By Steve Stajich
Baby boomers can have a rough time of it some days. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. We embrace two terms of Obama as a clear and permanent turn in American politics… then we get “what’s his face.” We adjust to more kale in our diets, and then we find out that we are supposed to be eating acai for nutrition and possible healing benefits. Worst of all, it now seems that every time we pick up the newspaper one of our former heroes from rock (Chris Cornell) or sports (Cortez Kennedy) or the movies (Roger Moore) has left us.
Of course all of this change is natural given what time inevitably does to the shape of our lives, but it can still feel as though the ground beneath us might be moving at any time without warning (See Big Sur/ Mud Creek area). Actor Roger Moore had hung up his Walther PPK pistol and various exploding wrist watches some time ago, yet his death this past week was another reminder that time moves forward and we don’t get to hang on to every souvenir.
For a certain generation of American boys who are now not only American men but old – uh, older – American men it can never be good news to learn that James Bond, any of the James Bonds, has passed. Women will likely take a dimmer view, since the Bond films were rife with sexism and the exploitation of women’s bodies, often beautifully costumed or painted with gold. The messages back then were not always the best ones for growing boys: Violence works if you out-violent the other guy, women are for sexual gratification and stroking your ego, and the underground missile silos of the bad guys are for blowing-up big time at the end of the movie. That last one always seemed like product placement for wars, depending on which war we were fighting at the time. But then the movies have for decades also been commercials for cigarettes and guns.
The most recent James Bond movies with actor Daniel Craig have done their best to integrate the concept of a James Bond into the 21st century. The women do more fighting, sometimes saving Bond’s life. The evil doers mess with the global environment and attempt to control the world’s water supply rather than gas the town around Fort Knox and then make off with the gold. In Craig’s first venture into the franchise, Bond is poisoned and suffers a heart attack but saves himself with a portable defibrillator tucked into the glove box of the car that movie was selling. At that time (“Casino Royale,” 2006) there were unquestionably older male Bond fans in the audience for whom a heart attack was something much more worrying than Goldfinger’s laser slowing moving toward your groin.
Roger Moore’s Bond was a shift after Sean Connery moved on. Now Bond made lots of jokes, was overdressed in an almost ludicrous manner, and near the end of the series seemed to lumber through scenes although I’m not sure if it was age or the impractical clothing Moore was always wearing. You’re going to take down an undersea laboratory in a double breasted jacket and black leather ankle boots?!
Pierce Brosnan gave Bond a shot and it was during his reign that the plot lines inched toward current day issues. Brosnan told interviewers that he had tried to move the scripts toward getting “a little more gritty and real and down and dirty” only to discover the next film would have “outlandish scenes.”
Indeed. As outlandish as a gas bag President conspiring with the Russians to tamper with an American election? Or maybe a bad guy who starves his people to death while he spends his small country’s treasure on developing nuclear weapons. Often, the conspiracies in Bond films involved manipulating world currency or media. None that I recalled ever evoked as much horror and suffering as two airliners flying into buildings in New York. Or a mentally disturbed lone wolf blowing himself up outside a concert filled with teenage children.
And yet, we have our Bond-like heroics in events like the raid to kill Osama bin Laden or the continuing courage of our troops against improvised explosive devices. Courage and cool still exist and triumph… they just don’t dress like Roger Moore did. But what has changed the most in the 21st century is the personification of those who perpetrate evil, whether you believe in the existence of evil or simply use it as a word to describe severe weakness , cupidity, egomania, the misinterpretation of religion, or the willingness to commit homicide. There was always a comfortable detachment for Americans in the Bond films: The bad thing that James had to stop was more often happening to England than the U.S. And the bad guys were sinister, which requires a certain amount of keen intelligence. In the 21st century, we may wish our Astin Martin was equipped with an ejection seat. Or at least a defibrillator that would prove the enemy actually has a heart.