The new James Bond: and globalization theory, inside and out.
As Zizek says about Children of Men and other movies, Quantum of Solace shows the effects of globalization through an indirect, or slanted, representation--an artistic technique that Zizek in so many of his lectures and books calls "anamorphosis." His point is that the emotional or political truth of a situation sometimes cannot be perceived by a direct viewpoint, and so, as in the famous lines of the Emily Dickinson poem, one should "tell all the truth but tell it slant." The background of the movie is the real story for which the foreground is a formal vehicle. In the foreground of Quantum of Solace, Bond disobeys his own government apparently to avenge the death of his lover, but in the background the constant presence of the displaced and impoverished Native Americans due to global forces provides a deeper rationale for the plot than what takes place in the foreground. The new Bond and other recent action-suspense movies reflect a change in popular consciousness about the world order, and some even seem to perform a slanted, anamorphic critique of market-driven globalization, a critique that can be correlated to a simplified version of academic globalization theory. However, at the same time, their stories also reconfirm the ideology of maverick exceptionalism that has always driven the Anglo-American style of global capitalism and has always been Bond's signature ethos.
Bond provides a uniquely useful point of departure for exploring the aestheticization of globalization, for unlike the thrillers such as The Bourne Supremacy and The International or the movies surveyed in Tom Zaniello's The Cinema of Globalization (2006), only Bond films have appeared continuously in movie theaters around the globe for the half a century since the major institutions of the world order--the UN, IMF, GATT (now the WTO), and World Bank--were created. The first movie, Dr. No, came out in 1962; Quantum of Solace is the twenty-third, and so for the past half century there has been a Bond appearance on the silver screen almost every two years. Changes in the Bond story correspond with historical changes in the world; no other movie character gives us such a singular mirror of history, though, to be sure, it is a distorted circus-like mirror, bizarre and out of proportion. As Tony Bennett and Janet Woolacott argue in Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero (1987), the Bond character has successfully served as a condensed expression for Anglo-American society's concerns about the relations between capitalist and communist systems as well as the relations between sexual, national, and racial identities. As such, he quickly became a somewhat indeterminate, floating signifier--a metaphorical figure--that glued together (or bonded together, as Bennett and Woolacott pun) overlapping and conflicting ideologies as each film responded to the particular social anxieties of its historical moment. Consequently, Bond developed a cultural life of "his" own beyond the novels and films. (3)
Other scholars writing on the history of Bond, such as Jeremy Black, have also emphasized how the novels and movies respond to public anxieties about international crises. (4) As everyone knows, the early Bond films, with titles such as From Russia with Love (1963), were mostly about America's relationship to the Soviet Union and various third-world nations during the Cold War. For example, You Only Live Twice (1967) focuses on America's relationship with Japan at a pivotal moment in Asia's relationship with the West. In the 50s and 60s, Japan was rebuilding itself out of the rubble of World War II, and although it appeared to be emerging as a major capitalist power, its labor movement and the communist party were growing. The United States government--worried that Japan could shift its political identity towards a left-leaning pan-Asian alliance--actively suppressed Japan's labor movement. (5) But the Bond version of this story is, not surprisingly, a little different. In You Only Live Twice, British and Japanese secret agents have to prevent a nuclear war between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. being clandestinely orchestrated by the evil organization SPECTRE, a Japanese industrialist, and its Asian neighbor China. Over the course of this cooperative, international effort, the Japanese are gradually seduced by the agent of western capitalism--Bond.
After Fleming's death in 1964, the character and movies began to develop independently from the novels. Live and Let Die (1973) alludes to the black power movement and the new popularity of blaxploitation films in the United States, and Moonraker (1979) to the space shuttle and the "space race." After the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that signaled the shift from an internationalist to a globalist paradigm, movies such as GoldenEye (1995) and The World is Not Enough (1999) had to invent post-Cold War Bond narratives. These plots increasingly addressed the themes of interest to globalization scholars. For instance, in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Bond went after Rupert Murdock's multinational media corporation before the documentary Outfoxed (2004) did, and in Die Another Day (2002), he went after the trade in conflict diamonds before the thriller Blood Diamond (2006). Nevertheless, not until Quantum of Solace was there a Bond movie with a truly global worldview.
