October 26, 2015, by Guest Blogger
James Bond’s ghosts
Dr Nathan Waddell from our School of English introduces the first session of Popular Culture Lecture Series II.
Every hero has a spectre. For every Bond there’s a Blofeld. For every Katniss Everdeen a Coriolanus Snow. We value heroes because of their villains. Blofeld’s machinations make Bond more daring. Snow’s intolerance makes more charitable the future Katniss and her allies hope to create. Dystopias dance with utopian risk in imagined worlds where hope needs despair. In Skyfall (2012), Bond defeats a ghost from M’s past but loses his mother in all but name. Does Bond’s masculinity need others to die?
Imagining saviours inevitably means revealing what counts as salvational. Bond’s world is paranoid, a place where the act of saving is a desirable possibility and often a form of closure. Such facts inform Bond’s realism; we live in a world that needs saving in all sorts of ways. They also define Bond’s prejudice; ‘victory’, if it’s even possible, is rarely as neat and tidy as it appears on page and on screen. In other words, these stories are haunted by what they seem to vanquish: their paranoid sources. Bond narratives assume that malevolent forces exist and that they’re out to get you. Acceptable responses to such threats are culturally shaped by a sense of where strength comes from and what it has to struggle against. In Bond, machismo is needed. Fragility, the phantom menace, must be internalised and surmounted, or simply destroyed.
In my lecture, ‘“My name is …”: James Bond, Masculinity, and the Mother Land’, I look at these issues in the context of what it means to be mannish – according to Skyfall (2012), and with glances at Spectre (2015) and the spy thriller tradition from which James Bond himself emerged. Daniel Craig’s Bond is a wounded soldier, a shaken-down, stirred-back-up-again figure on the run from his past. In Skyfall, defeating the villain means returning to the mother land: to Bond’s family home. There the fate of the nation is decided. And at Skyfall, as we’ll see, what it means and costs for Bond to be a man is rethought.
The Popular Culture Lecture Series starts with Nathan’s discussion of Bond on Wednesday 4 November 5.30pm, B13 Physics Building, University Park. The Series is free to attend and open to all.
Image credit: Harlis Grundmanis