Welcome to Lies Agreed Upon. The podcast about Hollywood and history.
I’m Lia Paradis
And I’m Brian Crim
How could we do a season on the Cold War without talking about Bond . . . James Bond? He was there from the beginning, at least in print, and has of course survived into the post-Cold War era. So many films, so many Bonds. We’ve talked about nuclear warfare, espionage and intrigue, evil deep state corporations and corrupt national security institutions, and human stories of love and loss behind the Iron Curtain. Bond’s been through it all!
James Bond is of course the child of Ian Fleming, a writer with essentially the same sort of background as Bond’s. He came from a wealthy family. His father was a free wheeling industrialist who died a heroic death on the Western Front in 1917. Ian was “born for Empire” to quote Connie Sachs from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – educated at Eton and Sandurst. He spent time as a student in Munich and Geneva before serving in the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II. His 30th Assault Force was a so-called T-Force (Technical Force) that worked behind enemy lines to find German scientists and wonder weapons. So, you can see where Bond is an extension of himself.
Fleming did a lot of freelance journalism before writing the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952. Fleming wrote 11 novels and several short stories before dying at the young age of 56 in 1964. Unfortunately, like the real Bond, he was a heavy drinker and smoker, but unlike Bond, it caught up to him. Obviously the Bond franchise survived him and several authors picked up where he left off, but Bond the international mega star (and commodity) only took off when he walked onto the silver screen. That’s where we come in.
But where do we start? There are 27 Bond films, but we wanted to focus on the Cold War and then discuss a film where Bond is operating outside of the bipolar world entirely to see how he changed. We decided on three films, but also, as it happens, three different Bonds. We have From Russia with Love (1963), the second Bond film starring Sean Connery. From the Roger Moore era, For Your Eyes Only (1981). Between 1989 and 1995 there was a deadzone where I guess Bond was figuring out where he stood in the world, but we pick up with the first post-Cold War Bond film, Goldeneye (1995), starring Pierce Brosnan. There’s a lot more continuity than change despite the leading men in the Bond universe, that is until the Daniel Craig era. What’s the difference there? 9/11. [Brian is writing about that topic now]
What are our lies agreed upon when it comes to James Bond? So many directions to go here, trust us. There is an entire cottage industry of academics dissecting every aspect of Bond – his colonialism, his misogyny, his fragility, his late-stage capitalism. My favorite essay was entitled simply, “James Bond’s Penis.” It was a history of his dick, and that’s not inconsequential. We probably won’t go there. Our first lie is that James Bond is the quintessential Cold Warrior, a veritable super hero battling the evil empire. But, if you really pay attention, that’s not the case. Bond rises above the Cold War to take on a variety of independent actors. And when the Soviets enter into the plots, they are not the real villains. They’re part of the landscape, and the rivalry is real, but they aren’t evil. There are rules in the Cold War and both sides follow them. More often than not, the villains are rogue agents, and they’re not all Soviets gone bad.
That’s right. John le Carre, it might not surprise you, loathed James Bond and Ian Fleming especially. As a relative newcomer, le Carre had to shout from the rooftops that his novels don’t belong in the same discussion as Flemings’. In a 1965 interview, le Carre accurately complained that Fleming “during the heat of the Cold War, failed to offer any serious comment about the Cold War.” We agree with that.
The second lie concerns the place of Bond’s beloved England. Ian Fleming created Bond in the early 50s in part to perpetuate a comforting lie that Britain was still a great mover of world events. Bond, the Etonian, this avatar for a heroic England from a bygone era is setting the world right. He’s a throwback to the first spy novels written at the turn of the 20th century, all by British authors. Bond helps his vast reading and viewing public forget that Britain is very much on the sidelines of a bipolar world. When Americans do show up in Bond’s universe, it’s to facilitate his missions with money (what else is the US good for) and “stuff.” Remember in Casino Royale, Bond goes bust at the card table and Felix Leiter is like, “here’s 10 million dollars.”
