Have you ever thought or said, “Bond, James Bond,” while straightening your tie in the mirror or suiting up for a night out with your friends? Maybe it’s just me.
The character of James Bond, first introduced in Casino Royale by Ian Fleming in 1953, has become transcendently associated with masculinity and style, class and sophistication. His requirements for a Vodka martini perhaps haunt every bartender in the world, “Shaken, not stirred.”
His portrayal in films by various actors has proven the variability of the character, but also reflects the essential parts that remain constant throughout each incarnation. We see Bond portrayed as the very essence of the masculine, a gambler in every sense, foiling the plots of sinister villainy.
This, however, is not the whole story. To the man of moral character James Bond can present problematic elements. Within the films particularly, James Bond is shown to be aggressively sexual, with seduction of a woman seemingly a part of the day to day activity in the life of the secret agent.
While the novels do show Bond more restrained in romance, they do reflect other excesses in drinking and smoking.
What we have is a character of mixed elements, one who has many good qualities to be emulated and others to be discouraged. In other words, he’s human.
Most of us will never encounter megalomaniacal villains bent on world domination, but moments will call us to stand up, to put ourselves at risk for a greater good. We will find ourselves set in uncomfortable moments and places, times where all we have are our wits and will to make it through to the end.
For this reason we present selected virtues of the Iconic James Bond, both literary and cinematic for consideration and emulation.
The World Is Not Enough
In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we learn that the motto of the Bond family is Orbis non sufficit, which is roughly translated as. “the world is not enough.” There are several readings of the quote, but the most useful is related to Bond’s idea of service.
As a secret agent of MI6, Bond is an archetype of the white knight. He’s a man sent to do the difficult things that no one else can.
The world is not enough. Not enough to betray his country, his morals, his sense of right, or his sense of duty. In the book, we read about Bond’s rebellious streak, but it’s a streak that’s tempered by his respect for M, his boss.
Is our affection or sense of loyalty for sale? To be offered the world has roots back to the temptation of Christ in Luke 4:5–8:
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
In Christ’s reply we see how we should respond to such temptation, holding to how we should serve and worship.
Maybe we aren’t offered by the kingdoms of the earth, but there are other temptations, other suggestions that are far less expense to entice our betrayal. Maybe you don’t think it matters, it is a moment of small consequence, a moment of weakness.
Such moments matter because they reveal the character of a man and his loyalties. Like Bond we need to have the courage to say, “the world is not enough.”
Breadth of Competence
James Bond has been shown, in both books and film, to possess a wide breadth of knowledge. Ranging from the vintages of fine wine, to species of exotic fish. More importantly, Bond has a sense of practical requirements for his job such as marksmenship, combat skills, and lock picking.
Being a Renaissance Man means being well rounded, with both hard and soft skills for when needed. James Bond has both in spades, allowing him to find his footing regardless of the situation his missions throw his way.
By applying ourselves to physical disciplines, as well as mental and social ones, we also can be prepared for almost any circumstance life chooses to send our way. You may wish you had spent more time reading something Shakespearean when you meet an attractive woman who’s involved in the theater; or perhaps you meet an important person at a conference, but didn’t read their book or pay attention to their seminar.
There are few worse moments in life than having a golden opportunity, only to ruin it by being ill prepared.
If your survival or safety was at risk, or even the safety of others, do you have the skills to survive or protect? Fortunately most of us in America don’t have to worry about perpetual danger, but this does lead to a “soft” existence. Many of us are unprepared to react in a crisis, never even thinking that it could happen.
It is not a matter of “playing the hero,” which may lead to worse consequences, but simply being prepared to meet the needs called on you in a rare moment. Solving this may be as simple as learning basic survival skills, reading some books or enrolling in classes.
This is not the 1960’s; with the power of the internet anyone can learn the fine details of wine or how to master the judo chop.
James Bond Style
In reading The Politics of James Bond by Jeremy Black, the author made an interesting observation of the interpretation of James Bond cinematically. “Style meant competence, competence ensured style. Competence was enhanced by presence, the presence reinforced by the accoutrements and accessories of the Bond persona.”
The style that James Bond presents is an expression of the overall competence and mystique of the character. His appearance is representative of what Ian Fleming knew to be the elite of British society, the armor of a gentleman in the Edwardian age, and his manner is respective of this.
Style is often unjustly associated only with the clothes on ones back, but it implies far more. Style is the baring one carries, the aesthetic produced by your attitude and actions. Bond’s style is characterized in his unflappability in the face of the unusual and difficult. His clothes are cut perfectly and he possesses a taste for the high life.
Without the reality of Bond’s work, the hardness of his discipline, this can appear snooty and pastiche (as some of Roger Moore’s films demonstrate). Your refinement requires the edge of grit, the hardness of a physical action or effort.
If you have a white collar job it can begin to feel emasculating. The work may be important, but it does not often require raw strength or physical effort to complete. For this reason many a working professional finds a more physical hobby like skiing, hiking, boxing, etc.
Finding your sense of style is a matter of trial and error in some cases, requiring time and practice to bring it to light. Start by wearing the right clothes to the right occasion, ones that fit well and match your character (if you aren’t a lumber jack, please spare everyone your “brawny man” outfit). Be willing to let go of what doesn’t fit, both in body and style.
Remember, style should be a representative of competence, of the actual ability possessed. Each reinforces the other. Style without confidence is a bag of hot air, all flash and no bang.
Being a Gambling Man, Managing Risk
It appears to be a requirement that each Bond film has a casino scene. Bond is allowed a moment to appear both dapper and suave by demonstrating his ability to carry himself through the cards and confusion. It is also appropriate considering the first appearance of Bond was in a casino, the plot of the book demonstrating the character’s skill and ability as a gambler.
Gambling is a matter of risk management, and at the time of Fleming’s creation of the character, gambling had different associations than it has today, a fact poked fun at in the book Diamonds are Forever in which Bond encounters American gambling in Las Vegas. For Fleming, the ability for a man to carry himself well in a casino reflected his class and sophistication.
The role of gambling in the world of Bond serves as a metaphor for the high stakes of his missions, the minute by minute choices that need to made to save the world and foil the villain.
Even if we aren’t seated at the Casino Royale playing Texas hold’em against terrorists, we each gamble in our daily life. Bets small and large are made through our daily decisions, the moments where we take an action without having all the facts at hand.
In making these choices, we may be tempted to blame fate or luck for a bad hand. Our winning flushed down the drain with the wrong decision. In Casino, Bond reflected on the matter of luck and gambling:
Above all, he liked it that everything was one’s own fault. There was only oneself to praise or blame. Luck was a servant and not a master. Luck had to be accepted with a shrug or taken advantage of up to the hilt. But it had to be understood and recognized for what it was and not confused with a faulty appreciation of the odds, for, at gambling, the deadly sin is to mistake a bad play for bad luck. And luck in all its moods had to be loved and not feared.”
We’ve all mistaken a bad play for bad luck, blaming the cards we are dealt instead of how we played them. It is a natural error, but a costly one in the long run. By taking ownership of our mistakes, of the bad plays, we are more capable of making better decisions later on.
Most of the stakes we play for aren’t as high as a biological virus, or nuclear missiles aimed at world capitals. The daily ones are usually small by comparison, but still important. Some of our mistakes result not in the loss of money, but of respect and trust of those we care about.
Style and sophistication are not elusive ideas from a British elite or a Hollywood film company, what we see on screen is a representation only of the real class you are capable of showing in daily life. To have integrity, style, and competence is possible for anyone if you are willing to aim for the mark.