Written by: Jord Schaap
“Allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Bond.
My name is Osama Bin Laden.”
My name is Osama Bin Laden.”
The position of 007 after September 11th
Between the day Dr. No premiered in London on october 5th 1962, and september 11th 2001, James Bond saved the world nineteen times. During this period, a clear pattern of madmen striving for world domination and mass destruction began to evolve. No less than four times crazy power maniacs attempted to destroy the planet, using sophisticated laser weapons or chemical poison-gas. Five times evil masterminds tried to provoke war between nations by kidnapping submarines, intercepting space missiles, destroy war-ships or setting off nuclear bombs. Two times madmen blackmailed western governments by the threat of nuclear holocaust, or the use of biological weapons of mass destruction. And four times insane criminals attacked centers of economical importance to gain control over gold and oil supplies, the use of solar power technology and microchip production.
Sounds familiar? After september 11th it certainly does.
Because the horrible events of this day not only changed our perspective on safety and world affairs for ever, they also meant the inexorable end of the Bond stories as we knew them: filled with unthinkable and unimaginable events. On september 11th, the Spectre-scenario became reality. A cynic thought, and certainly something we never imagined to happen. But it is inevitably true.
Evil masterminds appeared to exist for real. Not only are they driven by furious fundamentalism, hate and anger, but also the initials of Blofeld’s illustrious organization apply to them, as they are seeking for Terrorism and Extortion, using horrible methods of blind violence. They are terrorists Bond always fought.
David Morefield, editor of the Ian Fleming Foundation, described one of the thoughts shooting through his brain when he saw the passengers jets crash into the proud symbols of western freedom and democracy:
“Geez, it looks exactly like it does in the movies.”
It is more than sarcastic, but it does. An assault on the world’s biggest financial and economic center; a terrorist organization which even has a Spectre-like name, a villain leader who goes by the name of “the Commander” instead of “Number One”, and even a You Only Live Twice-like base camp called the Tora Bora complex. It seems like after september 11th, James Bond will have to operate on a different note.
A few years ago, Esquire Magazine published an exclusive interview with Al Qaeda-leader Osama Bin Laden. Its headline read: “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Osama Bin Laden”. Then, I laughed for the comparison with the famouse scene in which Bond’s eternal adversary presented himself: “Allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Bond. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld”.
Ian Fleming repeatedly stated that the fun of writing the Bond stories was to confront the realistic, hard-line character of Bond with fantastic plots wherein evil madmen tried to take over the world, being based on exotic locations. The cold realism of an anonymous silhouette on her majesty’s secret service, confronted with unthinkable scenarios. It seems to me that after 9-11, these classic Bond plots will forever leave audiences with a bitter taste, since we are now confronted with the enormous harm and grief these scenarios cause for real. And in the real world, there is no James Bond to avert World War III, or an attack on the World Trade Center.
However, the real James Bond does exist, but in a different way. We can find his spirit back in the numerous fire-fighters who gave their lives, trying to safe the lives of people they didn’t know. We find his spirit back in the thousands of emergency workers, soldiers, civilians, victims and relatives who were directly or indirectly hit by the disaster.
That leaves us with a painful question: to which extent James Bond can still operate as we know him, fighting high-tech terrorists with fantastic mastermind plots, without feeling embarassed, because we know that these terrorists exist for real? To which extent the James Bond series, which was always was so attractive for its incredibility, has become too credible, too real?
For an answer on these questions we have to turn to the past. For what did Ian Fleming when he introduced the Bond character in a period in which Cold War repeatedly rose to a world-threatening high temperature? Did he place James Bond in the center of the Cuba Crisis? Did he make Bond infiltrate within KGB during the heights of Soviet-American tension?
He could easily have done that, but instead, Ian Fleming made sure that his character always operated in the slipstream of history. In the Bond stories, Fleming refers only indirectly to political tensions, and the threats of Cold War. Of course he uses this tensions to create suspense and a sense of urgency in his novels, but James Bond never confronts any real-life character of Cold War. Fleming did this wittingly. In his last interview, a Playboy reporter asked:
“Smersh is Bond’s main adversary in your first novels. Why did you leave this concept from Thunderball, and instead invented the non-ideological conspirators of Spectre?”
“We can’t go on this way. We shouldn’t cut the Soviets in pieces anymore. So I came with Spectre, an international crime-organization with elements of Smersh, the Gestapo and the Mafia. It was better to have literary invention, than to have reality.”
In an other interview, the author stated that he thought it was too dangerous to place his hero in the center of current affairs too much; after all, James Bond is a literary hero, not a political figure.
So Fleming invented Spectre, and various evil masterminds who, only indirectly connected with the Soviet enemy, planned their at that time unimaginable plots of mass destruction. The only thing real in the Bond series – both literary and cinematic – was and is the threat of nuclear destruction. But even that has always been just a well-suiting way to fill the Bond stories with suspense and urgency; it was a flick of reality in a world of exotic locations, beautiful women, and unimaginable plots. As Malcom Muggeridge explains in his review of the Bond novels:
“Fleming’s squalid aspirations and dream fantasies happened to coincide with a whole generation’s. He touched a nerve. The inglorious appetites for speed at the touch of a foot on the accelerator and for sex at the touch of a hand on the flesh, found expression in his books.”
Ann S. Boyd, who wrote The Devil with James Bond, adds:
Don’t try to read any of the Bond adventures seriously! Bond is meant for fun, for escape.”
So the fantastic plots as we knew them were a form of escapism for us all. In the novels we saw a man like ourselves, bored, sometimes bitter, often discontented with his work, confronting an exotic world we could never imagine before. In the films we see the unthinkable happen right before our eyes; the moment Bond pushed the Aston Martin ejector seat button in Goldfinger, the Bond series chose to be fiction films definitively.
So what now, in an era in which the Bond plots aren’t fiction anymore? Should Bond take up arms against Osama Bin Laden? Should we see Al Qaeda in the position of Spectre?
Of course not. The Bond producers should make the same wise decision Fleming once made, and retreat Bond from the moralistic stage they tended to put him on for the last three films. Bond shouldn’t be too political, for this endangers his character and his own, fictional world. On the other hand, the end of Cold War caused a problem for the Bond series that seems to be soluted after September 11th. Without referring directly to the events, Bond will be a terrorist fighter more than ever. The threat of Cold War becoming too hot has been replaced with a new, worldwide threat: the danger of fundamentalism, of individuals acting against democratic nations out of blind anger.
Bond should be the third perspective secret agent; not acting on the stage of current affairs, but using background tensions and motives to stir up suspense in the Bond stories. He shouldn’t be judging, or become too moralistic, because in many ways he uses the same methods as his adversaries. As a member on the CBn-forum argued, when speaking of the North-South Korea tensions which play an important role in the upcoming film:
“This is a Bond film. Not peace negotiations.”
He couldn’t be more right. In one way, we always enjoyed the Bond films to escape reality. After the unthinkable world of the Bond films has become part of this reality, it’s up to the Bond producers to give Bond a new, significant place in the slipstream of history.
Jord Schaap © 2002