Write an essay about James Bond’s masculinity. How is it depicted in Dr No?

James Bond is a worldwide sensation and often seen as the epitome of masculinity. His iconic image has expanded into a global brand with filmic and cross-promotional expansion, as well as cult followings, making him a widely familiar figure of manliness. Fleming explores masculinity in Dr. No through Bond’s recognizable traits and lifestyle, the idea of physical endurance, the male gaze, and the portrayal of and relationship to women. I will be exploring the devices Fleming uses in order to portray these elements of the masculine, as well as problematizing such a portrayal with the critical view of politically negative connotations that lie alongside it.

 

The Bond brand centres around the image of a well-dressed, handsome English gentleman who drinks martinis, smokes cigarettes, drives expensive cars and holds impressive guns. Also most notably presented in Dr. No is the idea of physical endurance and self-discipline, as shown through Bond’s fitness regime and later his deathly obstacle course. The accumulation of these elements results in what is viewed as a most masculine façade. Audiences worldwide will recognise the fetishisation of his gun; in Dr. No it reads: ‘he thought of his fifteen year marriage to the ugly bit of metal…Bond felt unreasonably sad. How could one have such ties with an inanimate object’[1]. His weapon serves as a phallic symbol of male dominance, as well as playing up to his genre to satisfy the action fans.

In addition, Fleming seems to promote the idea of a hard and fast lifestyle, providing much description of Bond’s smoking expensive cigarettes, and his habitual ways of drinking alcohol:

‘Bond ordered a double gin and tonic and one whole lime. When the drink came he cut the lime in half, dropped the two squeezed halves into the long glass, almost filled the glass with ice cubes and then poured in the tonic’[2].

This presentation of routine and expertise seems to provide the image of a confident, experienced and successful man. This metrosexual characterisation may be criticised, as Toby Miller states in his article: ‘far from being the alpha of the latter-day Hollywood macho man…Bond was in the avant-garde of weak, commodified male beauty’[3]. Yet, this fails to affect his popularity and his associations with being the ultimate man. In fact, it seems to redefine the idea of masculinity; after Bond, manliness does not necessarily come from brute aggressiveness, but from style and class.  

It would seem that such a display of elitism would alienate much of the audience, offending many who identify the superiority presented. Indeed, Bond’s middle-class style and ideologies are no doubt a reflection of Fleming’s Etonian background.  However, this chauvinistic display was almost excused as satire. Indeed, the ‘original (upper-class, British) audience assumed that the novels’ chauvinism, racism, and sexism could be discounted. They believed that these elements were to be considered only in terms of their purely formal role in parodying by means of excess’[4]. Yet in the novel Fleming glamorizes Bond rather than parodying him, and, certainly, he goes on to become a global sensation, not analysed by the mass mainstream for his elitist affiliations.

 

Most notably in the novel is Fleming use of the male gaze. Through the third-person narrative, the reader is able to follow the male gaze, not just as Bond gazes at females, but also the reader’s gaze at Bond. This allows identification as well as attraction, bringing focus to his masculinity. Indeed, women are objectified by this gaze. As Laura Mulvey explores in her study of film, male curiosity and the striving for the demystification of women is also a significant component of Dr. No, which implies why such pleasure is found from indulging in the franchise. Certainly, psychoanalysis suggests that the demystification and dominating of women is what men find most pleasurable about film and fiction[5]. For instance, Fleming writes: ‘he wanted to…try to find out more about this queer, beautiful girl’[6], and later: ‘his mind was full of the day and of this extraordinary Girl Tarzan who had come into his life’[7]. This relates to male audience, providing the male as ‘bearer of the look’[8], which depicts his power over the women in the novel.

The inclusion of the Chinese girl taking photos of Bond provides the female gaze upon him, framing him as inspirationally masculine and drawing in the female audience. ‘She was dressed in a tight-fitting sheath of black satin slashed up one side almost to her hip…the girl slipped the base [of the flashbulb] into her mouth to wet it’[9]. This sexual description of her follows the male gaze and objectifies the female. This is also later exemplified with the description of Honey: ‘it was a naked girl…the belt made her nakedness extraordinarily erotic’[10].

The religious allusion towards the end of the novel is most significant here. It reads: ‘Bond…hung, crucified’[11]. It depicts the idea that his persona and physical endurance likens Bond to Christ, framing him as aspirational to the male reader and attractive to the female reader.

 

Bond’s relationship to women in the novel is one of paternal dominance, objectification, and sexual attraction. Such features explicitly denote masculinity, and define it in terms of masculine duty as well as desire. Indeed, the idea of the need to protect and provide for women is highlighted. For example, it reads: ‘in combat, like it or not, a girl is your extra heart’[12]. There are also moments of more demeaning descriptions of masculine duty, including: ‘there would be no dropping the leash until he had solved her problems for her…he would buy her dresses, have her hair done, get her started in the big world’[13]. This sends the message that men should provide the means for women to take their rightful place and conform to a certain role.

