Quantum of Bias

What a big gun you have, Mr. Bond

My, what a big gun you have, Mr. Bond

Here are some thoughts on the new James Bond movie:

a) Quantum of Solace is a stupid name

b) It is not acceptable in the year 2008 to be putting out movies which portray women as goods, sexual objects, brainless bimbos at worst, and helpless damsels in distress at best. The landscape of this movie was profoundly male, populated by alpha males posturing for each other, swaggering, pursuing their conquests (sexual and otherwise) and their power plays with a sense of absolute entitlement. All of which has its appeal and, more to the point, is sort of what you sign up for when you go to see a James Bond film. The whole franchise is built upon the reinforcement of the figure of Bond, an effortlessly debonnairre, yet powerful figure, who always comes out on top and always gets the girl(s). Yet, after 50 odd years (since Ian Fleming penned the first James Bond novel in 1952), the conceit feels not only threadbare but inexcusably, insultingly outdated. Sure, Bond has evolved–he drives a different car, is more muscular and rougher around the edges, and is privy to the aid of an array of higher tech gadgets, not to mention plenty of new special effects. But even as Bond movies continue to push the envelope visually and effectually, Bond’s women, the so-called “Bond girls” and the other women who enter and exit Bond’s orbit remain in many ways static. Their dresses grow shorter and their skin tanner, but their purposes within the stories and their treatment by the men around them remains shockingly unchanged. If anything, the misogyny has become more glaring, particularly as it grows increasingly out of step with acceptable roles for women in modern culture.

This is the year 2008, the year a woman almost became the Democratic nominee for President, the year a Harvard educated lawyer became the future First Lady. We have a female Speaker of the House and across so many sectors of society, women are making incredible strides. Yet, in Bond’s world, all the women are bronzed and skimpily clad and presented as objects to be beheld, possessed, used, and, just in case the masculinity of the male characters is in doubt, belittled and trivialized, rendered powerless. So, I have to sit, a captive audience, as the women in the movie deliver drinks or merely walk by in slow motion, allowing the men around them to “consume” them, visually and sexually. I have to sit there as a man on the screen tells his much younger bikini-clad wife dismissively to “go work on [her] tan” so that he and Bond can talk man to man. Even the latest incarnation of the “Bond girl” (of course they couldn’t be Bond women, could they?), played by Olga Kurylenko, though she is herself a special agent, like Bond on a mission of revenge, is constantly having to be rescued by Bond when the chips are down. Only Judy Dench escapes this mold, liberated , I suppose, by her advanced age which renders her threat to Bond’s masculinity greatly diminished and gives her immunity from the sexual objectifying gaze. Perhaps my unwillingness to forgive the film may be at least slightly attributable to my total lack of attraction to Daniel Craig. But I like to think that even if he looked like Colin Firth, the whole movie would be diminished for me by its antiquated and downright sadistic portrayals of women. After 22 Bond films, I have to wonder– isn’t anyone at the very least getting a little bored with the same old tired stereotypes, formulas, and assumptions the franchise continues to re-present?

About Katie Heimer

I'm a graduate student of media studies at the New School. My main academic interests in the field center around issues of women in the media (both in terms of representations of and access to) and the overlapping issues of media reform and education. This website will serve as a chronicle of my progress and growth, both intellectually and personally, as I navigate my master's of media studies.
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4 Responses to Quantum of Bias

  1. Jamie Nelson says:

    Katie, you are my hero. Really and truly.

  2. Austin Morton says:

    Dear Ms. Heimer,

    Respectfully I must disagree. A closer look at the genealogy of the 22 Bond movies would show a progression from traditional femininity to something close to egalitarianism though I’d be shortchanging the author if I suggested complete equality.

    Connery’s misogyny was quite explicit: “Man talk sweetie (ass slap).” Yes Matthis and his wife are stereotypical, but he’s an old Mediterranean man, more of a throwback to the older generation than emblematic of James Bond. The discourse of Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan do not contain such glaring statements of disparity though I’ll agree that the movie is sexually charged. However doesn’t this cut both ways? In my viewing of the movie, I heard quite a few women commenting on Craig’s body and his calmly suave, even glib conversation. At least in the newest manifestation of the Bond series, Craig is expected to look good, unlike the doughy Roger Moore. The endemic problem of sexual stereotypes in Hollywood does not make Bond only a beneficiary but also a target. So we can all take the Hollywood LCD down together, male and female.

    (Thankfully) M’s dress has not gotten any shorter, but her role shouldn’t casually be dismissed as an issue of advanced age. She is frankly an intimidating woman in the film, visibly commanding, responsible, and by far the most powerful character throughout the series since Golden Eye. In fact, Craig’s character has been portrayed as more indecisive and vulnerable than M. Bond is clearly made to be fond of her in the latest film, for these reasons providing evidence that the new Bond has no reservations about strong women.

    Though the Bond girls, women as they should be called – very true, are typically sex objects. Bond doesn’t engage in sex with the latest Bond girl, a point you do not make. In fact, the Consulate worker he does have sex with is used, via Dench, as an example of his careless misogyny. Bond is left with no retort. This would not have happened in the past movies. Again the sexual nature of the characters is an endemic Hollywood problem within this framework Bond’s viewpoint has progressed towards a 21st century viewpoint, though it is more like an asymptote, reaching for a line the franchise will probably never reach due to its founding.

