Evaluate the James Bond franchise as an example of technological & ideological globalisation and cultural imperialism through modern media hegemony.

This essay will discuss the ever-expanding James Bond franchise and consider it as an example of both technological globalisation and cultural imperialism. Firstly, the concept of globalisation will be debated; discussing the example of Bond through the framework of technological proliferation and the specificities of its now global reach. Secondly, this text will consider how James Bond could be an example of a modern facet of colonisation known as cultural imperialism: disseminating western cultural ideology across the world through contemporary media hegemony. In addition, the presence of the global north and global south will be considered; the north characterised by the dominant ideology of America and Britain, and the south, specifically Jamaica, as both a recipient and subservient feature of the Bond franchise.

‘TV shows and films are valuable products of the capitalist mode of production, a system in dominance worldwide (Mirrlees, 2013, p. 8). This statement is at the crux of both facets of this essay. Firstly, the notion of globalisation – a monetary, business-driven concept designed, in the case of film and television, to expand and improve the capabilities of videography worldwide. And secondly, the concept of cultural imperialism – a ‘system in dominance worldwide’ as referenced above, the ability to inculcate a modern, western ideology around the world with simple textual implications of a film, or in this instance, an entire franchise.

A ’primary theme’ and ‘buzzword of the industry’, globalisation can be defined in a ‘variety of ways’ (Mirrlees, 2013, p. 36). Firstly, we shall consider the definition of ‘technological and media globalisation’, in essence, this involves ‘the movement of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) and electronic media across and between borders, establishing networks that enable many people in a variety of different locations to build new relationships, communities, connections and experiences’ (Mirrlees, 2013, p. 40). According to author Erin Blakemore (2015), whilst many associate the James Bond movies with ‘suave manners, gadgets and dangerous liaisons’ they are also ‘a prescient lesson on globalisation’. As a franchise ‘there’s none more British than Eon productions family-run juggernaut, but nevertheless, the so-called special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States has played an interesting role for over half a century of the series’ history, both on and off screen’ (Harrison, 2017). Media pedagogue Jonathan Bignell sees James Bond as a ‘British and American hybrid’, he continues ‘The Eady Levy, demanding that a certain proportion of films released in Britain to be “British” (involving British personnel, using British facilities) was manipulated by American film companies so that American financed film projects could be made with the relatively inexpensive British studio and production facilities and would attract subsidies from the British government as a “British” film’ (Bignell, 2010). ICT and the media are ‘the motor of contemporary globalisation […], recent developments in these areas constitute a transformation in human communication and connectedness, qualitatively different from anything that can be found in previous years’ (Hopper, 2008, p. 60). This hybridisation between Britain and America is evidence of this new ‘communication and connectedness’, enabling the two nations to pool both their ICT and media systems in a growth of technological mass and, also, their cultural influences to produce the ultimate western cultural icon: Bond.

This hybridisation, the correlation and interrelatedness of British and American voices during the production of Bond movies, leads to a second and, perhaps, more morally pertinent facet of transnational communications: cultural globalisation. This refers to ‘the process of cultural flow around the world’ and how ‘contacts between people and their cultures – their ideas, their values, their way of life, have been growing and deepening in unprecedented ways’ (Mirrlees, 2013, p. 38). For many, Bond has become an almost predictable monotony of signifiers and textual references, these ultimately enacting a kind of cultural globalisation. ‘Each story consists of several fundamental, predictable elements: The antagonist is a sovereignty-free actor […] that threatens the welfare and security of perhaps the entire world. The sovereignty-free actor thrives on […] international organized crime, arms trade, terrorism or international commerce. To combat a challenge to their authority, state officials must put aside their disagreements and cooperate. These [predict] the actions of contemporary sovereignty-free actors such as Osama Bin Laden or the various Colombian drug cartels’ (Earnest & Rosenau, 2000). What is being transmitted here, in the cut-and-thrust action and distraction of Bond is a simple story – that of morality; of right and wrong. This is something that many in Western culture may proudly exclaim is integral to their way of life; for a transnational opportunity like a Bond film though, it’s a chance to exercise a certain cultural globalisation through the traditional medium of storytelling. In this instance, harnessing Tzvetan Todorov’s narrative structure of ‘equilibrium, dis-equilibrium and new equilibrium’, essentially ‘the situation of equilibrium at the beginning, the breakdown of the situation and the re-establishment of the initial equilibrium’ (Todorov, 1971).

The concept of cultural and technological globalisation somewhat lays the groundwork for the next model that this essay will discuss – cultural imperialism. For this to be able to operate, the physical structures of ICT, media, cultural and textual decisions must be implemented in the production phase, as discussed previously. According to the Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies, cultural imperialism can be defined as ‘the activities of the western media by which they attempt to dominate developing countries through global communication operations’ (Watson & Hill, 2012, p. 173). The phrase ‘imperialism’ is rather a jarring one because of its semantic connotation. Many would associate it with a by-gone era of brute force colonialism exercised over smaller and weaker countries; indeed John Tomlinson (1991, p. 19) describes how the term ‘grasps a specific form of domination – that associated with the empire’. In many ways, cultural imperialism is simply a more modern version of this. Instead of using military power to exercise the dominance of the west, it can now be done using the medium of culture and the weaponization of the indoctrinative nature of videography.

