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What can we learn from 007?
Stephen B. Tippins Jr.'s op-ed column on James Bond.

 Fifty years ago, James Bond was first portrayed in film by Sean Connery in 'Dr. No.'
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Date published: 11/18/2012


--Fiction sometimes has a way of transcending its most ardent limitation, which is that it is fiction. Just ask Eric Holder, who probably never thought he'd be cast as the villain in a Vin Diesel flick.

Fiction's most successful transcending phenomenon, though, is probably Ian Fleming's James Bond, 007, haberdasher's muse and the world's most famous secret agent (never mind the oxymoron). Ever in vogue, Bond made a cameo during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics--an impressive feat for any actual man, let alone a made-up one. But then transforming from fictional character to Olympic ambassador is probably an easier task for Bond than his other real-life obligation: defending the West against itself.

Two things struck me while recently re-watching "The Spy Who Loved Me," the 10th James Bond film and the one that the 12-year-old in me still remembers as having starred Caroline Munro. Roger Moore's turn as 007 may not have been as literary as Timothy Dalton's or Daniel Craig's, but he still interpreted the role as something far edgier than Beau Maverick in a tux, even if he doesn't get credit for it.

More importantly: Even though I've always seen very little attenuation between Ian Fleming's novels and [film producer] Cubby Broccoli's screen treatments, I could never explain why. Until now. I've finally realized that Fleming's Bond (often brooding, sometimes sadistic, and occasionally cruel) and the cinematic incarnation (often quick to quip and far more obsessed with sex) exist in the same world, one that shares very little with the world that you or I inhabit. But it's not the metal-jawed giants, volcanic lairs, and poisonous gardens that differentiate Bond's world from ours. It's the politics.


Bond doesn't have a political agenda in the usual sense. In fact, much has been written about the apolitical context within which Bond is usually framed. The Soviets were seldom the primary antagonists, often giving way to politically nonaffiliated madmen who hate East and West indiscriminately. Domestic issues are rarely evoked: There's some tangential racism in Fleming's "Live and Let Die" (attributable to the mores of the time and a Tom Wolfe-like attempt at re-creating some urban dialect); there's a nondescript energy crisis that has everybody--even stiff-collared Tories--up in arms in Guy Hamilton's underrated "The Man With the Golden Gun"; "Quantum of Solace" portrays an ecologically savvy terrorist.

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Stephen B. Tippins Jr. is an attorney in Buford, Ga. This column is reprinted with the permission of The American Conservative, in which it first appeared.