Here I disagree with David Earnest and James Rosenau's essay "The Spy Who Loved Globalization" (2000) which argues the Bond movies have always been global and thus were thematically "ahead of their time." (6) They claim that Bond movies are global because the villain is always a "sovereignty-free actor" who can only be successfully combated if the sovereign nation states cooperate, but their claim misses what is distinctive about globalization, and consequently about the new James Bond. The characteristics Earnest and Rosenau identify are actually the fundamentals of the older, internationalist paradigm established at the end of World War II with the UN Security Council, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, and the International Monetary Fund. But globalization is not just the extension of GATT when it became the WTO in 1995; rather, as I will demonstrate, globalization and the theories that emerged alongside it are something new. Hence, there are two moves I wish to make in this essay: the first is to demonstrate how the movie reflects a shift in the popular conceptualization of the world order from an internationalist to a globalist paradigm, and the second is to critique the movie's fantastic distortion of globalization theory--a distortion that reconfirms the maverick exceptionalism of capitalist ideology and obfuscates the issue of political agency.
From Internationalist to Globalist Paradigm
Even though the Bond films of the late 1990s and early 2000s began to address more global topics, the lens of Bond continued to represent the world according to an internationalist paradigm in which the precarious peace between the capitalist and the communist nations--their policy of detente--seems always at risk. In most of the early Bond films, this detente is threatened by the evil organization SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) or some SPECTRE-like megalomaniac. Metaphorically, SPECTRE is an antithesis to the United Nations. Whereas the United Nations's purpose is to mediate conflict between nations and prevent global catastrophe, SPECTRE was the underground, invisible organization that manipulated intelligence to create conflict and orchestrate catastrophe. For instance, in Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), there is a scene of the United Nations Security Council deliberating on what to do about SPECTRE, and of course, their recommendation is ineffectual because they do not fully grasp the degree to which SPECTRE is the very antithesis to the world order in the legalistic way the UN understands it, and so James Bond solves the problem in his own extra-legal way. As the Austin Powers parody of Bond drove home, the agenda of SPECTRE rarely seemed very rational, and consequently neither were the secret agent's tactics for foiling its agenda, but in terms of plot, that didn't matter. The evil organization was, symbolically speaking, a pure negative anyway--an inverted image of the positive international order. Onto this ghostly, negative image, the movies symbolically displaced everything that was wrong or could possibly go wrong with the international order--its excesses, its contingencies, its essential contradiction, and its repressed others who did not possess full representation or enfranchisement in the world order.
In a sense, the Bond movies enact a displacement of what theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe call "social antagonism" in their Reagan-Thatcher era classic Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985). The "antagonists" in Laclau and Mouffe are not the dominant political adversaries of the Cold War so prominent in the Bond films--NATO and Soviet Bloc--but those who have been disenfranchised by the hegemonic version of "universality" endorsed by both powers as well as by global institutions such as the UN and IMF. (7) Examples of social antagonists for Laclau and Mouffe would include Native Americans of North and South America as well as the environmentalist, feminist, and queer social movements. Bond films turned such social antagonism inside-out. The agents of SPECTRE were usually bizarre assemblages of marginalized people of color and sociopathic, wealthy white men with "perverted" sexual appetites and "queer" political views such as the alliance between May Day and Max Zorin in A View to a Kill (1985--the same year as Laclau and Mouffe's book). The villains were of ambiguously mixed heritage, and sometimes the script was unabashedly racist, as in the case of Live and Let Die in which the villain is a large black man trained by communists. As Bennett and Woolacott argue, the story-lines always present racially and sexually ambiguous characters as epistemological enigmas whose very "out-of-placeness" is what produces the movies' narrative drive and whom Bond must reposition, or "re-place," in the correct order of things. Hence, in the Bond movie, SPECTRE symbolizes the un-symbolizable--those social relations that the economists and political scientists working on behalf of global institutions cannot objectively measure or rationalize. And so, to rectify the seeming irrationality of such social antagonism--cinematically personified as SPECTRE--Bond always had to cooperate United-Nations-style with the beautiful agent from Russia or China or Japan or wherever in order to secure the integrity of the international order. And of course, in the process, Bond's decadent capitalism always seduces the righteous--but still sexy--communist agent or third-world rebel.
The old Bond films fit with this internationalist paradigm, because in that paradigm the "nation" is the central unit of analysis. Academically, in that paradigm, political science courses focused on how the American government worked, or they compared the way one country governed to the way another country governed. International politics courses focused on how nations negotiated treaties with each other and/or exerted influence abroad. Jeremy Black's The Politics of James Bond situates the movies in precisely such an international context. Analogously, the study of literature was rooted in national identity and traditions or comparisons thereof. The tacit goal of comparative literature departments in universities was (and in many ways still is) to promote understanding between members of different nations by translating the great works of each other's culture. Such was the poet Goethe's cosmopolitan vision when he first coined the phrase "world literature" two centuries ago. (8)
In a way, Bond is the globetrotting, cosmopolitan graduate of a comparative literature program par excellance. Much of the pleasure for viewers of the early Bond films was his travel to other countries, where he demonstrates his ability to quickly learn and master the Russian culture, the Turkish culture, or the Japanese culture--a culture that is always feminized (the woman he must seduce) and always understood in homogenized national terms (this is how all Turks are, how all Japanese are, etc.). Advertising for the early Bond films always emphasized this kind of exoticism, and Bond famously reminds Moneypenny in You Only Live Twice that he "took a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge." Of course Bond differs from Goethe because for Bond cultural understanding is just a tool to help him win the spy game, but for Goethe it was a tool for enlarging one's spiritual and ethical being and for promoting peace and understanding among nations. However, one could also argue that the Goethe-inspired comparative literature departments and the James Bond character are less different than they may appear; cosmopolitan intercultural competency is more often than not a privilege of the rich and the educated in first-world nations, a competency that helps them get even richer at the expense of the poor in the third world who lack access to primary education--much less to courses in world literature. As Timothy Brennen argues in his essay "Cosmopolitanism and Internationalism," such cultural cosmopolitanism is the ethos of the globetrotting elite who benefit from the political bureaucratic infrastructure of the nation-state that secures their travel and business itinerary but who also imagine themselves above that infrastructure--imagine themselves subject to no nation and bound by no laws and no culture. The elite's belief in his or her own transcendent universality is a form of self-legitimation, and in some cases it appears to legitimate the private, multinational corporation's use of public institutions for self-serving profit. Hence, to conceive of world literature as a neutral playing field on which all nations play the culture game equally is to misapprehend the reality of the situation--to misapprehend how the rules of the game have been socially constructed within a dynamic system of power relations. (9) Moreover, such nation-centered understandings of culture ignore and repress the diversity of peoples and interests within nations as well as the circulation of capital, commodities, culture, and peoples across borders.
In the new globalist paradigm, the nation is no longer the central unit of analysis; rather it is one unit among many in a political and cultural "network." Globalization theory posits that, since the early 1990s, multinational finance corporations, transnational civil society organizations, underground criminal organizations, and of course global institutions such as the IMF now exert more power than many nation states. As popular culture is becoming increasingly aware, corporations such as Wal-Mart and Exxon Mobil have economies larger than most of the member states of the United Nations, and that dollar for dollar, illegal drugs and guns constitute a larger segment of the global trade than almost any other commodity. Movies such as Lord of War about the clandestine gun trade and The Constant Gardener about the corrupting power of the pharmaceutical industry dramatize what is now a common belief held by many about how the world works--if not exactly how the world actually works.