Our third lie takes us deeper into the Bond universe and allows us to speak about other films beyond these three. That’s that Bond changes with the times. The writers and directors are in tune with geopolitics and Bond reflects that. We kind of disagree. Yes, Daniel Craig is more vulnerable, his body (especially his penis) takes abuse no other Bond has, and he is a more human character than other Bonds. But in the end, he is also about restoring British national power, restoring the patriarchy that is integral to Bond from day one, and eliminating enemies that exhibit difference. Bond villains are ethnically ambiguous, sometimes sexually ambiguous, or just those who don’t belong at Eton. This doesn’t go away with the Cold War or even after 9/11. Maybe one of the reasons Bond remains so popular is because he doesn’t change with the times. We can take comfort in him perpetuating the first two lies – the Cold War was just a stage to play on, and Britain still matters on the world stage.
Recap time. It’s probably been a while since many of you have seen these particular Bond films. If you are younger than us, you may never have even heard of them. So many of the plots run together and there are loose connections linking one to the other, such as with our first film – From Russia with Love (1963). The first Bond film was Dr. No (1962) and marked the beginning of Sean Connery’s era as well as the introduction of his chief nemesis outside the Soviet Union, SPECTRE. This international cabal of criminals and opportunists feed on Cold War insecurity and are a threat to both the West and the Soviets. They literally put it in the name – Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.
Lovely. And they have cool octopus rings to let everyone know they’re evil. Bond prevents SPECTRE from sabotaging a US space launch in Dr. No, but he’s on their shit list and they want revenge in From Russia with Love. Terence Young directed both films and Richard Malbaum adapted Fleming’s novels to the screenplays. Aside from Connery, the film stars Robert Shaw as the Irish SPECTRE assassin Red Grant; Lotte Lenya is Rosa Klebb, a SPECTRE agent inside the KGB; Bernard Lee is M; the Mexican actor Pedro Armendariz plays the Turkish MI6 station chief in Istanbul; and the Bond girl is Daniela Bianchi, an Italian actress who plays Tatiana Romanova, a Soviet cypher clerk.
The plot picks up with SPECTRE planning to lure Bond by using the KGB’s special cryptology machine as bait. It looks just like an ENIGMA machine from World War II. Knowing MI6 will send their best agent to get it, Rosa Klebb is tasked with making sure Bond travels to Istanbul to steal the machine. Klebb uses the beautiful Tatiana to seduce Bond, who thinks her orders come from the KGB, but Klebb is a mole inside the KGB working only for SPECTRE. The leader du jour of SPECTRE in this early iteration is Hans Blofeld, who we never see, just his pretty white cat. Here he is laying out the plan to his henchman and henchwoman. Notice Blofeld’s metaphor of the fighting fish in reference to Britain and Russia
I do like the guy’s very on point observation that the arrogant British will willingly walk into a trap just for the challenge of it. He just beat a British chess champion right before this scene doing exactly that.
The Bond film formula begins to take shape in these early films as we are treated to exciting location shots – in this case Istanbul – a trip on the Orient Express to Venice, and some pretty offensive stereotypes of local flavor. There’s a crazy gypsy camp scene where two sisters fight for the right to marry Bond as their father laughs approvingly.
But, the plot is pretty simple and it features Bond besting Robert Shaw aboard the Orient Express, dodging some other assassins, and finally getting hold of the cryptologic device with the help of Tatiana. Just as Klebb is about to shoot Bond, Tatiana realizes she’s been duped and helps Bond kill her. SPECTRE is outraged and like any bad guy in a Scooby Doo cartoon, they shake their fist at Bond as if to say, “I’ll get you next time, Bond!”
