The announcement of the 25th James Bond film has caused a fuss, even though it won’t be released until 2019. There’s something about Bond that, like Star Wars or Mad Max, continues to tap into the modern psyche as the franchise rolls on. And James Bond himself is a real mirror of the times, negotiating the pitfalls of political correctness and the new morality.
I happen to own a few first editions of James Bond novels. I know this may not be cool to the generation who grew up only on the films. Perhaps you didn’t even know that before the films, those stories were, in fact, books. It’s hard to stay across all your popular culture facts. But in the case of Bond, it’s important.
Bond became a caricature designed to shock and delight the audience
I enjoyed them as books, where the British wit shines and the preposterous story-lines are fun to imagine. In the books, Bond is a more humane character than the arrogant womaniser who has made the films so popular. When the stories came to screen, Bond became a caricature designed to shock and delight the audience, with little of the hand-wringing over morality and loneliness that we see in the books.
In the books, Bond can be a thoughtless cad, but that is seen as a problem. In the movies, we see him glory in it. The problem with James Bond has become more and more obvious as the franchise has powered its way into the 21st century (the films have earned collectively over $7 billion at the box office!)
To start with, Bond is clearly about the most sexist man you could find. He uses women relentlessly, albeit with humour to cover up the incredible misogyny taking place. It is clear in film after film that he views them as less valuable than he should. He admires them as lovely possessions and decorations, but there’s nothing resembling love. And he is a warning to women who are seduced by money and power; this guy really doesn’t have your best interests at heart. In fact, you are just plaything number #147 for the duration of the story and no longer. Run in the opposite direction, ladies!
Justice at any cost is not the Christian way…
Furthermore, Bond is an elitist, conscious of class and used to privilege. He wants the best of the best for himself, and anyone else is a servant or expendable. Compared with the beautiful status-shattering acceptance of Christ, Bond’s world is one where the rich get richer, and the poor help them get there.
It might be said that Bond’s redeeming feature is that he is out to secure justice, to make sure the bad guys get caught and the great empire of Christian England remains secure (at least in the books!) The films are less concerned with that moralistic British goal and more concerned with sheer power and authority, the protection of the “good guys” from the rest. But even here, the ends certainly don’t justify the means. Justice at any cost is not the Christian way, unless the cost is one that is borne by the suffering servant, without harm to others.
One author has suggested that the James Bond books are written to proclaim a particularly British kind of morality – that the only unforgivable sin is the one of sloth, of not putting in the utmost, stiff upper lip, it’s-only-a-flesh-wound effort. Protestant work ethic and all that. But Bond misses the mark on this one, too, because Bible readers know that it isn’t our works that save us, but Christ’s works.
No amount of supposed civility or Cool Britannia can cover over the sins Bond commits. Not even Daniel Craig can cool his way into the kingdom.
Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia.