“We want to be Bond; we want to fuck Bond; we want to be Bond fucking.”
According to a cheeky Internet posting, there are five reasons that prove James Bond’s “definite” gayness: the gym body; his dislike for women; the fancy suits; the fussy martinis; and he’s good at everything (eponym, 2009).
Bond’s status as the keeper of the hypermasculine flame has been conferred upon him from legions of admirers across gender and sexualities, but it is these precise differences that mark him as unique (and just a little queer). We can see these qualities Bond shares with some stereotypes of gay male sexuality, but would anyone want to see a Bond film with an explicit gay love scene, as Daniel Craig reportedly requested after Casino Royale? Perhaps if it resembled the famed love scene in the 1986 film Maurice, based on E. M. Forster’s long-suppressed, posthumously published novel about an English aristocrat struggling with his homosexuality. In the scene, the titular Maurice, gazing out the window, wishing for a sign to guide him to sexual serenity, yells “Come! Come!” At this point the comely gamekeeper Scudder, who has been skulking outside the window, moves a nearby ladder to the window, and climbs in. Wordlessly, the two embrace. The response to the scene is liberatory for many gay men – struggling with sexuality, the hero gets a hot guy to come to his window, and the shame is released into the ethos. It is also roaringly funny – played as completely serious, by Shakespearean-trained actors, dialogue straight out of porn, and the bodice-ripping reminiscent of a Barbara Cartland cover. It is high camp – seriously played but utterly funny.
There have been a great many “serious” readings of the films and the Fleming novels (for instance, self-professed “Bondologist” Umberto Eco edited a volume of essays nearly fifty years ago, contributing an entry himself on the racial Othering of the Bond villains), but a useful tack in examining the gay attraction to the Bond series is to think about Camp, as famously explored by Susan Sontag in 1964. For instance:
Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of “style” over “content,” “aesthetics” over “morality,” of irony over tragedy. (Sontag, 1964: 287)
When Paul Johnson famously attacked Fleming’s Dr. No as containing three basic ingredients (“all unhealthy, all thoroughly British – the sadism of the schoolboy bully, the mechanical two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult”), he focused on the content from an entirely realist and moralist vantage that conflicts with the Camp sensibility (and indeed, the escapist realm that film heightened and attracted so many viewers to) (Johnson, 1958: 430). Bond is a sharply dressed man who beds the ladies and doesn’t flinch when they die along the way; even the two deaths that most affected him (his wife, Countess Tracy di Vicenzo, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the traitorous Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale) yield him hardened and more ironically wry in the wake of their passings. Johnson and Ann Boyd (whose book The Devil with James Bond! demands a camp reading) deliver readings of Bond from conservative and religious subject positions that emphasize moral judgment of the character and demand our acquiescence to such judgments. Fortunately, most viewers have rejected the urge to judge, and allowed Bond to stand as stylish, attractive entertainment. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, bolstered by the beguiling Diana Rigg as Tracy, is a dull enterprise because Bond is earnest: George Lazenby’s Bond has no style or irony, and the serious storyline (culminating in Bond cradling his dead wife’s corpse) is out of step with the sensibility of the rest of the series (and, indeed, box office dipped nearly 30 percent from the previous outing, You Only Live Twice – which was nearly restored when Connery returned for Diamonds are Forever). We want to see Bond save the world, and we want to laugh along the way – for a variety of reasons, intended or otherwise.
In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve. (Sontag, 1964: 283).
Allied to the Camp taste for the androgynous is something that seems quite different but isn’t: a relish for the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms. For obvious reasons, the best examples that can be cited are movie stars. The corny flamboyant female-ness of Jayne Mansfield, Gina Lollobrigida, Jane Russell, Virginia Mayo; the exaggerated he-man-ness of Steve Reeves, Victor Mature. (Sontag, 1964: 279)
The curvy, comely bodies of Denise Richards and Tanya Roberts are amply featured in these films for their exaggerated proportions – a tradition reinvigorated in Die Another Day by Halle Berry’s bikini-clad entrance from the ocean. This entrance, of course, is homage to Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder in Dr. No, and the tradition one that was so magically reified in the Connery films. As Bruce Rosenberg and Ann Harleman Stewart demonstrated, the books from which these films were based feature extensive descriptions of women’s breasts – and the qualities of pleasure and arousal these breasts spurred in 007 (Rosenberg & Harleman Stewart, 1989). The same book also details the importance of racial Othering (echoing Eco), particularly in the exoticising of the ladies in You Only Live Twice – those girls did not fit the curvy uniform of Daniela Bianchi in From Russia with Love or Martine Beswick from Thunderball, but their exotic qualities marked them as equally prizable for Fleming’s Bond, himself an exaggerated he-man seeking the outposts of flamboyant femaleness.