Let’s jump into the middle of the Roger Moore era with For Your Eyes Only (1981) (only for you . . . ). Sheena Easton. One of the best Bond songs, I think. Roger Moore is a much less physically imposing Bond, but he makes up for it with increased gadgetry. It’s directed by John Glen, who did all the Bonds in the 70s and early 80s, and Roger Malbaum once again wrote the screenplay. It co-stars French actress Carole Bouquet as a Greek heiress seeking revenge for her family’s murder; Topol as a Greek smuggler and intelligence peddler; Julian Glover is the main bad guy Aristotle Kristatos; and Walter Gotell plays a frequent character in the Roger Moore Bond films, the KGB general Anatoly Gogol. He’s like the Soviet M. I also like seeing Jill Bennet as an East German ice skating coach.
The film begins rather dramatically as a secret Royal Navy trawler is accidentally sunk by an old WWII mine. The problem here is that it had the ATAC system on board. This stands for Automatic Targeting Attack Computer, and it controls all of Britain’s Polaris submarines. The race is on as Bond and the KGB rush to Greece and try to retrieve ATAC first, but the KGB has hired a bunch of freelancers to do their dirty work on the ground. Carol Bouquet’s poor father was tasked to help the British and is killed by a Cuban assassin. She’s on the warpath and teams up with Bond to chase the conspirators across the globe.
One of the key plot points here is that the British don’t realize that Kristatos is playing them for fools. They think he’s their operative, but really, he’s double dealing. Chaim Topol (his full name), as Colombo, is the smuggler who deals in everything from pistachios to information. He lets Bond know how their arrogance has made the British blind to how they’re being manipulated.
The message here is that the British still think that the world is in awe of their power and seeking their approval. Topol has to tell Bond that his own agency doesn’t know what they’re doing. A little bit off message for the Bond movies up to this point. But maybe now, in the early 1980s, a bit of the reality about British power and influence is finally sneaking into the plots. We still get to follow Bond to exotic locales, though!
Yes, we have some lovely scenery all over Greece. Corfu, Cortina, and then there is an extended sequence in the Italian Alps with winter athletes preparing for the Olympics. Remember, just a year earlier, the US beat the Soviets at hockey at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid in February (the “Miracle on Ice”) and then boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow. And this is definitely going to be what audiences are reminded of with all this alpine Olympic training stuff. Bond is attacked on a ski slope, an ice rink, I think on a ski lift. You know, a triathlon of death. A teen-age American ice skater played by Lynn-Holly Johnson tries to seduce Bond and thankfully he resists because the whole thing is creepy.
Eventually, things look bad for Bond when General Gogol shows up to take ATAC from the corrupt Karastitos, but at the last minute Bond throws it over a cliff. Oh, and there is a funny scene with Margaret and Dennis Thatcher thanking Bond in a phone call for saving the day, but they’re actually talking to a parrot.
Our last Bond film is 1995’s Goldeneye, the first set in the post-Cold War era and the first starring Pierce Brosnan. My favorite review of the film said Brosnan looks like James Bond’s valet. It’s directed by Martin Campbell, who also directed Daniel Craig’s first Bond film, Casino Royale in 2006. We have another first, a woman M played by Judy Dench. She’ll remain in that role until 2012. Sean Bean plays a corrupt 006; Gottfried John plays the primary villain, Russian general Arkady Ourumov; Famke Jansenn continues the proud tradition of playing a villainous woman with a sexually suggestive name – Xenia Onatopp. You’ll recognize her in the X-Men films, Rounders, and Nip/Tuck. The virtuous Bond girl, a Russian computer programmer named Natalya, is played by Swedish actress Izabella Scorupco. Also, there’s an Alan Cumming sighting as a treacherous computer expert working for Ourumov. Minnie Driver is in there for a moment. Oh, and we should say the one great constant in all three Bonds we discussed is Desmond Lleweyln as Q.
Goldeneye begins in 1986 with 006 and 007 infiltrating a chemical weapons base in Archangel near the Arctic Circle. Things go south and 006 is presumably shot by then Soviet general Ourumov, but Bond escapes after destroying the base and skiing to safety. Naturally. We pick up nine years later with many of the former Soviet officials turning criminal and mercenary. Ourumov and his best woman pilot, Onatopp, now work for a SPECTRE like organization called Janus. Ourumov and Onatopp plan to seize a secret legacy Soviet asset called Goldeneye. It’s basically a space-based weapon that shoots an EMP frying everything in the target area. Extorting governments anyone?
