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Is it time to retire James Bond?


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Today is Ian Fleming's birthday. The former intelligence officer and author is most well-known for his creation of the super-agent James Bond - but how relevant is 007 in today's world, and is it time to retire Bond once and for all?

James Bond, or more succinctly ‘007’, has been serving Queen and country for 65 years.  Since his first appearance, in Casino Royale, there have been 38 further official and authorised James Bond novels, written by 6 different authors. The first 14 were written by Ian Fleming, his creator, and are arguably the most known and well-read of all.  So just what has made 007 one of the most successful characters in modern literary (and film) history?

Is it simply the glamorous, dashing and clever persona, making him someone who all women want to be with and all men want to be?  Or, perhaps, it’s the highly attractive bond girls, and the super evil, supervillains?  Or possibly the ‘high-tech’ gadgets that often give him that vital edge?  Maybe it’s simply the winning combination of all of these ingredients.  Whatever, the answer, it is the very things that make him so attractive that are also the reason it’s time for 007, or at least as we know him, to holster his Berretta, and retire.

Firstly, the women featured in the Bond books are always portrayed and presented through the ‘male gaze’, possibly arising from the fact that all the authors are male. Which means they are either sexual objects or sidekicks, to either Bond or the super-villains he confronts, implying the ‘chicks’ are distinctly second class in terms of both intelligence and importance. In stark contrast to Bond, of course, the action hero, who is involved and trusted with tasks of national security.

Kimberley Neuendorf (2011), found that although the Bond girls all range in race, character, and size, or importance of role; they all remain heavily sexualised and targets of male aggression. This contrast highlights the masculinity of the male characters whilst belittling the importance of females in terms of national security and affairs of state.

And, of course, the super-villains, all of whom are evil, of supreme importance to the storylines, almost always fiendishly clever and quite often glamorous themselves, are, apart from the odd evil side-kick, all male.  So, whilst females aren’t villainised, it suggests that maybe, they’re not quite up to the job, because they are inferior in intelligence and therefore would not be capable of creating elaborate evil plans; the only thing they're capable of is the obvious task of seducing men, and helping out with the odd evil chore!

Just this week, in the news, we were shown that MI5 are angling their recruitment advertisements at a more diverse audience, such as mothers. So, if MI5, in the real-world, see this need for a change, shouldn’t the Bond books, too?

In a world of exceptional women, such as Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzia, Oprah Winfrey, et al., why are we still relying on males, such as James Bond, to promote national security and state matters?  Why can’t women be the heroes? At long last, especially with the ‘Me too’ movement, it seems that woman are proving just what a force they are to be reckoned with. I’m calling for a new generation of MI5 super-agents. I’m calling for more powerful women figures in literature, harking back, perhaps, to those strong females exemplified by Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett and Anne Shirley. Because in today’s real world we have so many role models to look upon with respect and admiration, lets read about them too.

However, I don’t think Bond’s time is over. I think it’s the beginning of a ‘new-age’ Bond; a James Bond franchise that promotes female power and intelligence and celebrates and reflects advancements in gender equality in a modern world. Maybe James Bond could be fighting against a bad-ass female Super-Villain, with all the intelligence and skills possessed by previous villains, but with a female spin. This change would make the Bond novels more relevant to 2018 and to the growing global power of women.

Of course, we could always, be really revolutionary and let ‘Jane’ Bond kick some evil ass!

Neuendorf, K. A. (2011) ‘Content Analysis—A Methodological Primer for Gender Research’, in Frieze, I. A. (Ed.) Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Nos. 3-4, Vol. 64.

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