This modern method of colonisation – one that deals in the impression of culture rather than just brute force – is a lucid example of the roles of the global north and the global south. Firstly, the global north – embodied, primarily, by the western utopian relationship of the United Kingdom and America. This relationship is portrayed, through the spectacle of Bond, as a lesson to the world on partnership and, ultimately, power. Evidence of this ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America is perhaps most prescient, from a textual perspective, in the congruous character of Felix Leiter, Bond’s friend and ‘opposite number in the CIA’. His ‘continued significance in the series is a signpost of how important or not America is to the escapades of this British hero’ (Harrison, 2017). Utilised as something of a saviour to Bond, rather than an assistant, Leiter is there to intervene as the American hero when Bond’s mission goes awry.

Bond himself is truly an icon of western power. His very construct is a lesson in capitalist, western grandiloquence ‘from the tuxedo and martini to the one-liners, stuff blowing up, the gadgets and the weaponised car’ (TV Tropes, 2019). In several films, specifically those of the 1960s and 70s, Bond perfectly enacts a stereotype of film narrative – the white saviour. Defined as ‘a timeworn vehicle for celebrities in Hollywood film, where actors perform as heroes who save the day against dark and ominous adversaries’ (Bell, 2013, p. 1), the white saviour complex can be linked inextricably with James Bond. Indeed, Bond is widely identified as ‘sexist, chauvinist, imperialist and racist in his duties for the British crown’ (The Shadow League, 2019), storming in to rescue small nations from their corrupt, criminal overlords.

This is evident, perhaps most saliently, in the 1962 film Dr No. Here, Bond, along with assistance from his ever-present American colleague, Felix Leiter, find themselves in Jamaica attempting to combat some mysterious circumstances surrounding an island guarded by a large creature (which turns out to be a tank). There is a trident of representations that we must consider here; firstly, Bond¸ as discussed, the symbol of western authority. Secondly is Dr No: himself, a white character, but certainly not one whom aligns with the morality of the west – he represents the fictitious ‘SPECTRE’ who, in the earlier Bond films, seemed to have some correlation with the Soviet Union. Lastly are those who we may consider represent the global south – in this case, the natives: Jamaicans.

As in every James Bond film that is set in a less-economically-developed country, there is always a native that assists Bond in a subservient, colonised style. In the example of Dr No, and indeed reappearing in Live and Let Die, is Quarrel – a Cayman Islander living in Jamaica who assists both Bond andFelix Leiter by performing physical, menial tasks like driving, boating and fishing. This image of the global south, being a secondary, submissive assistant to the colonising, western figure of Bond is a regular theme – as is that of the black villain; another image of the global south. In a slightly different way from the colonised and subsidiary image of the aforementioned global south characters – these villains are a more backdated image of countries (and, subsequently, their people) that are yet to be colonised: often portrayed in the Bond franchise through a fanatical and, seemingly, irresponsible leader, incompatible with the moral fabric of the west. Whilst modern Bond films have received some acclaim for their use of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) actors, they have also been castigated as ‘the characters they portrayed were God-awful’ (The Shadow League, 2019).

A more recent facet of this debate is perhaps in the furore surrounding the notion of casting a black James Bond. With Daniel Craig stepping down from the role after the release of No Time to Die in April 2020, rumours have begun to circulate regarding his replacement with black actor Idris Elba a recurrent name. In an article entitled Why I was never excited for a black James Bond, Noel Ransome (2018) discusses how ‘simply copying and pasting black skin on a white character would trivialise the whole point of a black Bond’. He continues to describe the historic image of Bond as ‘a personification of peak white delight’ and that ‘we can’t sidestep the realities of a black Bond’s lack of white privilege’. Indeed, former black Bond villain Yaphet Kotto, who played Dr Kananga in the 1973 film Live and Let Die, exclaims that ‘James Bond cannot be black’. He continues, ‘James Bond was established by Ian Fleming as a white character, played by white actors – play 003 or 006, but you cannot be 007’ (Child, 2015).

To conclude, and returning to the exclamation at the beginning of this essay, James Bond is indeed a prescient lesson on globalisation. Firstly, the global north is conveyed through the technological proliferation and expansion of the Bond franchise from Britain to America, and, subsequently, across the globe. And secondly, the way in which it characterises a modern example of colonisation: cultural imperialism. Here, we see the global south, as both a recipient and feature of Bond, highlighted through textual implications of the Bond films, deliberately conceptualised by its western creators. Perhaps, though, despite the overwhelming cultural and textual implications of Bond, and the way in which it exemplifies both globalisation and cultural imperialism, it can never truly inculcate a mass audience and spread its western, colonial message – as is the criticism of much of modern media reception theory.

Bibliography

Bell, K. (2013). Raising Africa? Celebrity and the Rhetoric of the White Saviour. Journal of Multidisciplinary of International Studies, 1-24.

Bignell, J. (2010). Spies, style and the Cold War: James Bond in the sixties and seventies. Symbolism: An international annual of critical aesthetics, 81-92.

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Child, B. (2015, April 8). Former 007 villain Yaphet Kotto says James Bond cannot be black. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/apr/08/former-007-villain-yaphet-kotto-says-james-bond-cannot-be-black

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Ransome, N. (2018, August 29). Why I was never excited for a black James Bond. Retrieved from Vice: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/ev83kn/why-i-was-never-excited-for-a-black-james-bond

The Shadow League. (2019, June 27). From Bad to Worse: Power Ranking James Bond’s Black Villains. Retrieved from The Shadow League: https://theshadowleague.com/power-ranking-james-bonds-black-villains/

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