So, we have former Soviets as the bad guys and girls, basically taking advantage of the corrupt Russia of the early 1990s to sow chaos for profit and power. Bond is dispatched to St. Petersburg to meet up with a CIA contact – a good old boy named Jack Wade. Wade is played by familiar character actor Joe Don Baker. Together they use another former Soviet agent, now mafioso, to connect with Janus and learn that one of the masterminds behind the sinister Goldeneye plot is none other than 006. Unlike Ned Stark, Sean Bean lives! We learn that 006 seeks revenge not just for what happened to him, but his whole family. 006 is descended from the Lienz Cossacks, who the Allies handed over to the Soviets after World War II for helping the Axis.
Let’s play the dramatic reunion of the two spies:
006 has some good points. The later Bond films freely admit intelligence comes at human costs, and 006 is not the first former MI6 employee to get screwed over and come back for revenge. Javier Bardem’s character in Skyfall is another casualty of M’s shenanigans.
The familiar cat and mouse games teams up Bond, Natalya, the sole survivor other than Alan Cumming from the first Goldeneye attack, and the blowhard Jack Wade against 006, Onatopp, and General Ourumov. It’s clear Ourumov is working against the new Russian government as much as anything else. Guess what? Bond wins and kills them off one by one in Cuba, one of the many beautiful locales. Bond and Natalya get rescued by Jack Wade and a platoon of US marines, who apparently can operate freely in Cuba after the Cold War.
Let’s revisit our lies agreed upon and reflect on how Bond appeals to British, and later more American audiences over his many decades. One of the key takeaways from Bond Studies (and such a thing exists) is that once he became a true box office commodity the filmmakers turned Bond into a distinctly American product. He appealed to Americans’ love of things British in the 60s especially. You know, Beatlemania. It’s one of the reasons he makes Britain great again – American profits to be had!
That’s our second lie, actually, so why don’t we start there. Britain seems very relevant as a geopolitical power in the Bond films when in fact, lets face it, it was an afterthought. British power was greatly diminished after World War II. Decolonization, whether initiated willingly or not, reduced Britain to a cash-strapped isle facing permanent recession. Clearly the torch had been passed to the US during World War II and it wasn’t about to be handed back. I read that the popularity of Ian Fleming’s novels spiked with the aftermath of the disastrous Suez campaign in 1956, a sure sign of British decline if there ever was one.
What happened in 1956, you ask? Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Arab nationalist and fierce anti-imperialist who aided decolonization movements across Africa and the Middle East, nationalized the Suez Canal Company. This infuriated and threatened Israel, but it humiliated Britain and France as well. They had historic (and ill-gotten) stakes in the company running the canal since the 1850s. These three pissed off mini powers conspired to invade Egypt and take control of the canal, which they did, but they managed to block the canal to all traffic. It was such a bonehead move that the US and Soviet Union actually together condemned Britain and France and demanded they withdraw. Let’s play this news report from Nov. 1, 1956 to get some perspective. Pay attention to a very angry Dwight Eisenhower
We both know Britain and France screwed up the Middle East for a century prior to this, so why not finish the job? By overplaying his hand, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden looked foolish and weak. He resigned in disgrace and Britain retreated back into the only role it had left on the global stage – junior partner to the US. What does this have to do with James Bond? Well, the 1950s novels depict a different sort of Britain. James Bond is a prime mover of events, the best of Britain and its imperial legacy. He doesn’t bungle the hit, so to speak, like Eden did. Americans help Bond succeed, not the other way around.
The movies do this too. There’s hardly an American in sight. The KGB is so worried about this one MI6 agent, and other foreign governments seem consumed by what the British are up to. Look at From Russia With Love. If this cabal of international criminals are looking to stir up Cold War tensions and pit one superpower against the other, why is Bond, who represents a second-rate power, the focus of their attention? Did Hans Blofeld miss the last twenty years of world events?