    And you must be forgetting about Vesper in Casino Royale. I remember the dialogue. It went something like this: “Why? You aren’t attracted to me because I’m intelligent?” “No, because you’re single.” Bond didn’t have a problem with strong women, but commitment. Including such psychological caveats into the feminist framework stretches the theory too far. Vesper was competent and independent, discreetly and rather overtly saving Bond’s life at least twice while taking responsibly for her bargain with Quantum. Their interactions were more flirtatious than they were one-sided come-ons tacitly excepted.

    Though I think it is time to move in that direction with the next Bond girl. Yes, it would have to be Bond women. This movie went too close to the stereotypical Bond franchise, unlike Casino Royale. It would be refreshing to see a movie built on the growth of an equal relationship. My point is that the franchise is getting there, even if it’s a little slow.

  3. Katie Heimer says:

    Mr. Morton,

    Respectfully, I must point out that you start your comment saying that you “must disagree” with me but end it basically agreeing, but just in a more tempered way. I haven’t watched Casino Royale in the past week or even in the past month, so I want to be a little restrained getting into any kinds of close readings of it until I have revisited it. But, with regard to Quantum of Solace, I will say that I think part of what I meant when I said that the misogyny was in some ways almost worse in this movie than in early Bond movies was that back then, the misogyny, as in the Connery example you gave, was incredibly explicit. The films were up front about it because when those movies were being made, that was much more socially accepted.
    I don’t mean to suggest that that made it any better that it existed, but we’ve come a long way in the past few decades in our country and I think a danger that I see our culture running into sometimes is that things which are no longer overtly acceptable are now being made more subtle, more covert, coded rather than explicit messages and ideas. Just as in the last 50 years, advertising has gone from “Our soap is better than that other soap and will get your dishes cleaner” to “Don’t you want to be like me? I have a perfect family and an upper middle class lifestyle and oh, look, I happen to be using this soap…because that’s what successful happy people like me do”, gender, racial and other stereotypes have often times kind of gone “underground” too. America does not want to acknowledge how much inequality still exists overtly…I keep hearing people saying that now that we have a black president, we are a race neutral society. But the fact is, they’re making a huge deal about the fact that he’s black. As they should—it’s extremely groundbreaking. But clearly, we’re not a race neutral society. In a similar way, I think sexism has gone underground, too, because no one wants to admit that we still live in an incredibly patriarchal society either. No, you’re not (necessarily) going to have Bond slapping some girl’s ass and dismissing her. But the female body is constantly on display in a way that Bond’s and any other man in that movie’s simply was not.
    For instance, take the eroticization of violence to women that is such a popular trope in action movies across the board—in this movie, for instance, when the consulate worker he slept with is killed gruesomely, her naked, lifeless body is displayed like a work of art, a trophy across the bed. Those kinds of images in which the tie between violence to women and eroticism are represented are everywhere you look in our society—have you seen the high fashion print ad from last year in which a group of men are simulating a gang rape scenario with a model in a bikini? And this is supposed to make people want to buy something. But I digress. What I’m trying to say is, there are a lot of levels at which misogyny is coded and, in recent years, as overt displays have become less acceptable (although they still exist everywhere), it has imbedded itself in more subversive ways.
    As for this argument about the old Mediterranean man, I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think that’s an excuse for including it in the movie. By sitting there, witnessing that incredible misogyny and then continuing in friendly conversation with his friend, Bond is complicit in it. And beyond that, so are the film makers. Directors, writers, producers, all make choices. Even if you’re right that that bit of misogyny was a “throwback”, it was still a conscious choice and one, I believe, that was made to uphold/reify the power dynamics of the movie as a whole.
    As for the expectation that Craig’s Bond “look good”, I don’t think that’s exactly a breakthrough for gender equality. Sure, the problem of looks-ism is rampant for both genders in Hollywood, but I would point out that in this context Bond’s more muscular physique only enhances the dichotomy between his physical strength, power, and presence, particularly in comparison to the Bond girls, who are invariably stick thin and tottering around on high heels and wearing dresses. No wonder they need to be rescued. I’m going to have to think more about your points about Judy Dench’s role. I stated in my original post the reasons I feel she is exempt from some of the gendered power dynamics (it’s always the older women who are allowed to have a little bit of power, because as I said they don’t represent such a threat to the masculinity of the leading men—they’re no longer sexualized in the same way, no longer able to be objectified, and don’t fit into the gender expectations the same way younger women do). I will point out though that Bond spends this entire movie willfully ignoring M’s instructions and orders, circumventing her authority at every turn. Even though she is his boss, he believes he knows best. I have to wonder, if he respected her authority so implicitly, wouldn’t he obey her instructions, or at least struggle with his conscience when ignoring them? Here, he more or less flaunts his disregard for her wishes with a self-satisfied smirk.

    Finally, I have to say I don’t really see the fact that he doesn’t actually have sex with the latest Bond girl as hugely significant. One does not have to literally have sex to be sexually “consumed” by men and the way they view her. I agree with you that the Bond franchise may never be able to truly redefine itself in the way I’d like to see, due to its origins. Honestly, I think it will take more than offering a female character a basic measure of humanity or intelligence or skill (ala Vesper) to approach anything like egalitarianism…maybe try letting them dress in clothes that are a little easier to run in, for a start…haha. anyway, thanks for your comments/criticisms/feedback!

  4. Pingback: Quantum of Silverman « Bricolage

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