under threat of invasion; in a time when Communism was actually a significant issue for the West and the Cold War was raging. Chauvinism was much more acceptable. In that environment, Bond – the cruel, ruthless, womanising spy that he is – makes sense. In today’s environment he makes much less sense – we’re much more PC nowadays, we expect more complexity from our entertainment, MI5 and MI6 advertise for new intelligence agents online … It is harder, in today’s world, to justify the use of a James Bond as a weapon against the fictional Axes of Evil. I guess that’s why the moviemakers are choosing to introduce villains whose villainy is something to do with our current obsessions (Le Chiffre – financial crime; Greene – environmental crime). By making the world’s great modern issues the focus of the villainy, we can justify to ourselves the use of Bond’s excessive force, particularly when he himself shows more guilt about it than he used to. But also by doing that they’re returning to the source – when Fleming invented Bond, everyone was worried about Russia and about nuclear war, so Russian villains and nuclear weapons feature several times across his books.

    As a long-time fan of the Ian Fleming books, what I’ve found interesting about the reinvention of Bond – first Brosnan and now Craig – is that actually they’re going back to where it all began in many ways. Dr No is a far leaner, meaner film than any of the Roger Moores. I think the best Bond films are those that stick closely to Fleming’s Bond, mixing the tough reality of Bond’s life with a dash of action and a good villain. When it goes OTT (evidence: the last Connneries, all the Roger Moores, particularly Moonraker, and the last two Brosnans) it just gets a bit silly IMHO.

  • Gee

    I forgot to address the question:

    “James Bond: ethical patriot or international man of menace?”

    I have to pic-and-mix and say patriotic man of menace, or rather, patriotic thug.

  • The empire may be long-gone but given the number of American properties and corporations owned by Britons, I’m not sure it’s all that wise to consider it that obsolete a concept. (Or to put it another way, I highly doubt that I’m the only American posting here who knows fellow Americans who either directly or indirectly work for employers in the United Kingdom.)

  • It’s a “kill one save a thousand” kind of question, and while Bond does tear shit up all over the world, the civilian casualties are usually very minimal (or at least completely off-screen) and so the real-world consequences of his actions have very little power in Ian Fleming’s fictional universe.

    It’s really not a fair question, or at least the categories are too specific. Given the earth-endangering situations that populate Bond’s world, would you rather have someone like 007 fighting the bad guys or not? The answer is, most emphatically: Bond, James Bond.

    See also: Steven Seagal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Keifer Sutherland, Jean-Claude Vann Damme, Matt Damon, and Chuck Norris.

    And you know, without the bad guys James Bond wouldn’t be tearing shit up in the first place — it’s all their fault. Stop it, bad guys! Gawd. Get a job!

  • MaryAnn

    It’s really not a fair question

    Sheesh. I dread to think what would happen if I posed Kevin Smith’s definitive geek conundrum: “Luke Skywalker: war criminal?”

  • Hmm… anybody who goes to work at a Supervillain’s Evil Lair likely understands the risks, in James Bond’s universe or Luke Skywalker’s. Just like civilians working on an Army base. That one’s kinda like the “Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” question… an interesting thought experiment, but ultimately going nowhere. More fun to talk about than to actually answer.

    Bond is a broadsword plain and simple — in reality he’d be dead a thousand times already, but in the world of Ian Fleming’s 007 (and beyond), he’s the just-right solution to our Ripped From The Headlines problems. And as such I can’t really apply either ethical patriot or international man of menace… but I am probably overthinking it.

    How about International Man of Sexy?

  • JoshB

    That one’s kinda like the “Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” question… an interesting thought experiment, but ultimately going nowhere. More fun to talk about than to actually answer.

    Can x lift y? If lifting power of x > weight of y then yes.

    God is infinitely strong. God can create an infinitely heavy rock. x = infinite. y = infinite.

    Similiar to asking “If you shoot a bullet in one direction at 767.58 miles an hour and a second bullet in another direction at 186,282 miles a second which will reach the edge of the universe first? Assume no other forces acting on bullets.”

    Is infinite > infinite? Not a rational question. Infinite is not a value. There is no answer.

  • JoshB

    When used as noun infinite should probably be spelled with y. Note to MAJ: need editing function so as to avoid sleepiness-induced embarrassment.

  • Ian Fleming thought he was writing realistic fiction. He genuinely believed that that was how intelligence operatives behaved. That’s why he was sent to the USA where he couldn’t get into too much trouble, while the real spies did the work.

  • Paul

    Personally, I think Bond still makes sense in today’s culture. There are still plenty of men who dream of being like him and women who dream of men like him. There are still plenty of people who see the world in black and white. There are still plenty of people in power who are sexist, power hungry, would be despots, and they are on both sides. Thus, he doesn’t require too many changes to translate to the modern screen.

    As for Bond himself, I’d rather have one assassin taking out a few key bad guys than an army occupying another country causing a lot more misery while really just being a cover for building military bases anyway.

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