Re-thinking the essence of globalization, theorists Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt in their book Empire (2000) argue that the new political form is no longer centered on the nation state but is now a decentered "network" of power relations. (10) Likewise, literary theorists now explore how cultural relations are also decentered, transnational, multicultural, and even global, as cultures circulate across national borders and as artists respond to socio-economic conditions produced by global capitalism. So, for Negri and Hardt, the new global "Empire" is singularly different from the old national empires (e.g., U.S.A, Britain, etc.) because it is decentered and transnational. The standard definition for "transnational" is the "rapid circulation of capital, labor, technology, and media images in a global economy governed by postindustrial capitalism," but along with Negri and Hardt, theorists such as John Carlos Rowe suggest we need to look beneath this easy definition and analyze the political disparities, paradoxes, and contradictions of transnationality deeply felt by those whose lives have been disrupted by political and economic transformations. (11)
Quantum of Solace explores this new globalist, transnational paradigm. Its villain Dominic Greene is the front man for a bogus environmental organization Greene Planet that seems to work with various human rights organizations, corporations, and national governments to promote an earth-friendly agenda, but he really uses that money to organize coup d'etats in small countries and steal natural resources. In contrast to previous Bond villains, Greene works both with the American Central Intelligence Agency and with various corporate interests. The CIA is not deceived by what Greene is--as they might have been in the older Bond movies--but collaborates with him regardless. In terms of the global political structure, as well as the plot's narrative structure, Greene is a nexus of the global network. He is the imaginary figurehead that unites the divergent interests of government, civil society, corporations, and criminals; he symbolizes the secret, behind-the-scenes connections among the powerful. Throughout the movie, Greene seems to be working with both the United States and a Bolivian military general to overthrow the socialist government in order to secure control over Bolivia's oil for multinational corporations. The American and British governments feel they need Greene's help since their political influence in Latin America has waned over the course of the long, expensive wars in the Middle East. However, it turns out that Greene is deceiving everyone and exploiting their interests in order to secure his own private control over Bolivia's water supply. He has only been pretending to dig for oil and has instead been redirecting rivers which has caused devastating drought and desertification and has forced thousands of Native Americans to migrate to the cities. In a manner unprecedented in Bond film history, not only James Bond but even his boss M respond to this evil by going against the British government's explicit interests. They expose Greene and his corporate allies, foil the coup d'etat, and (we are led to assume) save the disenfranchised indigenous people of Bolivia (as well as its currently socialist government), from the darker side of global capitalism.
Two unusual characteristics of the plot are salient. First, rather than oppose national governments as the old SPECTRE did, the new formless organization of villainy seems to be part of a network that includes these governments as well as corporations, civil society, criminal organizations, and revolutionary movements. As Greene says in a speech to raise money for Greene Planet, his cosmopolitan-sounding project "is part of a global network with all parts being equal." Here, his speech echoes the new theoretical model for the world order suggested by Negri and Hardt. Hence, in both the movie and such theories, the nation state--while still important--no longer dominates the political agenda and seems not to grasp what its agenda is. Moreover, the various nodes of the network relate to each other in contradictory and conflicting ways. The question that all globalization thrillers raise (often explicitly as in the case of Lord of War, Babel, and The International) is precisely what the secret connections between seeming unrelated institutions and events are. Many of these films, including the new Bond, seem to suggest that the interests of states, corporations, civil society, and criminal organizations all operate together in ways that are anarchic rather than ordered and destructive rather than productive. Amy Kaplan's phrase, "the anarchy of empire," seems apropos since it is not only SPECTRE that is creating chaos, but also the institutions of imperial law and order themselves that are.
Second, rather than orchestrate global catastrophe as the old Bond villains were so wont to do, the new Bond villain causes small-sized
disasters in third-world countries on behalf of clients in order to enrich both them and himself. The small size of the disaster bothers two of America's most renowned film critics, Roger Ebert and Anthony Lane, who seem to think water rights are not a disastrous enough issue for a Bond film. (12) But as the villain Greene realizes, water--more than oil--is the "most important commodity in the world." Greene's comment echoes the many recent books published on the "water wars" in the context of globalization, all of which discuss the case of Bolivia at length. (13) In contrast to the Bond version of Bolivia's recent troubles, in the 1990s Bolivia was being pressured by the IMF to privatize many of its government-owned industries and publicly run services. In 1999 the multinational corporation Bechtel bought the water rights to Bolivia's third largest city, Cochabamba, and then began charging its people high prices for water. The indigenous people soon revolted, forced Bechtel to leave, and regained control of their own water. Bechtel sued the Bolivian people in court but lost the case in 2005. Both the real events in Bolivia and the character of Greene are typical of globalization's history since the 1970s, as it is told by Naomi Klein in her controversial bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007). Klein argues that the U.S. military-industrial complex has historically taken advantage of disaster-shocked communities both inside and outside America in order to socially reengineer them in ways that ultimately serve the agenda of big corporations at the expense of the underclass.
What is significant about Greene's character is the opposite of what one might have expected a more global villain to be. The old Bond movies were international because its villains plotted a global catastrophe, and one might expect the aspirations of the new Bond villains to be all the more global in scope, but, to the contrary, Quantum of Solace is global precisely because its villain plots local disasters. In the old Bond, the villains plotted world domination, but in the new Bond, Greene inserts himself into an already existing hegemonic system; his clients are nation states, corporations, and NGOs; the form of their interrelation is a network. Greene's true villainy is his cruel realization of the environmentalist slogan "think globally, act locally."
