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August 3, 2012

Sometimes it’s painful to revisit old friends.

I’ve been listening to Goldfinger, by Ian Fleming, on my car’s cd player this week.  I was a big fan of the James Bond books and films; I believe I’ve either read or seen all of them. They were light and fluffy, utterly unrealistic, what we’d call today a “beach read,” and lots of fun.   A couple of weeks ago I took Goldfinger out of my local library to enjoy while I was driving.

Well, it turned out enjoying was the wrong word.  I have been absolutely taken aback by some of the words coming out of the mouths of James Bond and other characters.  They express emotions that are anti-Semitic, anti-woman, anti-homosexual, and racist. Given the totally unappealing looks of Auric Goldfinger, Bond’s contact at the venerable Bank of England thought that of course “he was a Jew,” although it turns out he isn’t.  In Bond’s view, woman have become masculine and assertive, men have become passive and quiescent, and both have become “pansies” since World War II, much to the detriment of society.

And Bond’s view of Japanese and Koreans cannot be printed here; it’s an incredibly stereotypical, negative portrait.

It’s hard to know whether Fleming’s views were truly those he believed or those he thought would resonate most closely with his reading public.  Vast sections of the book were changed in the movie, which came out five years after the book was published.  It must have been obvious to the producers that the depiction of Bond as a racist and mysogynist would not go over well with an international audience.

Either way, whether it was Fleming whose views were accurately displayed in the book or Bond’s, it’s disturbing to see such animosity when reading a book that is supposed to provide entertainment. I’d like to think that this book would not have been publishable now, whether because no reputable author would espouse those beliefs or because he/she knew they would greatly diminish readership.  Let’s hope I’m right.


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