How do you kick an urbane superspy in the groin — especially when he’s already down? Ask John le Carré.
Le Carré has taken aim at the venerated 007, whom he calls “neo-fascistic and totally materialist” in a recent interview, even acknowledging that his views have softened over the years. The dismissive le Carré continues to explain his aversion to James Bond, suggesting that Bond would pledge his loyalty to any country offering the most women and martinis.
This unprovoked ad hominem attack on an imaginary persona strangely follows recent announcements that MGM is canceling or indefinitely delaying production of Bond 23, the next high speed Bond thriller, likely with all sorts of arcane and lethal gadgets and depraved archfiends. It could be that le Carré, a rival of fellow novelist Ian Fleming, the creator of Bond, has been harboring immense jealousy for decades, and is now relieved that Bond has at least for the moment run out of vodka and viewers. One also wonders if Fleming once bested a much younger le Carré at whist at a London club, or reminded him where the best Dom Perignon champagne might be found in Paris.
There is no question that Bond is a command and control freak, and his behavior and antics would be cause for immediate dismissal in today’s corporatist world. But is he really a fascist — a far right-winger and given to autocracy and dictatorship?
Ironically, it is Bond, James Bond who is fighting fascism, and unaffiliated gangsters, all over the world. A principal adversary of Bond is SPECTRE, the shadowy and imaginary Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion named in the Fleming novels. Its eccentric, deranged operatives include Dr. No in the movie of that name, Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love, and Emilio Largo in Thunderball. SPECTRE is commanded by the reclusive Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who appears from time to time, either stroking a white cat in From Russia with Love, or commanding a spacecraft hijacking center in You Only Live Twice.
The objective of those SPECTRE wackos, and the independent megalomaniacs Drax in Moonraker, Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me, and Goldfinger in the movie by that name is to disrupt the superpowers or cause war between them — or to create a new and grand human order on earth or beneath the sea, or financial chaos. In any case, Bond is fighting to foil the imposition of totalitarians and miscreants, using the best of British tradecraft and occasionally the assistance of the CIA. There is a certain ethos in Fleming, which is that evil will not stand, and it is the solemn duty of the fading British Empire to fight it, sometimes with American muscle, from the paneled offices of MI6 to the far away outposts of villainy.
As for materialism, there can be no doubt that Bond likes the good life of foie gras and martinis, to name just a couple of his incorrigible diversions. But his hedonism goes far beyond to embrace an obsession with elite brands — from his Beretta 418 in .25 caliber to an Amherst Villiers supercharger on his Bentley to his Balkan and Turkish blend Morland cigarettes.
It is perhaps this brand identity that most riles le Carré: Ian Fleming’s books and the later movies positioned James Bond as a brand icon. The words “Bond, James Bond” have massive global recognition, like “Coke is it” or Nike’s “Just do it.” Le Carré, a fine writer, has produced a number of morally grim, intellectual novels about espionage and the Cold War in particular, but his characters never ascended to the empyreal heights as did Bond. After all, how many people throughout the world would recognize the name of Smiley, George Smiley?