The relation of the local to the global is at the heart of globalization theory, and both advertising executives and sociologists have coined a new, evocative term for it: glocalization, a neologism that indicates the two contradictory tendencies of the single phenomenon by combining two antithetical concepts into a single word. (14) One is the tendency towards sameness, totalization, and homogenization (also called Americanization or McDonaldization). The other is the intensification of differences or localization (both the fetishization and commodification of exotic commodities and of cultural difference as well as local resistance to American hegemony through a reinvention of traditional culture.) For instance, on the one hand, it is now possible to "buy the world a coke" (quoting the famous commercial jingle) almost anywhere in the world, and it is estimated that half of the world's population has watched at least one James Bond movie. (15) That's homogenization. But a small village that has traditionally made beautiful carpets or harvested a medicinal herb suddenly finds a global market for its product and, hence, its economy and social life is transformed around the reproduction of only one specialized aspect of its cultural identity for mass consumption. That's glocalization. The two questions for sociologists and cultural theorists remain (1) how the forces of globalization create or intensify both samenesses and differences at the same time and even in the same location, and (2) how peoples resist and/or translate these forces, as Frederic Jameson has famously argued in his "Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue." (16)
Bond movies have always explored the relation between the local and the global if only because the plot is driven by Bond's travel from one location to another as he chases SPECTRE, but only the new Bond film addresses the dialectical nature of glocalization. Only it has a villain who admits that his job is essentially to manipulate local cultures for globalist ends. Only it has a villain who is part of a global network that includes not only criminals and corporations but also civil society and nation states. Even Bond's personal style reflects this shift in paradigm from international to global. Studies of Bond have noticed how the Bond character has gradually changed over the years from a pompous cosmopolitan to someone more street smart, pragmatic, and alienated, and they have assumed this reflects a difference in how society thinks about class. In other words, their reasoning goes, today in the moral universe of political correctness we are less tolerant of Bond's sexism, racism, and elitism; therefore, the movies had to change. However, I suggest it also reflects the shift from an international world order, in which only the privileged cosmopolitan has access to the cultures of other nations, to a transnational world order, in which everyone experiences the multitude of cultural production as it circulates and transforms daily life everywhere. Nobody today would be impressed by Bond's familiarity with Russian vodka or Japanese sushi. We need Bond to be impressive in other ways. We need him to be more universal, more like an everyman, but with bigger muscles, and we need him to be even more of an alienated, self-righteous loner seeking personal vendettas rather than patriotically serving England. He is, after all, the secret agent working on our behalf, so he must represent our fantasy of political power.
The Secret Agent's Distortions and the Absence of Political Agency
One of the central questions for globalization theory is the question of agency--how to advocate for one's interests, solve problems, and resolve conflicts--in light of the new fluid, anarchic world order in which there seems to be no grounds for a viable and ethical political agency. Movies about fantastic secret agents such as Quantum of Solace imaginatively work through the paradoxes of agency within the new globalist paradigm, but at the same time they distort these paradoxes. The most obvious way the Bond movie and other suspense-thriller movies distort globalization theory is through the personification of evil (though, to be fair, sometimes globalization theorists on both the right and the left sides of the political spectrum come close to doing this as well). Although the new network form defined by globalization theory has no formal political unity and no determinate center, the narrative of Quantum follows the conventions of the Bond genre by unifying the dark side of the network form of capitalism through the figure of the villain Dominic Greene.
However, the old plot formula does not work so easily in the new global Bond, and such a division between good and evil is not so clear in Quantum of Solace. As both representatives of the CIA and the British foreign service explain at different moments in the movie, the government often has to deal with bad people (i.e., Greene) and do things it knows are wrong (i.e., incite a small-scale disaster or a coup d'etat.) The CIA and British State Department's rationale for their temporary complicity with evil is that it is more than expedient--it is necessary. But of course their complicity with the global network is the reason why Bond has to go rogue and why his boss M has to pretend to her superiors that she will suppress Bond's investigation when, in spirit, she supports it. Such contradiction and ethical ambiguity is one of the movie's explicit themes, symbolized at the outset by the shifting desert sands during the title credits. Bond's temporary ally Mathis states, "When you get older it's hard to tell the good guys apart from the bad guys," and true enough, Bond accidentally kills a CIA agent who seems to have some connection to the sinister network. The cinematography also explores this theme. The opening car chase and hand-to-hand fight sequences are shot in a way that makes it hard to tell who is who, and the color of their cars and of their clothing are the same (always black), so it is hard to tell them apart. Some film critics have expressed frustration both at this confusing camera work and at the convoluted storyline's ethical ambiguity, but they are missing the point. Perhaps they missed the point because such ambiguity is not typical of Bond.
