No doubt the long-running James Bond film series could still be said to uphold most, if not all, of the aforementioned values. Consumers know what they're buying when they purchase a ticket to a Bond film. But the guarantee that the series will uphold those values is only implicit. The film producers, through the material substance of their product, can at any moment offer differing viewpoints to the audience.
A watershed moment for the support of female and gay viewpoints in the series came in 2006’s Casino Royale, wherein an iconic 1962 Dr. No scene (originally featuring Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean) was recreated. This time, James Bond himself (Daniel Craig) was the object of the camera’s gaze.
|Get it? Watershed?|
James Bond shot in such a manner shocked some fans, especially those accustomed to a parade of “Bond girls” going all the way back to the ‘60s. How dare the series toss a bone to women and gay men! (While one could argue that Sean Connery’s occasional shirtlessness appealed to women in the ‘60s, the camera never gazed upon his body like it did upon Craig.)
Then, in a scene from 2012’s Skyfall, Bond (Daniel Craig again) implied he’d had gay sex. Lots of ink was spilled across the internet as viewers rushed to say their piece on the scene. Personally, I have waited almost two years to give my thoughts on it. So either my thoughts will stand out because no one else is talking about the scene anymore, or my thoughts will be ignored because no one else is talking about the scene anymore. Probably the latter. No one reads this blog anyway. Except you, dear reader.
Skyfall grossed over $1 billion in box office worldwide – and this with an apparently bisexual Bond. Of course, no one who bought a ticket to Skyfall could have reasonably expected a positive view of gay sex in a James Bond film. Such a viewpoint is not found within the character's preferred subject. However, if a viewer did not appreciate the thought of a bisexual Bond (for whatever reason, homophobia or otherwise), that viewer was forced to confront his thoughts on gay sex.
In the film, the villain, Silva, ties Bond to a chair (pictured above). Silva then undoes Bond’s shirt and caresses his chest and legs. The villain makes verbal sexual passes at Bond and comments on how Bond, despite all his training, is unprepared for a sexual advance by a man. The scene contrasts with a similar but differently gendered scene in 1999’s The World is Not Enough, wherein a female villain threatens Bond sexually and mortally at the same time.
|The World is Not Enough (1999) ... is an awful movie and I don’t recommend it|
Despite containing mortal danger, the 1999 scene is never as uncomfortable as the 2012 scene. The 1999 scene feels dangerous, sure, but in a kinky way that’s accessible to men. For better or for worse (let's be real – for worse), it’s easy for viewers to assume the masculine Bond will come out on top, because part of masculinity's essence is the ability to reign over femininity.
But in 2012, Bond’s hegemonic masculinity is squarely matched by a villain who possesses a man’s traditional power within a woman’s traditional sexual orientation (male-oriented). Bond's very core is being threatened. For the character’s preferred subject, Bond’s sexual defeat at the hands of Silva would be worse than Bond's death. The preferred subject, who identifies with Bond, is invited to squirm along with Bond in a first person point-of-view shot. Even Bond’s material self appears to be invaded, as Silva inserts a phallic knee between Bond’s legs.
|The viewer experiences discomfort through Bond’s eyes|
Despite Silva having the upper hand, the preferred subject is still resolutely on Bond’s side. That is until Silva offers the line, “There’s a first time for everything,” and Bond responds, “What makes you think this is my first time?”
Many viewers, particularly in the gay community, accepted this scene, and it has been celebrated in Bond/Silva fan fiction and art. But what of the preferred subject, who is decidedly heterosexual? At this point, he can: accept the thought of James Bond engaging in gay sex; let his view of homosexuality be challenged and changed (or not); or he can flee the theatre in disgust. Many Bond fans, who did not want Bond removed from hegemonic masculinity, proposed that Bond was only bluffing to appear unfazed by Silva’s advances and never actually had gay sex.
However, the struggle over whether or not Bond actually had gay sex is immaterial. The fact that Bond is suddenly supportive of the idea, after the preferred subject’s discomfort has grown and grown, tears Bond away from the preferred subject’s viewpoint. The viewer is left to feel uncomfortable all by his lonesome. (Of course, one might feel uncomfortable more at the thought of Bond being raped. But that feeling is likely still informed by homophobia. A man raping Bond feels distinctly more violative than a woman raping Bond, and it’s worth asking why.)
The scene’s message, finally, is this: James Bond has no qualms about aligning himself with homosexuality, for whatever reason. The preferred subject can either join Bond’s side in this matter, or he can remain on the side of heterosexual anxiety and panic – the losing side.
|I'm pretty sure this is fan art, but who knows these days, am I right?|
Some may argue that pitting Silva (fighting as homosexuality) against Bond (fighting as heterosexuality) demonizes homosexuality. To Ian Fleming, homosexuality itself was villainous, but to Skyfall’s producers, homosexuality simply levels the playing field between Bond and Silva. Homosexuality itself is a threat only if one supports hegemonic masculinity. But in this rare case, Bond does not.
All of this doesn’t mean Bond is some kind of revolutionary gay icon. How could he be? Skyfall is an artifact (and only one artifact) in a legacy of hegemonic masculinity, and it shouldn’t be overpraised for its admittedly small contribution to the acceptance of homosexuality. The implication that Bond is bisexual goes against the character’s foundational values, plain and simple. Whether or not it’s “wrong” for Bond as a character to have gay sex is a debate for another day. Maybe it is wrong. Maybe that’s the point. The material substance of Skyfall is certainly efficient in challenging homophobia.