February 10, 2014

TV for Thought: The Man Who Wished He Was Bond

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As a fan of the lothario British spy, James Bond,  I was definitely going to watch BBC America’s mini-series of its creator, Ian Fleming. It also helped that it starred one of Britain’s great talents, Dominic Cooper (if you haven’t heard of him, I recommend watching An Education and The Devil’s Double to see his sly charm and acting prowess). With Bond being such an iconic fictional character, one expects parallels to be drawn out in a biopic of its author. Because at the end of the day, is art not an imitation of life? Indeed, every episode begins with this quotation by Fleming: “Everything I write has a precedent in truth.” Unfortunately, it is difficult to gauge what is actual truth throughout the mini-series and what is just planted for us to make the parallels between Fleming and Bond. After all, the series is called Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond.

What really got me about Fleming was the extent of his womanizing, even though I am familiar with the Bond movies and his Bond girls. But when watching a Bond film, there’s a certain seduction, a certain suaveness and a certain sexiness in Bond’s sexcapades with the girls. Even though he’s a playboy, you can’t help but understand why these women fall prey to his charm. It helps that Bond is so debonaire and reliably good-looking. But in Fleming, the misogyny is blatant and is frankly uncomfortable at times. There is a scene in the second episode in which Fleming enacts some sort of rape fantasy with Ann O’Neill, the married “object” of his affection. She may be into it–and so will some suppressed women, as evident in the runaway erotic hit, 50 Shades—but I guess it’s just not for me.

So what makes some form of womanizing more acceptable than others in terms of artistic expression? Why am I more tolerant of James Bond than I am of Ian Fleming? Well, one easy cop-out is the “fiction versus reality” defense. We don’t like to watch what reads as too real. We tend to watch things as a form of escapism, so when that line is hazy or blurry, it’s hard to offer the same reception. Another reason is the emphasis of the womanizing in one form versus the other. In James Bond films, the women are dispensable characters. They may help him along but for the most part, they just provide the sexual tension or romance necessary to indicate that Bond is indeed human at a most basic level. Fleming does indeed show his work for British naval intelligence during WWII, but it takes a backseat to his many forays in the bedroom or otherwise. It’s hard to go 10 minutes before seeing another woman crop up. There is no action to avert our attention and leave the misogyny hide on the sidelines. The escape has been blocked. So it’s not necessarily tolerance as it is how much time is spent on the issue. I’m sure if I sat through all of the James Bond films in one sitting, I would feel the same way as I do after two episodes of this mini-series.

Until then I’ll continue to have my martinis shaken, not stirred.