The essential contradiction that threatens to derail the movie's plot is that Bond and the British Secret Service are just as much a part of that global network as Greene and his nameless, spectral organization. Globalization theory posits that there are not two global networks, one good and one bad--but just one, a single complex network whose defining characteristic is its multiplicity rather than any monolithic unity. Of course, secret agent films require a secret villain, and analogously, even in the real world, both right-wing and left-wing activists continue to indulge the fantasy that the world can be divided up into the sides of good and evil. But new global thrillers--most notably, The International--have responded to the challenge of how to have an action plot in which the hero's antagonist is not an antagonist at all, but instead the diffuse, relational network of finance capital and information technology described by theorists such as Negri and Hardt in their books Empire and Multitude.
The criticisms of Negri and Hardt collected by Gopal Balakrishnan in Debating Empire (2005) argue that their fluid, network model allows no grounds for political agency. If we are all part of a network of socio-economic relations, then how can a truly oppositional party form? On what moral and/or economic edifice do we stand when we organize labor unions, advocate for environmental and human rights standards, and protest the policies of the WTO or the IMF? Moreover, if--as the sociologist Zygman Bauman argues about the effects of globalization--we now live not in a new world order but in a "new world disorder" where "no-one seems now to be in control," then what are we to do but sit back and pray for the best? (17) The suspense plot of the Bond film turns the question about moral and political agency inside out, for the point of the suspense plot is precisely to figure out who the bad guys truly are. But, as M exclaims in frustration, "How can they be everywhere and we not know who they are?" after she jokingly compares them to the global network of florists. The real nature of the global network is that they are everywhere because they are us. Or rather, in the "new world disorder" there is no us and them anymore. We are complicit whether we know it or not, and as Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine and countless other books demonstrate, the repression of indigenous peoples such as those in Bolivia for corporate profits has been done quite publicly and with the backing of the U.S. and European governments--not secretly by an underworld organization.
Given such complicity with evil, the ethical problem for the film--a problem that makes it more interesting than most of the other Bond movies because it is a problem for the average person as well--is how Bond and M can reclaim their moral agency and justify Bond's quip in the final scene that "all the right people kept their jobs." Indeed, Bond can only find his agency by going against his own government. Admittedly, the morally conflicted, rogue agent is a standard of the spy thriller genre, but this rather stock character takes on a special significance in the context of globalization where it is presented as the only solution to an inherently corrupt world order. In Shooter (2007), for instance, the solution seems to be to go on a murderous rampage against one's own senators. Thus, instead of advocating for transparency in civil society, for the democratization of global institutions, and for the consistent application of legal standards to protect human rights--as most activists and many politicians agree should be done--such films present a maverick character whose heroism is defined by his exception to such legal standards, democratic decision making, and transparency to the public.
Bond's belief in his own righteousness and ability to set the world aright (by causing just as much chaos as Greene) is of course the maverick logic of exceptionalism, and of course the narrative of the film has to find ways to justify Bond's belief and make it plausible for the audience as well. The narrative devices that serve to justify that exceptionalism are the exaggerated personification of evil and the figure of "the girl" whom Bond saves at the end. Significantly, in the new Bond, that "girl" is an unusually ambiguous character--a beautiful Bolivian who is variously a government agent, a freedom fighter for her people, and a vendetta-seeking individual, and we never find out for sure what she really is. Her protean identity seems to mirror the tangled, undulating network structure of the plot as well as the chaotic, fragmented style of the cinematography. She also has the noteworthy distinction of being the only "Bond girl" in Bond movie history with whom he does not even try to have sex, as several film critics have lamented. The new chastity of the Bond-and-Bond-girl relationship and her increasingly ambiguous status are, I think, symptomatic of the complexities of the globalist paradigm that the movie simultaneously addresses and represses. We see it in other recent thrillers such as Shooter, The International, and the Bourne trilogy. This chastity is needed to justify Bond's exceptional status in ways it was not before because the ethical stakes are more intense, the socio-economic relations are more complex, and the politics no longer follow a binary model of good and evil.
