Western fears on the big screen, from the Soviets to Covid-19

Western fears on the big screen, from the Soviets to Covid-19

A psychopath born of Nazi experience, Soviet agents, a Briton who refuses the decolonization of Hong Kong: in sixty years of existence in the cinema, James Bond faced a whole range of heterogeneous enemies.

From the Cold War to Covid-19, these villains reflect the geopolitical fears of Westerners, but the franchise, preoccupied with foreign markets, is now struggling to keep up with changing international relations.

The role of James Bond in the novels invented by Ian Fleming is clear: 007 is tasked with defending the “free world” against the Soviet threat. This anxiety, shared by much of the Western world, overshadows UK-specific issues.

Nuclear threat in 1962

In 1962, before his arrival on the big screen, James Bond faced off against Doctor No, who threatened to trigger a nuclear apocalypse. The saga fits into the great fear of the time, the Soviet-American confrontation in Cuba, giving rise to fears of nuclear war between the two superpowers.

Bond’s interest in the USSR appears to have been mutual: according to Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent who defected in 1985, the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party would watch the British secret agent’s films. The KGB, he asserts, would even try to replicate his famous gadgets.

In the 1970s, relations between the capitalist bloc and its communist nemesis loosened, and James Bond followed suit. Roger Moore works hand in hand with a KGB agent The spy who loved mereleased in 1977

James Bond awarded by the USSR

In 1985, while Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met several times, James Bond received in dangerously yours Order of Lenin, the highest honor of the Soviet Union.

After the fall of the latter in 1991, Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond accompanied the transition to a unipolar world marked by the emergence of transnational threats. It confronts financial criminals, techno-terrorists and North Koreans just as George W. Bush portrays Pyongyang as belonging to “axis of evil”.

Until then, the 007 universe is Manichean. “The opacity of the espionage world is missing,” writes Francesco Mancini on the website of the School of Public Policy at the University of Singapore. We have to wait for Daniel Craig to see James Bond enter “the age of ambiguity”. It is no longer as obvious as it used to be to distinguish the good from the bad.

Silence about China

Without turning James Bond into an exemplar of the genre, its creators tried to adapt to the zeitgeist in another way, dealing with issues of identity. “I think you are a misogynistic and sexist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War,” launched his chef “M” in 1995.

At the same time, 007 has lost track of the new geopolitical deal. As the rivalry between the great powers heats up again, James Bond remains surprisingly silent. Russia, poisoning its former agents on British soil and seeking to seize former Soviet territory by force, is not mentioned. No more so than China, whose rivalry with the United States is a new central issue in international relations.

To more universal threats

One of the reasons for these shortcomings comes from the promotion of James Bond outside the West. “To launch an international phenomenon, it is necessary for the character to be accepted as widely as possible. Therefore, the line between right and wrong must be moved, ignoring nationality and ethnicitywrites Beau Manuel Raber in an article published by the University of Trier. Nazis and Communists have been replaced by more universal threats. » As fear of a pandemic of criminal origin in Dying can wait in 2021

More prosaically, the will to conquer new markets can also explain the indolence of the current creators of James Bond. They won’t be the only ones in Hollywood making this calculation: according to Matt Schrader’s analysis, cited by Foreign policyonly seven American films have depicted China in a negative light since 1997.

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