Guilty pleasures #1: James Bond

200px-Fleming007impression Hussein Ibish over at his blog:

Some months ago my dear friend the great critical theorist R. Radhakrishnan suggested I pay some attention in writing to the phenomenon I discussed with him on several occasions whereby we respond emotionally, aesthetically or intellectually to cultural artifacts that we nonetheless do not, at a certain level, respect. In fact, we may know very well that a cultural product is inferior if not fundamentally absurd, and yet it may have a profound impact and even an irresistible draw to us. How and why does that operate? What's going on when we respond so powerfully at all kinds of levels to something we feel, whether on reflection or viscerally, is either completely or in some senses beneath contempt? How do we account for such “guilty pleasures?” Of course, this version of guilty pleasure is a subset of the deeper existential problem of why we want things that we know very well are bad for us: why we cling to, or mourn the loss of, dysfunctional relationships with toxic people; persist with, or pine for, self-destructive behavior of one kind or another; or find ourselves in the grip of a political or religious ideology we know very well, at a certain level at any rate, is indefensible and possibly loathsome. But for the meanwhile, let's stick to the subject of bad art.

I'm going to begin looking at this problem by taking on one of what has been, in my life at any rate, one of its more gruesome manifestations: films featuring the character James Bond and the Ian Fleming novels on which they are based. Let's be clear at the outset: on the whole and in most senses they are without question garbage, and toxic garbage at that. The films are militantly stupid and implausible, often insultingly so, distinctly racist and irredeemably sexist, and the novels even more racist and sexist (more about the dismal ideology at work in them a little later). And yet some of us are drawn to some of them in spite of having no respect for them whatsoever, and even finding them offensive. In particular the early Bond movies starring Sean Connery have a real pull on my imagination and I'd like to begin my exploration of the morphology of guilty pleasures by considering how on earth that could possibly be the case.

The Bond films are useful as a starting point because, for me at any rate, they point directly to one of the most important and powerful forces behind guilty pleasures of this kind: nostalgia.