Bond the Holy Fool

[My article first appeared in Geez Magazine|Summer 2016. May I wholeheartedly encourage you to go to their website and subscribe. There are way better writers than me just waiting for you there.]

Goldeneye was the first James Bond film in which M, the head of British intelligence, was played by a woman. In her first scene with Bond, she eviscerates him as an anachronism in a world moved past the misogyny and sexual objectification of the 1950s Bond novels.

All too true, yet 007 endures. Skyfall, the 25th Bond film, made a whopping US$1.1 billion at the box office. We could despair at the franchise’s narrative: a hero imbued with superhuman powers and abilities to violently overcome evil; and superior power and strength, our reliable moral compass.

This is a contemporary iteration of the narrative at the centre of Walter Brueggemann’s royal consciousness; the heart of the empire where there is an uncritical worship of power that is impervious to change and driven by self-serving concerns. The royal consciousness needs a narrative that power and violence are salvific so as to maintain the status quo between states and within our nations.

Despite my awareness, I remain a Bond fan. Self-effacing and regretful, I nevertheless get to the theatre as soon as possible to watch the latest offering. So what if we were to attempt to view Bond with a prophetic consciousness; could we see truth through fractures in his narrative? Can Bond provide a warning against a royal consciousness? Maybe Bond unmasks his own signs and symbols.

Unmasking signs and symbols is an old role in church tradition. In Russian Orthodox tradition it is an ascetic discipline called holy foolishness or iurodstvo, both a church and literary tradition. Two famous literary Fools are Nikolai Leskov’s Lefty and Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin. Both fools; one grotesque and deceitful, the other naïve and pure. Lefty was despised by literary critics at the time for the gloomy portrayal of the human condition, whilst Mshykin was beloved and lauded for living an extreme incarnation of Christ’s love. Yet both are doomed. The Holy Fool disconcerts the monochromatic narratives of the royal consciousness as both goodness and sin generate the same outcome.

Holy Fools feigned madness to mirror the folly of the world they lived in. In Russia, fools tended to be unclean, lacking in social mores and profane as these were signs and symbols of sinfulness; fools transformed these into signs and symbols of faith. In doing so they affirmed that God was sovereign beyond human perception, beyond the profane and sacred. Whilst his actions lack the consciousness of those fools, James Bond, the violent hyper-masculine hero, can be viewed as himself unmasking the signs and symbols of royal consciousness. As a Holy Fool he has unintentionally stripped power and violence of their aura of invincibility and effectiveness:

  • Violence resolves violence: for every Bond villain who is killed, another rises. Bond’s violence begets the violence of others; indeed in The Man With The Golden Gun, Scaramanga affirms that it is Bond the killer who has inspired him.
  • The State is a benevolent master: the State is incompetent in every film, incapable of protecting itself without heroic intervention. In over half of the films and books, villains acquire a nation’s nuclear weapon.
  • A hero will save us: in 26 films Bond has killed over 380[1] people, not counting collateral damage; in Dr No, Bond overloads a nuclear reactor and sets off an explosion in the same facility on an island that is nearby to Jamaica.
  • Alpha males are preferable partners: Bond has had 78 sexual partners; a third were murdered. Rarely did Bond make efforts to prevent their deaths; Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale being the clear exception. Bond films tie sexual intimacy to death and risk.

Bond enervates the myths he affirms: violence begets more violence; the state is an incompetent; an encounter with this hero is death; he is the alpha male unable to protect his partners. Bond demonstrates that upon which we rely – security, violence, power, authority, masculinity – is but foolishness; feet made of clay that provide no true certainty for our societies and our empire. No more compelling image of Bond exists than that of the hero dressed as a clown in Octopussy diffusing a nuclear warhead surrounded by military men.

The clown lurks just below the surface of every incarnation of Bond; a ludicrous figure held together by a tuxedo and Walther PPK. In our volatile world, James Bond may not be the Holy Fool we want, but he is the Holy Monster our capitalist empire deserves.

 

[1] Prior to Skyfall and Spectre, Bond’s individual kill count was 354. I have included the deaths I observed in the two latest films. Cf. Datablog, James Bond bodycount: how many people died in each film, The Guardian, 5 October 2012 URL: http://www.theguardian.com/film/datablog/2012/oct/05/james-bond-bodycount-deaths

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