Shortly after 9-11, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, whose name sounds like it belongs in an Ian Fleming novel, declared an "end to the age of irony." A few weeks later, Time magazine turned the phrase into a battle cry. Then NPR (which is the opposite of Vanity Fair) insisted that irony was still alive. And now we have a new, highly un-ironic James Bond to keep the debate going. Gone are the smirks and the double-entendres ("Just keeping the British end up, sir," said Roger Moore mid-sex-act). Instead we have a guy who looks like he's spent way too much time laboring in a gym, a guy who bleeds, who feels pain, who gets dewy-eyed when his girl dies. Gone is Bond's trademark unflappability in the face of danger. This last loss makes me worry not just for irony, but for heroism -- at least the kind of movie heroism Bond stood for.
What compelled EON Productions, after 40 years, to overhaul the hero of the world's most profitable entertainment franchise after "Star Wars?"
If 9-11 ended irony, George Bush ended heroism.
My first contact with James Bond came at a Rosh Hashana dinner when I was about 8. One of my older cousins brought along a James Bond 007 Shooting Attache Case, which contained a shell-firing pistol with stock, scope and silencer as well as a secret message decoder and a booby-trapped code-book. Wait, that's not all. A dagger slid into a hidden pocket in the side of the case, and you could booby-trap a hinge to fire a cap if opened incorrectly. I didn't know who James Bond was or what he looked like but I was hooked. A year or two later, my parents took me to my first Bond movie. I don't remember which one. I don't even remember which Bond -- Connery, Moore or the other guy. What I do remember is Bond dancing with a gorgeous girl. Suddenly a neat, round red hole appeared on the girl's forehead. A sniper got her from the balcony. Bond treated this moment as just another obstacle to brush aside on his way to saving the world from Armageddon. It is telling that I cannot remember which Bond. All the Bonds were pretty much interchangeable. They went after grandiose terrorists. They used high-tech gadgets. Nothing rattled them. They didn't negotiate. They stayed the course.
You see where I'm going with this.
The fantasy of James Bond depends on adults remaining in charge of our real wars. As long as we had grown men in office practicing realpolitik, we could run around shooting our secret weapons against the forces of evil, all in good fun. I'd be willing to bet that deep in some White House closet is a 007 attache case, maybe even a matchbox Aston Martin from "Thunderball" and a projectile-firing watch. Bush is the first president who seems to have made policy decisions by wondering, what would Bond do? Now that the smoke has cleared from our laser-guided smart bombs, I don't think we'll be seeing many unflappable, smirking action heroes in our movies. Not if we want the audience to buy the happy ending.