Bond is wish fulfillment from a World War II era Brit, Ian Fleming. Fleming’s own dashing exploits found purchase in his lively, if not superficial writing. His readers want to live in the past as well. Bond is handsome, cultured, physically strong, intelligent, and unbeatable. Let’s compare his image with that of George Smiley, who is the real national avatar for a Britain in decline. He’s the antithesis of James Bond. This is one of my favorite descriptions of him from the climactic moment in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – when Smiley finally unveils the mole inside MI6: “For a space, that was how Smiley stood: a fat, barefooted spy, as Ann would say, deceived in love and impotent in hate, clutching a gun in one hand, a bit of string in the other, as he waited in the darkness.” Ann is Smiley’s wife, who serially cheats on him, including with the very mole he is after.
A fat, barefooted, cuckold spy – yeah, that’s about right. The real MI6 was in shambles during the era of Bond’s great popularity, thanks in part to the Cambridge Five tarnishing the reputation of British intelligence, and Britain as a competent global power, for decades. We’ve mentioned The Cambridge Five before – university students sympathetic to communism who soon became Soviet agents, rising through the civil service as elite Brits with the right last names often do. They passed along every meaningful bit of intelligence the country had for 30 years. The infamous Kim Philby skipped off to Moscow in 1963, the same year as From Russia With Love. John le Carre jumped at the chance to write about this world, treason and double agents, failing institutions and lost glory. Fleming went the other way. Both sold millions.
Many in our audience probably saw the 2011 version of Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy – another anti-Bond film at a time when Daniel Craig was showing off his abs and single-handedly restoring Britain to its proper place in the world. Tinker Tailor is about the real MI6 in the 70s. I found this nice little “making of” clip that features interviews with the major actors – Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, but the second person speaking is John le Carre himself. He talks about why he uses the Circus as a metaphor for the Secret Intelligence Service.
It’s so dusty, claustrophobic, and sad. Much like Britain in 1974? No Oriental Express journeys and gypsy fights for these guys. No budget for exploding pens and cars with missiles. They can’t even keep the mold out of this place, and they have to beg the Whitehall flunky in charge of them for a few pounds here and there to pay off a source who happens to be an invention of the Soviets. It’s so tragi-comic.
Our second lie concerns the conventional wisdom that James Bond is a product of the Cold War, battling the Soviets across the globe. There were even think pieces about the fate of Bond now that the wall had come down. Whither Bond? I mean, the Bond creative teams did struggle for a bit, but they really didn’t need to because Bond was never just a Cold Warrior. Before he died, Ian Fleming pivoted Bond away from jousting with the KGB and other communist villains and instead dreamed up SPECTRE.
And as we see in all the SPECTRE movies, they are equal opportunity villains when it comes to the West and the Eastern Bloc. Divide and conquer. Not only that, several Bond Studies academics like to point out that SPECTRE is the original Al-Qaeda – a loose confederation of terrorist groups that come together occasionally for a common cause, but otherwise exist out in the wild. That’s what made them so formidable. No nation state to hide behind, just dark money and underground hideouts. Ian Fleming managed to create a nemesis that made the Cold War irrelevant, thereby ensuring Bond continued box office appeal.
SPECTRE is introduced in Dr. No, who, per usual in a Bond film, takes time to explain every aspect of his plan. It’s worth playing that interaction so you get a sense of how SPECTRE fits into the Bond universe. Notice Bond’s first assumption about Dr. No – “With your disregard for human life you must be working for the East.”