No Bond girl was more prized – as much for her strength as for her resistance – than Pussy Galore, the trapeze artist/cat burglar/pilot/lesbian goddess of Goldfinger. Jaime Hovey, in “Lesbian Bondage, or Why Dykes Like 007,” has written persuasively about the Sapphic affection for Goldfinger, which features lesbian characters in the novel (if less clearly defined as such in the film), and the ramifications of this lesbianism for Bond. Keeping with the camp theme of style trumping substance, Hovey details what she terms “stylized gender” – both in terms of how the clothes make the man and in terms of how masculinity is worn by the women in the film. The wearing of such masculinity is “style rather than essence, persona rather than person” (Hovey, 2005: 46). Pussy also represents the apex of female self-sufficiency in Goldfinger in that she survives and thrives, which eludes the Masterson sisters. Comely Jill Masterton is painted gold and killed for assisting Bond; her vengeful lesbian sister, Tilly, thoroughly rejects Bond in favor of pursuing Pussy, and is ultimately dispatched by Oddjob’s deadly flying hat to the throat. Both of these deaths occur earlier in the film in order to heighten the effect of Pussy Galore’s presence. In the book, Pussy is a full-on lesbian, with her own band of lesbian trapeze artists/cat burglars. She’s masquerading as a stewardess when she meets Bond on Goldfinger’s plane, and when she finally yields to Bond’s advances, she also admits that her lesbianism was created by the incestuous assault of her uncle when she was a teenager: she had “never met a man” until she met Bond. So Bond’s seduction, in Fleming’s book, cures lesbianism! The film wisely eschews these details. Played with cool allure by Honor Blackman, Pussy is a powerful pilot, still quite masculine in her power but very femme in demeanor and appearance. Unlike most of the comely bodies and bimbos that litter the Connery films (culminating in Jill St. John’s tittering Tiffany Case in a tiny bikini on the oil rig in Diamonds Are Forever), Blackman (who, along with Diana Rigg, were the only Bond girls to be older than the actor playing Bond) is a mature presence, whose gender performance is years ahead of female liberation. Her lesbianism is still implied when she shoots down Bond’s first attempt at seduction (“You can turn off the charm; I’m immune”), but her acquiescence is less shocking in the film when she succumbs to Connery’s machismo (and turns on Goldfinger in the process). This idea of fucking the lesbianism out of a woman should be much more appalling and offensive, but in the stylized fantasy world of Bond, it only heightens the superpowers. Not only is Hovey not offended in her article, but also she notes that “Connery’s electricity with women and sprezzatura on the job make him much more appealing both as a man to identify with and as one to desire” (Hovey, 2005: 44). The sexual allure of Connery’s Bond and the connection with Pussy Galore transcend boundaries of gender and sexuality: We want to be Bond; we want to fuck Bond; we want to be Bond fucking. And yet it all manages to be as campy and inoffensive as Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, setting forth to steal all the gold in Fort Knox.
To camp is a mode of seduction — one which employs flamboyant mannerisms susceptible of a double interpretation; gestures full of duplicity, with a witty meaning for cognoscenti and another, more impersonal, for outsiders. (Sontag, 1964: 281)
The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious. (Sontag, 1964: 288)
Certainly this was not a problem for Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye – the Georgian pilot with the killer thighs became positively orgasmic from the S/M tortures she inflicted on the men in her life. Like Bond, she loved sex, had no problem killing members of either sex, and relished a good one-liner. Her spectacular demise involved trying to kill Bond after his prop plane crashed: while she was crushing him with her thighs, he clipped into her parasail rope and shot it toward a circling helicopter above. When the chopper crashed, Onatopp was propelled into a tree, where she was crushed to death by the impact, but not without a smile on her face. We laughed with pleasure at the delicious dominatrix villain, who took on Bond every bit as equally as Pussy Galore had asserted herself to be three decades earlier.
If Tomorrow Never Dies featured the kick-ass Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin, it also lacked the campy humor (although we all felt some relief when Teri Hatcher’s whiny Paris Carver finally died). Die Another Day did not disappoint. The film features Madonna in a cameo as a fencing coach named Verity, whose lines are short enough not to flub and yet still delivered haltingly by the faux-Brit pop star. Maggie Smith’s veddy British son, Toby Stephens, plays a Korean general’s son. Another Korean character has diamonds embedded in his face. There’s an invisible car. And then there’s Halle Berry, whose Jinx gets such lines as “So Bond’s been explaining his Big Bang theory?” and “Oh yeah, I think I got the thrust of it.” During the climactic fight scene, in which destroying a laser called ICARUS averts a world war, Jinx impales the icy double agent Miranda Frost with a sword and a copy of Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War, urging her to “Read that, bitch.” Though Bond has been tortured at the beginning of the film, escapes the British to pursue the bad guys, and is trying to save the world from impending attack by the n’eer-do-well North Koreans, the film is never quite serious, perpetually moving with style and delicious wit, even as the stakes are at the highest.
Allen, Dennis W. 2005. “Alimentary, Dr. Leiter: Anal Anxiety in Diamonds Are Forever” in Comentale, Edward P., Stephen Watt, and Skip Willman eds., Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Boyd, Ann S. 1967. The Devil with James Bond! Richmond: John Knox Press.
Bryce, Ivar. 1975. You Only Live Once: Memories of Ian Fleming. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
“Daniel Craig requests Gay Love Scene in next Bond Movie.” 2006. Hollywoodsnark.com accessed 1/4/2010. http://hollywood.snark.com/2006/12/04/daniel-craig-requests-gay-love-scene-in-next-bond-movie
Eco, Umberto, and Oreste del Buono, trans. R. Downie. 1966. The Bond Affair. London: Macdonald.
eponym. 2009. “5 Reasons Why James Bond is Definitely Gay.” Actress Archives accessed 1/4/2010. http://www.actressarchives.com/braingasm/5-Reasons-Why-James-Bond-is-Definitely-Gay
Hovey, Jaime. 2005. “Lesbian Bondage, or Why Dykes Like 007” in Comentale, Edward P., Stephen Watt, and Skip Willman eds., Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Johnson, Paul. “Sex, Snobbery, and Sadism.” New Statesman 5 (April 5 1958): 430.
Rosenberg, Bruce A., and Ann Harleman Stewart. 1989. Ian Fleming. Twayne: Boston.
Sontag, Susan. 1964. “Notes on Camp.” In Against Interpretation and Other Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.