Skyfall: A Political Review

06/11/2012 14:59 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

I grew up with James Bond and I still have fond memories of shooting my way through Soviet Russia on the N64's infamous Goldeneye. I felt little remorse for my digital victims; such were their pixelated faces that strongly resembled puff pastry.

But then you get older and become more aware of the world characters like James Bond actually represent. As Matt Damon put it in 2007, only to be slammed:

"Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist who kills people and laughs about it"

In a more reasonable world, it would be hard to argue with this assessment, in fact, there's 22 films now in a DVD Blu-ray box set, an extended testimony to Damon's assertion.

Man feelings

The way out of this 'charming part time sociopath with a gun' conundrum in the past, was to draw attention to Bond's troubled childhood. The implication being that his relentless binges of killing, sex and alcohol, was real life escapism from his emo traumas of old, with benders filling the empty voids between missions - 'Go easy on the lad, he's had a hard life' was the sentiment.

But Skyfall seems to of decided it's time for Bond to 'get over' his hang ups about his babyhood, to 'man up' - the lads rallying cry of our epoch. In one of the least subtlety symbolic final set pieces in movie history (*spoiler alert*) Bond goes about (with the aid of the films Latino villain) obliterating his family home, in a manor that trigger tears of joy trickling down the cheeks of the joint chiefs of staff at the US DOD. The message this transmits is: 'Bond, man the fuck up and get over it, only by doing so can you continue to function and do-people-over abroad in future movies in service to the empire.'

This kind of violence and destruction seems to be the only way mainstream male culture is able to deal with feelings, or by bottling them up until they drive us from within like high joy riders. Skyfall's therapy session is no different, not taking place on a psychologists elongated sofa, but fired out the barrels of a Mingun from a helicopter gunship. Bond's painful childhood memories are literally blown to pieces in front of him. I felt like the director was sitting in a chair next to me, winking reassuringly: "not to worry Josh old friend, in the next film all this male emotion stuff will be permanently buried, and James can get on with what he does best: getting on it, fucking and shooting to her majesties satisfaction".

The A-Team

Then you have the A-Team syndrome throughout. The heads of British intelligence are constantly pestered by pesky bureaucrats demanding, outrageously, to hold them to account to the very democracy they funded by and supposedly serve. So during a scene at a government hearing, where M is questioned, the standardized bureaucrat Play-Doh mould is wheeled out; a self serving careerists who rambles on for self aggrandizement. How dare she question M, the head of MI6 only made the small mistake of losing data pertaining to the whereabouts of every single imbedded NATO agent in the world....

Instead what we're supposed to do is place our faith in the public school network of the righteous and allow them to go rogue and take all necessary measures to secure the commonwealth. This is the same crap wheeled out to justify torturing people in the States, or providing the government extraordinary powers like the Terrorism act or the Patriot Act. 'Trust us with life or death powers, we know best, let the grown ups get on with the dirty work whilst you enjoy your consumer paradises'.

This exceptionalist theme is all the more insulting when you consider the dirty history of both MI5 and MI6. One key example is the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 by MI6 and the CIA. The government was replaced by the Brutal regime led by the Shah. All this in order to allow British and American oil interests back in to a sector recently nationalized for the benefit of the indigenous population. A scene at the start of the film, set in a Turkish market, in which Bond and co conduct a real life Team America operation, culminating in crudely crashing in to a stall at an exotic food market, is all to reminiscent of the above historical belligerence.

In terms of the accountability explored in the film, it is portrayed as nothing more than a nuisance. Former MI5 agent, Annie Machon - who left the service as a disillusioned whistleblower in 1997 - recently said in an interview, discussing her recruitment at the end of the cold war:

" that point had just been put on a legal footing for the VERY FIRST TIME (my emphasis) in their 80-year history. So they reassured me that they had to obey the law, just like the rest of us"

She went on to say:

"they were established in 1909, and until 1989 they didn't officially exist. There was no oversight. No member of Parliament could ever question what they got up to. They could do what they wanted."

So is this what the new Bond is really asking us to indulge? The favoured myth of any generation, that nothings like 'the good old days'. Lets go back to the effective days of old where we weren't democratically accountable and could overthrow to our hearts content.

In this sense Bond films serve as a periodical PR job for the intelligence services, imbedding them in to the very fabric of what it means to believe in Britain. The opening ceremony at the Olympics couldn't have made this any clearer.

With Bond the critical faculties of UK reviewers and the film going public generally, are temporarily suspended. Because Bond is 'our thing', one of the last bastions of the British film industry (at least for appearances sake) holding out in a normally money starved wasteland. Because of this, all the worst social elements this film represents are ignored, or accepted, all as necessary components of this oldest of film franchises. It may just be a film, but the attitudes it encourages are insidiously formative to the modern understanding of British identity.