That failed plot involved messing with US ICBMs. The plot of From Russia With Love is a SPECTRE scheme to kill Bond using Soviet technology and real KGB staff as the lure, but their own moles are pulling the strings. We see this play out in several films. In For Your Eyes Only, the villains are the intelligence peddlers with no soul, just greedy mercenaries and nihilists. Yes, the ATAC system in Soviet hands is a bad thing, but General Gogol is “part of the game” as Omar Little might say in the Wire. The vicious sub-contractor Aristotle is out there taking out civilians. The KGB will have to review its HR policies after this one. Bond sums up this late stage of Cold War detente in his face off with Gogol – “I don’t have it, you don’t have it. That’s detente, comrade.” They acknowledge each other’s professionalism and go their separate ways until the next time.
Pierce Brosnan ushered in the post-Cold War James Bond in Goldeneye, and if you remember, all the villains had Russian accents. But, SPECTRE takes a back seat until Daniel Craig’s era, the post-9/11 James Bond where such organizations made more sense. Brosnan is sweeping up the ugly messes left behind by the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Rogue satellites, rogue nukes, a resurgent North Korea. Those films weren’t particularly compelling. Our third lie gets to this issue – did Bond really change with the times? Not really. The trappings of MI6 might change – Judy Dench as M for example. She sizes up Bond for what he has historically been in her first meeting with him. Let’s play that scene from Goldeneye. Notice Bond’s take on Russia – “governments change, the lies stay the same.”
M sees the intelligence world for what it is, which is why she has the job, but notice how Bond is always proven correct. His instincts are better, otherwise why would we watch? Like Elizabeth I, M has to assume a masculine persona in a traditional male role for anyone to take her seriously. “If you don’t think I have the balls . . . .” There are strings attached to her breaking the glass ceiling of British government. We’ll get back to that later.
But let’s evaluate whether Bond is truly tapped into the Zeitgeist, or is he a misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War? In the first film after 9/11 – Die Another Day – Bond is released after 18 months in a North Korean prison. All he wants is revenge and to disrupt some rogue general trying to start a war on the peninsula. M has lots to consider other than Bond’s rehabilitation to service and vendettas. In the only nod to 9/11 in the film, she tells Bond “the world’s changed while you were gone.” His response, “We’ll, I haven’t” That’s true here, and that’s when the film is pretty forgettable. It’s not tapped into the Zeitgesit whatsoever.
So if Bond didn’t change much after the Cold War, chasing shadows of the fallen empire for another decade, did he change after 9/11? We said no to that in Die Another Day, but in 2006 it’s a new Bond – Daniel Craig. Is he a Bond for the new millenium? Is he a woke Bond, or is he still all about sport screwing and casual imperial racism? Our relationship status with Bond? It’s complicated.
When Daniel Craig came on to the scene in Casino Royale, a 2006 remake of the 1967 satirical film starring David Niven as Bond, critics took notice of this Bond for the post-9/11 environment. Four years passed since Die Another Day and the war on terror totally reshaped the action/thriller/spy genre. Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne seemed to displace Bond and Daniel Craig’s era had to compete with these new players on the stage. They were grittier, darker, haunted by traumatic pasts, and their interactions with women usually ended in tragedy or betrayal.
Starting with Casino Royale, Craig takes enormous physical abuse. His first killing as 007 is a brawl in a public bathroom. He’s shot, stabbed, has his balls bashed in more than once (remember James Bond’s penis?), and he doesn’t seem to enjoy the job the same way his predecessors did. Bond is teamed up with more substantive women than usual. When he falls for them, they either die or betray him and then die. Mrs. Moneypenny is a bad ass field agent who happens to be a woman of color. There’s some nice window dressing making Bond seem relevant for the new millennium, but I think when you open the curtains you see more continuity than change.
The war on terror does give Bond’s historic adversaries new relevance, specifically SPECTRE. They’re essentially terrorist financiers who ignore national boundaries and have taken to cyber terrorism, information warfare, and data theft. Many commentators note how the Craig-era Bond films endorse intelligence agencies’ expansive powers since 9/11, tacitly accepting them as necessary for British (and by default American) homeland security. The most cited example of this is M’s testimony before Parliament after a series of MI6 mishaps. She’s unapologetic here and also echoes her very real counterparts in London and Washington. She’s also testifying at the very moment Raul Silva, played by Javier Bardem, is on his way to kill all of them where they sit. Let’s listen to that.
