40 Years of James Bond: The Fruits of the Sexual Revolution

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No one debates that with the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1960 significant cultural changes were set in motion—the most obvious being the beginning of the sexual revolution exemplified in the separation of sexuality from reproduction. In his book Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, Leon Kass, Chair of The President’s Council on Bioethics, despairs that we are already on our way to establishing the “brave new world” Aldous Huxley envisioned in 1932—a world where sexuality is bereft of love and completely homogenized. At first read his statements seem a bit dramatic, but I think his arguments are truly compelling and disturbing. Kass observes: “Thanks to the sexual revolution, we have been able to deny in practice, and increasingly in thought, the inherent procreative meaning of sexuality itself. But if sex has no intrinsic connection to generating babies, babies need have no necessary connection to sex.”

You don’t have to look far within popular culture to see this view of sexuality. It’s no coincidence that 1962 brought the first of the now 20 James Bond films. With the introduction of saucy European films and Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine, the entrance of James Bond was a perfect fit for America’s new ideals. Bond was unencumbered by romance or obligation; he was simply a sensualist with the good fortune to run into gorgeous women equally interested in sex for its own sake. Agent 007 was the icon of the sexual revolution, the embodiment of sexual freedom.

Now, I admit, I like a good action movie, even ones shy on content which most of the Bond movies are. They’re eye candy. The super-spy agent 007 shoots and sneaks his way out of every imaginable squeeze, all the while kissing the girls and saving the world. (And did I mention he gets all the girls, at least two to three a movie? Some argue Bond is the classic misogynist, but in the context of the 60’s I would argue that the Bond women in their own right are empowered icons of the sexual revolution. Their sexuality is a tool for manipulation, seduction, and power. For our culture this was sex at its best—mutually detached and free of consequences. The most recent Bond film, Die Another Day, fits neatly into the 60’s Bond mold, but not all of the movies have viewed sex so casually. Interestingly enough, in the mid-80’s when AIDS was a relatively new threat and promiscuity fell out of favor, Bond’s 007 checked his ardor for two movies and had only one girl. But, alas, this was short-lived, and by the 90’s “safe sex” had agent 007 back to his old philandering ways.

More recently, though, in the wake of a growing cultural tide of education al STD campaigns and “Just Say No” motifs, the latest Bond films (particularly the most recent) seem out of place. Why does our culture tolerate this 60’s free-sex ideal? I would argue, beyond the obvious fact that being Bond will always be a male fantasy, that our culture’s desire to separate sex from reproduction is the constant here. Within our culture people will differ on their views of STD’s and how to handle the AIDS epidemic. The “Right” will promote abstinence policies, the “Left” will uphold sex education and free access to contraception, but both sides will quietly assent to the slow inexorable separation of sexuality and reproduction. As we perhaps near the birth of the first human clone, the separation of sex and reproduction begun in 1960 is approaching its startling completion. Kass notes, “For this new dispensation [the culture upholding such a separation], the clone is the ideal emblem....”

It’s easy to wink and nod at the sexual innuendo in a Bond movie, although even then we ought to ask ourselves how sexuality has become such a humorous and lightly held topic. But we can’t wink and nod anymore as we face great societal shifts in attitude regarding the meaning of sexuality. Unless people speak out, James Bond will always hold the day.