Ah, men. That other dark continent that somehow is supposed to be clearer, simpler, more known. To whom? I wonder. Other men? As a woman writing about men, I find myself besieged with stereotyped notions of masculinity and what it means to be a man. Culturally and societally embedded ideas within the folds of my psyche play out in my interactions and relationships with men. A conundrum that I am not sure any of us can avoid. So as I began thinking about men, I decided to take on a pop culture icon of masculinity known to all– Bond, James Bond, 007. The man we all love, regardless of gender.
James Bond made his first appearance in 1953, with Ian Fleming’s book, Casino Royale, and continued to visit us yearly thereafter until 1967, when Fleming died. As you might imagine, the books are different than the films, where Fleming had a decisive image and version of James Bond that remained consistent throughout his writing. In the past fifty years we have had many movie versions of Bond, presumably staying true to the original 007 of ink and paper, but somehow also transformed according to the generational and cultural visions of manhood and notions of masculinity specific to each decade. So that we are all on the same page, I list the many cinematic faces of Bond below, as Michael Wood of the London Review of Books has catalogued them, along with a bit of personal interpretation.
First, there was Sean Connery who did 6 films from 1962-71, with a comeback in 1983. He embodies a sardonic spy, a tough Scot who refuses to give in and seems to smile in the face of adversity and danger. He promises that men can achieve anything and have anyone. Then came George Lazenby, the Australian actor who made one film in 1969 (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and stepped in and out of the role of 007 with equal speed. His was a handsome, more physically aggressive Bond who continued the legacy of his predecessor. Roger Moore followed with 7 films, spanning from 1973-85. He ushered in a campier version of Bond, a man with a nostalgic view of the war, who never gets bloody or dirty, and is really slick and unruffled. Timothy Dalton came next with two films (1987-89), and was the definitive broody Bond, who fights less with his hands and more with the possibilities that science fiction gadgets provide. From 1995-2002 we had Pierce Brosnan (4 films), who emerges as the alternative Bond, a tad flighty and disconnected from the dangers he faces, more focused on his leading lady and her safety, and dealing with technology and computerized versions of terrorist cells. And finally, from 2005 to the present, we have Daniel Craig (three movies thus far). Craig offers us the stripped down version of 007. He is closest in both character and looks to Fleming’s idea of the man: serious, cold, brutal, flawed, tortured and sexy as hell.
Ah yes, Bond. The man. The icon of masculinity for multiple generations of men. The knight for many a princess. Bond has followed many little boys and little girls to their adulthood, shaping their ideas of masculinity and what it means to be a man along the way. Mention the name James Bond, and everyone (and I mean everyone) recognizes it. He is the man that all of us love.
The Bond image capitalizes on stereotypes of what it means to be a man: a particular kind of man imbued with a nationalistic streak that is also wrapped up in stereotypes. Do these stereotypes turn out to be untrue? NO. They simply help to define and summarize how many generations of men (and women) view and embody their gender and the particular ways in which it is articulated. And yet such stereotypes and iconic images are powerful and stay with us.
James Bond, the iconic man, embodies the ideal of masculinity. Let me count the ways: Bond is strong, persevering, loyal only to Queen, Country, and M. He loves women, both as a womanizer (every woman catches his eye and is a possibility) but also as a gentleman- women evoke the need for protection, safety and security. Chivalry is alive and well with Bond, even if he has to kill or hit a woman in the line of duty (in the books, this exception is very unsavory to him). Women, you see, also stir his heart and his yearnings for closeness and, dare I say, love. His relationships with men, those that he does not kill that is, are honest, tight, and based on a solid camaraderie that emerges from a shared sense of danger, the ability to be aggressive and playful with each other, to face conflict, to drink together until stupefaction (only in the books does Bond suffer from horrific hangovers), to sweat, bleed and live another day together. Ok sorry, I got carried away. But Bond loves his men (albeit differently) almost as much as he loves his women. Thus, he is a “man’s man” as well as the man women love to love. And in the latest film (Skyfall), we are teased with the notion of Bond’s bisexuality! Thus he truly is omniavailable! Bet you didn’t see that coming…all things to all of us?
Bond embodies the fantasies of men as well as the fantasies of women.
Bond capitalizes on sexual difference, and the “battle of the sexes.” The idea that women want men to be men in the powerful way that Bond is a man – he can protect you, love you, and set you straight when necessary. As well as the idea that men like their women to surrender but put up a fight first, that despite the fact that she appears to be independent she really needs her man. OY say you. OY indeed. The notion that women love men because they are different from them in every way, yet they want men to retain a masculinity that is both overpowering and yielding has caused many a poet, writer and scientist to throw up their hands! Just as the notion that a woman must be gentle to be feminine yet somehow become a lioness to be sexy has driven feminists off the deep end. Hmmm.
007 maximizes the inherent duality of gender by capturing masculinity and realizing it in its purest form. While it is impossible to be him, he still represents the ideal and perhaps that is why he speaks to both genders. Bond embodies a set of specific attributes that are associated with masculinity and with being a man. He also enfolds generations of cultural records on masculinity, presenting a powerful image of what a man can or should be. These images have changed over time and with each particular Bond: the movies responding to the cultural emphasis of each generation, while the books live on with Fleming’s unperturbed interpretation.
Through the “omni” status of the James Bond in motion pictures, we can see masculinity as individually interpreted on the basis of a cluster of attributes in search of unity. This necessarily operates within the restrictions that gender imposes no matter how fluid it is in its internal composition. Yet 007 has the advantage of reinterpreting himself according to the generation that he lives in, and thus the success of the movies and the various faces of each Bond.
Throwing in the hint of bisexuality in the latest film makes Bond the gender bending icon of the 21st century: a man that is shaken by a mixture of cultural and generational expectations of manhood and stirred by his internal negotiation of identity and sexuality, of desire and embodied reality.
Fleming may have started out writing his version of the ideal(ized) man, but Bond has turned out to be much more than a stereotype. Paradoxically, James Bond proves that masculinity is but a term to describe a set of behaviors that culturally defines various possibilities for what being a man means.
Thank you James.
First published on Dr. Ceccoli’s blog, Out of My Mind, on October 29, 2013.