Additionally, females are represented as less competent than men. Honey is depicted as naïve and child-like, allowing Bond to take his role of the masculine paternal figure; her childish language and attitude allows Bond to assume a superior role. He says: ‘she doesn’t know about the struggle for big power and big money by the big men’[14], the basic language transcending Bond into a higher realm of intellect and responsibility. Fleming later writes: ‘Bond told the story in simple terms, with good men and bad men, like an adventure story out of a book’[15], allowing him to take the paternal, patronizing role, and giving him even further dominance.

Bond draws Honey into his affection and trust with his sexual charisma. Yet, despite this blatantly sexist portrayal, it is widely accepted that many women secretly would enjoy Bond ‘having his wicked way with them’. In the context of mass popular culture, such questions of political incorrectness are pushed aside as the enjoyment comes from fairly superficial, passive indulging- an argument that I will expand in my conclusion.

 

There exists a plethora of criticisms of Fleming’s depiction of masculinity as intrinsically imperialist. In Dr. No, masculinity denotes the law, defeating criminals, and patriotism. In the context of social revolution in the Western World, the Cold War and the Red Scare, such a portrayal lends itself to right cycle fiction, depicting pride in patriotism and fighting foreign threat. Certainly, Bond’s sexuality and beauty stands in stark contrast to the impotence and ugliness of Dr. No, who represents Oriental (excessive capitalism) as well as German (Nazi) threat to imperialism and established order. Christoph Lindner’s argument is that ‘throughout the Bond films, 007’s Cold War and sexual adventures masked the fact that Bond was an imperial hero, who provided a way for Britishness to continue to be defined in opposition to the ‘dark’ people of the world’[16]. Yet, such criticisms have not prevented mass mainstream success. Despite the chauvinistic persona, Bond continues to be that escapist fantasy of the ideal man. As I have concluded throughout, elements of imperialism and snobbery presented in Dr. No are dismissed by Bond fans because of the context of the popular fiction genre. Sarah Thornton speaks about how ‘fantasies of identity are key to pleasure’[17]. Indeed, Bond fans do not literally want to be him, but they find comfort in the stereotype and the indulgence of male narcissism in the fictive world- an escape from our own.

Much like Hollywood’s Cinema of Attraction, the spectacle is revered rather than analysed.  Connotations and contributions to imperialism, racism and misogyny seem to be wiped under the rug as Bond continues to be presented to the world as the quintessential English gentleman, to whom men may aspire. Adorno explores this idea, claiming that consumers of popular culture ‘seek novelty, but the strain and boredom associated with actual work leads to avoidance of effort in leisure time which offers the only chance for really new experience. As a substitute, they crave a stimulant’[18]– Bond and other popular heroes serve this purpose. This suggests why the need for intellectual engagement is ignored; the fans simply enjoy the fantasy world of this popular genre, relishing in this idea of stylish masculinity, and do not concern themselves with the politically incorrect elements. Indeed, this type of passive audience is the target demographic that this genre reaches out to; thus, this is the way in which it is expected to be received.  It is as Suzanne Moores states: ‘It’s almost as if Bond was written for the purpose of being read for his ideological incorrectness by angsty academics who felt decidedly uncomfortable that they actually enjoyed these un-sound films’[19].

 

Word count: 1,586

 

 


[1] Ian Fleming, Dr. No, (London: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 29.

[2] Ibid, p. 52.

[3] Toby Miller, ‘Cultural Imperialism and James Bond’s Penis’ in The James Bond Phenomenon, ed. Christoph Lindner, (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 123.

[4] Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott, Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero (New York: Methuen, 1987), p. 23.

[5] Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, In Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, (New York: Oxford UP, 1999), p. 838.

[6] Ian Fleming, Dr. No, (London: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 119.

[7] Ibid, p. 170.

[8] Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, In Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, (New York: Oxford UP, 1999), p. 838.

[9] Ian Fleming, Dr. No, (London: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 57.

[10] Ibid, p. 111.

[11] Ibid, p. 281.

[12] Ibid, p. 139.

[13] Ibid, p. 171.

[14] Ibid, p. 132.

[15] Ibid, p. 157.

[16] Christoph Lindner, ed., The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 136.

[17] Sarah Thornton, Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1996), p. 91. 

[18] Theodor Adorno, Essays on Music: Theodor W. Adorno, (London: University of California Press, 2002), p. 459.

[19] Toby Miller, ‘Cultural Imperialism and James Bond’s Penis’ in The James Bond Phenomenon, ed. Christoph Lindner, (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 123.

Bibliography:

Adorno, Theodor, Essays on Music: Theodor W. Adorno, (London: University of California Press, 2002).

Bennett, Tony and Janet Woollacott, Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero (New York: Methuen, 1987).

Fleming, Ian, Dr. No, (London: Vintage Books, 1958).

Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, In Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, (New York: Oxford UP, 1999).

Lindner, Christoph, ed., The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).

Miller, Toby, ‘Cultural Imperialism and James Bond’s Penis’ in The James Bond Phenomenon, ed. Christoph Lindner, (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 123.

Thornton, Sarah, Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1996). 

 

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