In the shadows is an apt turn of phrase considering it was used by Dick Cheney in his now infamous interview on Meet the Press with Tim Russert just days after 9/11. We now see it as a blueprint for the war on terror, specifically its excesses. Let’s listen to Cheney in light of what you just heard from M.
Its not Tennyson, but M totally agrees and she defends the 00 program – basically assassins – using the same logic. In this sense, Bond is very tapped in to the Zeitgeist. The war on terror is his time to thrive.
It seems fitting to end with Skyfall because the film celebrates nostalgia and the way Bond used to be. Moreover, it puts Britain back on top by restoring Bond as its greatest representative on the world stage. Raul Silva, another former 00 betrayed by his own service, joins SPECTRE to seek revenge, but also, as he sees it, liberate the globe from imperial nation-states. Here he is throwing major shade on Bond, M, and Britain especially.
Old ladies giving orders, a ruin, and how does Bond respond? Resurrection. Not just his own, but all the things Bardem is running down. Skyfall ends with the old lady stabbed in a church and replaced by an alpha male M – Ralph Fiennes. Moneypenny goes from field agent to sitting outside M’s office just like she used to. Bond vanquishes his gay stalker nemesis – Silva – and the final scene is Bond standing on the rooftop of Mi6 headquarters overlooking a sea of union jacks fluttering in the wind across official Britshdom. Lie 2 is back with a vengeance.
We should note that the set designers gave the new M the same desk as the original M from the Sean Connery days. This is about restoring the patriarchy in every way. They’re not even concealing it. Kill off Mommy, put Moneypenny behind a desk, celebrate imperial nostalgia and hetero-normative values. Bond hasn’t really changed, right up to his self-sacrificial death last year in No Time to Die. Will the next Bond be a person of color? A woman even? Don’t count on it.
So we seem to have traveled far past the Cold War era dates in our exploration of Bond. But as we’ve noted from the beginning of this season, the legacies of the Cold War continue to haunt us. Not just in the form of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or Putin’s casual evocation of nuclear conflict between West and East. But also in the global military industrial complex, now augmented by surveillance states.
Nevertheless, there were unique characteristics of the Cold War that we don’t want to lose sight of. And many of them are the result of being the first modern iterations of all sorts of things. The bi-polar world order emerged at the same time as mass media came into its maturity. We had so many more ways to engage with what, previously, might have been the dry political, diplomatic, and military debates and considerations of national elites, with few outlets for discussion or reaction among average people.
Late stage capitalism developed in the West and dominated the globe because of, not despite, the supposed communist alternative being offered by the totalitarian regime in Moscow, and another one in Beijing. An economic ideology got conflated with a political one. And this is something that’s never really been uncoupled since. This might be one reason why the slide into authoritarianism in the West isn’t really seen as something that is truly happening. The Cold War conditioned us to simply see capitalism as a form of democracy. As long as we’re consuming, we must be democratic.
And probably most importantly, the Cold War was an era in which the actual and quite probable threat of the total destruction of the planet became simply the white noise of people’s lives. Today, with the increasing likelihood that climate change will bring about the end of human kind as we know it, perhaps we can see our unwillingness to fully absorb that reality as a legacy of Mutually Assured Destruction. We got very good at whistling past the graveyard.
So, we hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief tour through the cinematic world of the Cold War era. We’ve certainly enjoyed working on it. At the end of our last season, we were certain that the next one was going to be about WWII. And then actual events intervened and changed our minds. Who knows, maybe that will happen again.
But we’re recording this on the day that Charles III was official proclaimed King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So perhaps that might influence where we go next. One of the ideas for a season we’ve been tossing around over the last couple of years is biopics. And maybe all those versions of Elizabeth II that we’ve seen on big screens and small over the 7 decades of her reign, deserve an episode or two. But we’re not promising anything. Except that we will be back with season 4, sometime in the new year.