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On the Eve of His Comeback, James Bond Resonates for a Reason

(Nicola Dove—© 2020 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

“Young Americans, myself included, need to resist the impulses of the day and keep striving. We may never be Bond types, but the quest for self-improvement is the point. To strive is to live.”

The return of James Bond is just days away. With No Time to Die—the franchise’s 25th official installment—set for release on Friday, October 8th in the United States (and earlier in the United Kingdom), hundreds of millions of fans are ready to watch their beloved Brit in action one more time.

“Hundreds of millions” is no hyperbole. One in five people around the world has seen at least one Bond film. No Time to Die is expected to gross $1 billion worldwide, in the middle of a pandemic no less.

Why is James Bond so resonant? Why has the Bond character endured since the early 1950s, when Ian Fleming first put pen to paper?

On some level, the appeal is superficial. Bond movies are easy on the eyes. From exotic locales and stylish Omega watches to beautiful women and world-record explosions, there is something for everyone in a Bond adventure. Similarly, there is something for everyone in the Bond character. As the old adage goes, “Men want to be him, and women want to be with him.”

The question is “whyAs a die-hard Bond fan, I like to think that the Bond character has endured for a wide range of reasons, and not only because the Tom Ford tuxedos fit well.

On a deeper level, the Bond character is capable. He dresses exquisitely and orders adult beverages equally so. He skis, he snowboards, and he dominates the poker table. He can charm femme fatales and super-villains alike with clever turns of phrase.

And Bond is capable because he strives. He tries. He is present. In Fleming’s original novels, entire chapters are devoted to dinner scenes. Seemingly mundane activities, such as comparing cuisines and contrasting cocktails, span numerous pages worth of vivid description and immersive dialogue. The eighth chapter of Casino Royale, published in 1953, features Bond and Vesper Lynd—his first love, who tragically commits suicide—discussing various foods and beverages. When Bond mentions his famous “Vesper” cocktail, Lynd responds, “It sounds like a drink to be proud of.”

Therein lies the magic of the Bond character. He takes pride in the “little things.” Presence elicits that pride—a pride in learning, improving, striving. (In the 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s Bond and Eva Green’s Lynd star in a similar dinner scene.)

Such subtleties elude the leftist critiques of Bond, who is portrayed as an all-powerful misogynist embodying homophobia, imperialism, and xenophobia. Dig into the source material, and you find a human, deeply flawed character who has been betrayed, tortured, and nearly killed time and time again. (A double agent, Lynd betrays Bond before taking her own life.)

While Bond is certainly not perfect (nor should he be), his presence empowers him to become a master of many. Rather than floating through life, he approaches new experiences and confronts new challenges head-on. Whether Bond invents a cocktail recipe or vanquishes a deadly foe, capability follows curiosity.

Today’s younger generations should take note. At a time when iPhone usage borders on addiction and personal hobbies have become rare commodities, the Bond character stands out as an inspiration. Millions of Millennials and Gen Zers now share Netflix recommendations like they are sampling fine wines, learning new languages, or hitting personal records in the gym. Recent graduates exchange TikTok videos like they are golf lessons or travel itineraries.

American consumers now spend more than four hours a day, on average, using apps on their smartphones. That’s right: Four hours a day. Imagine if a single hour of that time was devoted to learning how to cook or reading a book or picking up a new sport or socializing at the local bar or lifting weights—the list goes on. Unfortunately, the proliferation of technology in everyday life has made it much, much more difficult to be present.

And we—the collective we—are gradually becoming less capable as a result. Technology is proven to distract us from life’s more meaningful pursuits.

In a world where passive consumerism has largely replaced active participation in society, role models like James Bond—however fictional—are needed to save it. Of course, there is a place for social media and other forms of technology—but not to supplant the fulfillment associated with personal hobbies.

Young Americans, myself included, need to resist the impulses of the day and keep striving. We may never be Bond types, but the quest for self-improvement is the point. To strive is to live.

As millions of people flock to the cinemas, James Bond will provide a glimpse of the male ideal. Hopefully, our idealism results in practical, positive change.

Luka Ladan serves as president and CEO of Zenica Public Relations in Portland, Maine. He is a Catalyst Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a die-hard fan of the James Bond franchise.

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