[Marxism] More on James Bond

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 28 07:33:52 MST 2006


Dennis Perrin: http://redstateson.blogspot.com/2006/11/rough-trade.html

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NY Times, November 27, 2006
Books of The Times
The Empire’s Sun Has Set, but James Bond Is Forever
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI

THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN
A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond
By Simon Winder.
288 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $25.

The cars, the girls, the martinis, the exotic locales, the eye-popping 
gadgets — for a generation of fans, James Bond embodied the quintessence of 
British savoir-faire: the civil servant with a license to kill, the secret 
agent who saved civilization from a series of nefarious villains while 
staying in the world’s fanciest hotels and romancing a bevy of beauteous babes.

In the entertaining and very funny new book “The Man Who Saved Britain,” 
Simon Winder — publishing director at Penguin UK — gives us a rollicking 
tour through Bondland, even as he artfully deconstructs the appeal of Agent 
007. His central argument is that Bond arrived to uphold the British ego at 
the very moment when Britain’s planet-spanning empire was breaking up and 
the once-great power was trying to come to terms with its diminished 
post-World War II role.

While Britain was coping in the 1950s and 60s with unemployment, inflation, 
strikes and demoralization, and making the humbling transition from empire 
to welfare state, “a solitary Englishman” — who embodied the old-fashioned 
belief that a single individual could save the day through sheer guts and 
expertise — was almost single-handedly maintaining “the country’s reputation.”

While “the magic, the romance and the often squalid reality of dominion 
over the world which had animated millions of emigrants, sailors, soldiers, 
traders, journalists for so many generations came to an absolute, 
unrecoverable, bewildering end,” Mr. Winder writes, somewhere on the globe, 
in a luxury hotel, one man was secretly “slipping a .25 Beretta automatic 
into his chamois-leather shoulder holster, examining his rather cruel mouth 
in the bathroom mirror, putting on his dinner jacket and going out into the 
night to save their world.”

Mr. Winder’s thesis is hardly an original one — academics and journalists 
alike have made similar arguments many times before — but he explicates it 
with uncommon wit and élan, joining the pantheon of scholars and well-known 
authors (including Umberto Eco, Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin) who have 
found a multiplicity of literary and philosophic meanings in Ian Fleming’s 
debonair creation.

An anomalous mélange of cultural history, memoir and criticism, “The Man 
Who Saved Britain” is at times repetitious and overly discursive, but it 
vividly evokes the bleak, gray world that Britons inhabited in the postwar 
years, a world in which Bond’s international travels and casino visits 
“must have seemed derangedly heady to the book’s first readers.” And it 
expertly captures the knowing blend of nostalgia, sophistication and plain 
absurdity that made the Bond books (and later the movies) such a hit in the 
1950s and ’60s.

Curiously, the book contains no pictures of Bond or his nemeses or his 
gizmos: certainly a missed opportunity given the wealth of images from some 
20 movies that span more than four decades.

Mr. Winder examines the roots the Bond books had in “Imperial Leather” pulp 
fiction (like H. Rider Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mines”) and works by 
writers like John Buchan, Graham Greene and Eric Ambler. He provides a 
lively sketch of Fleming’s wartime service, which helped inspire the 
novels. And he pelts the reader with a small hailstorm of Bond trivia. Like 
the fact that Barry Nelson played an American spy called Jimmy Bond in a 
1954 television adaptation of “Casino Royale.” Or his observation that the 
famous Bond theme “began life as a sitar-backed song” from an abortive 
musical based on V. S. Naipaul’s novel “A House for Mr. Biswas.” In 
addition, Mr. Winder provides some very tart assessments of the Bond 
movies, from the early Sean Connery films through the increasingly 
ridiculous ones starring Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.

Cleverly using his own Bond-mania to underscore the hold that 007 exerted 
over male Britons of a certain age, Mr. Winder recalls preparing for his 
first real job as a bookseller abroad: rushing to a gentlemen’s clothing 
store called Tropiccadilly, which specialized in “late imperial nonsense” 
like “bewildering hats” and “devastating tropical weight sand-drill suits,” 
to purchase Bond-inspired gear.

Thinking back now, he writes, “a tiny voice says, ‘You looked like a 
moron,’ ” but at the time, he adds, “I felt great and hardly noticed the 
gap between Bond’s own sex-and-murder-themed foreign travels and my own 
mission to sell disturbingly out-of-date computer textbooks to Cameroon 
schools.” The young Mr. Winder also did his best to emulate Bond’s 
self-possessed knowledge of “where to go, whom to tip, how to behave” as he 
“hailed airport taxis, stalked into lobbies, inspected hotel suites, 
erratically tipped (‘It will do very well — keep this’), ordered drinks.”

In real life James Bond would be in his 80s now, but he is one of those 
literary characters like Peter Pan who never age and never change. Just as 
the books and movies follow a familiar formula, so Bond himself, as Mr. 
Winder writes, is at his most reassuring when “like a hamster with his 
wheel, he performs the same narrow set of functions over and over — the 
scenario, the seduction, the foiling of the plot, the killing of the villains.”

For Mr. Winder, Bond, like the queen, remains a curious “fossil remnant” of 
an imperial attitude that has long since vanished from the rest of Britain.

“The queen must presumably spend some part of the day,” he writes, “moping 
about how her dad had been king-emperor, had the allegiance of a quarter of 
the planet and had been treated in some quarters as a god, whereas she has 
to wander around the streets expressing interest in the lives of ladies 
holding plastic flags with ice cream dripping down their fronts. Bond shows 
no such introspection or reskilling. It is a very odd aspect of 
contemporary Britain that a country which is almost unrecognizable from the 
one which nurtured Fleming (aside, of course, from the occasional survival, 
such as a seemingly unstoppable urge to despoil Iraq) should still, for so 
much of the world, remain the country of James Bond.”

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