“Happy Birthday, Mister Bond.”
Those words, if spoken by the adoring grandees of Hollywood, would convey distinct admiration and nostalgia for fifty years of “Bond, James Bond” since the release of Dr. No in October 1962. Spoken instead with a heavy Central European accent, they could be menacing and signal the presence of archfiend Ernst Stavro Blofeld, leader of the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion known by the acronym SPECTRE, sometimes seen caressing a white cat, while giving orders and questioning the clandestine operations of his deputies.
As Bond in cinema celebrates his 50th, it is appropriate to ask if a vibrant western democracy should measure itself against Bond, or should it measure Bond against itself? Put another way, should we assess changes in society against the values of Bond, or should we evaluate Bond in the context of contemporary tastes and mores? Each approach yields a profound but radically different conclusion.
Although played by various accomplished actors with unique personas — Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig — the case may be made that Bond is fundamentally a constant, a universal role model for men who aspire to Epicureanism and all things machismo. For decades, Bond has shown us a resplendent tapestry of Savile Row, gaming tables from the Bahamas to Montenegro, Aston Martins, vodka martinis “shaken not stirred,” foie gras, high tech novelties, and the Walther PPK chambered in 7.65 millimeter.
Bond the super spy is cut from the cloth of the command and control system, facing off against a determined SPECTRE that seeks world dominion, and other disturbed and fanatical men such as Auric Goldfinger and Hugo Drax who seek to cause financial Armageddon or wage biological warfare against the Earth. There is no room for self-doubt in Bond’s world of intrigue and paranoia. There are only orders to follow, issued by M, chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service known as MI6. It is a grand, purposeful, and heroic existence, and Bond is the instrument that assures the continuation of Western civilization, with a waning but surviving tradition of the British Empire, at times partnering with the Central Intelligence Agency. And danger is his business. Alas, what could be more noble?
In our current times, however, Bond could be adjudged an unmitigated disaster. His directness of purpose is at odds with a pluralistic and highly matrixed society, where indiscipline, fissiparousness, and nuance can define national character. Today Bond would be Gulliverized by intrusive federal and local regulations that impede both covert and overt operations. There would be few convenient places to smoke a Morland blend of Balkan and Turkish tobacco; Bond might need to excuse himself for a cigarette break a stipulated distance from the ominous MI6 headquarters on the banks of the Thames River. Further, protective lobbies could make it hard to find foie gras, and environmentalists and the need for governments to economize would force Bond to drive a Prius hybrid. Bond’s signature irreverence would provoke inquisitive Human Resources staff members, and he would find himself on the next RIF or reduction in force list, a process used by major corporations to eliminate staff.
The Bond of today would have much less latitude. He would be expected to multitask while festooned with electronic devices, update his Facebook page, tweet stakeholders, and receive robust 360 degree feedback from superiors, colleagues, and subordinates. He would be required to accept criticism and attend off-sites to assess vision and mission statements and to formulate institutional strategy. He would be asked to submit his annual training objectives for self-improvement. He would also be expected to have tofu and herbal tea for lunch, while conversing in a collegial fashion. In an era of global grunge, fastidious sartorial kit from Savile Row could be a career stopper for the modern Bond.
In a sensitive society, where listening skills, PowerPoint charts, and cuddly matrixes are valued more than excellence in implementation, Bond would be deemed a pathological misfit.