The movie brings us to the point where we cynically distrust all institutions of government and civil society. We are left with Bond and the girl who are alone waging personal vendettas and whom we can believe in only because of the seeming authenticity of their rage. Thus, the movie brings us to the point of a false either/or. Either we cynically do nothing because we are all complicit in the new economic order and can find no solid foundation for agency on the shifting sands of postmodern politics (as in The International), or we are as extra-legal and extreme as Bond is (as in Shooter). In Bond's universe, we either have no control at all over the processes of globalization or exceptional control. The solipsism of this false dilemma avoids the everyday political struggles of ordinary people, and it mocks the real forms of political agency such as environmental organizations, international regulatory agencies, and democratic governments, not to mention the very successful indigenous movement that actually occurred in Bolivia eight years before James Bond arrived to save them. (14)
(1) Nick LaSalle, "Craig Masters Bond Once Again," San Francisco Chronicle (14 November 2008); Wesley Morris, "Action Reaction," The Boston Tribune (14 November 2008); A. O. Scott, "007 & is Back and He is Brooding," New York Times (14 November 2008).
(2) Many books are popularizing--and distorting--globalization theory as well. Most relevant to this essay is the bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hitman (2004) by John Perkins, but more widely read are Naomi Klein's No Logo (2000), Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World (2004), and Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat (2005).
(3) Tony Bennett and Janet Woolacott, Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero (New York: Methuen, Inc., 1987), 18.
(4) Thomas Price, "The Changing Image of the Soviets in the Bond Saga: from Bond-Villains to Acceptable Role-Partners," journal of Popular Culture 26:1 (1992), 17-37; Jeremy Black, The Politics of James Bond: From Fleming's Novels to the Big Screen (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2001); Simon Winder, The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006).
(5) Christopher Gerteis, "Labor's Cold Warriors: The American Federation of Labor and 'Free Trade Unionism' in Cold War Japan," journal of American-East Asian Relations 12:3-4 (2003), 207-27.
(6) David C. Earnest and James N. Rosenau, "The Spy Who Loved Globalization," Foreign Policy (Sept.-Oct. 2008), 88-90.
(7) Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (New York: Verso, 1985; 2nd ed., 2001).See also a reevaluation of Laclau and Mouffe's thesis in the context of globalization in Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Zizek, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (New York: Verso, 2000).
(8) Reingard Nethersole, "Models of Globalization," PMLA 116:3 (2001), 539.
(9) Timothy Brennen, "Cosmopolitanism and Internationalism," New Left Review 7 (Jan-Feb 2001), 75-84.
(10) Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Negri and Hardt, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004).
(11) John Carlos Rowe, "Nineteenth-Century United States Literary Culture and Transnationality," PMLA 118:1 (2003), 78-9.
(12) Roger Ebert, Rev. of Quantum of Solace, dir. Marc Forster, Chicago Sun-Times 12 November 2008; Anthony Lane, "Soul Survivor," The New Yorker 1 7 November 2008.
(13) Jim Shultz and Melissa Crane, eds., Dignity and Defiance: Stories from Bolivia's Challenge to Globalization (Berkeley: U California P, 2009); Maude Barlow, Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water (New York: New P, 2008); Vandana Shiva, Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit (Cambridge: South End P, 2002).
(14) Roland Robertson, Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture (London: Sage, 1992); Robert Eric Livingston, "Glocal Knowledge: Agency and Place in Literary Studies," PMLA 116:1 (2001), 145-57.
(15) James Chapman, Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 14.
(16) Fredric Jameson, "Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue," The Cultures of Globalization, eds. Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 57.
(17) Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences (Cambridge: Polity, 1998), 58.
(18) Nancy Postero, Now We Are Citizens: Indigenous Politics in Postmulticultural Bolivia (Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2006); Benjamin Dangle, The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (New York: AK Press, 2007); Sian Lazar, El Alto, Rebel City: Self and Citizenship in Andean Bolivia (Durham: Duke UP, 2008).
Steven W. Thomas is an assistant professor of English at The College of St. Benedict I St. John's University in Minnesota. He has published articles on eighteenth-century culture as well as on twenty-first century globalization. He is an editor for the webzine Ogina: Oromo Arts in Diaspora.
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|Title Annotation:||GLOBAL CINEMA|
|Author:||Thomas, Steven W.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2009|
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