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It might seem that James Bond, a character of fiction, is an unlikely subject for a series on anything serious. Recognized around the world as a womanizing, daredevil, gadget-dependent adventurer, 007 has captivated readers and audiences since the Ian Fleming’s books in the 1950’s. Millions of viewers flock to every new release and there is no scarcity of James Bond websites.
Fictional characters maintain their appeal over time because there’s something about them we like and, at least in the case of Mr. Bond many men at least secretly fantasize about the lifestyle. We would like to think that under the same threats we would respond with like resourcefulness, under the same conditions courage would overcome fear within us too, and we would consider the travel to exotic locations and the companionship of beautiful women a perk.
The fictional character of James Bond is actually more of a caricature than a figure of fantasy. In the mind and hands of his creator, first Ian Fleming, then the producers of the more than twenty motion pictures, next through the pens of various surrogate authors, Bond’s features, vices, and virtues have taken on larger than life proportions. The character of Bond both appeals and endures because it is fantasy and fiction rooted in reality.
Caricature artists do that. They take obvious features and exaggerate them.
As an intelligence officer, Mr. Fleming’s service to the Crown provided the esoteric insight by which a real spy would appear in print. Take a real world situation, embellish its principal players, add on a sinister organization or two, throw in a villain with a specific contemporary threat, place at its heart a resourceful courageous hero, tweak it with nifty devices, fast cars, and beautiful women. The result?
Bond, James Bond.
An ordinary name synonymous with a life we all would like to think we could have lived had things been just a bit different. A female friend asked me why I liked Bond and why just about every man she knew liked him. At first I liked Bond because of the girls, guns, and gadgets. And while I still like them, I continue to admire Bond (and vicariously his creator and promoters) for something more than those three attractions.
The stories provoke me and millions more to spend our cash on books, movie tickets, and view-at-home recordings because when he wins, as he always does, we are encouraged. Sure enough there are setbacks and tragedies along the way. But in the end, Bond gets it all – the villain, the girl, the applause of peers and pros, and the assurance that personal character flaws (I said he had vices) are neither fatal nor final.
Many hard-driving, far-reaching, high-performing individuals regularly beat themselves up. For them, success is tempered, even diminished by the all-too-close revelations of biased self-inspection. Those people tend to qualify, even modify their successes by replaying the things they should have done better, the things they shouldn’t have done at all, and the things left out.
It is a dead end trip, such excursions into self-degradation, but most of us take them far too often and far too seriously. The caricature of Bond encourages us because of the character of James Bond. Bold and outrageous in every respect, he somehow gets the job done despite the imbalances in his personal life.
Isn’t that the appeal of a caricature? The artist draws features out of proportion to the rest, features that remind us of who the subject is, what they are like, their distinct features as well as their peculiarities. The subject of a caricature might be self-conscious of them but we find them charming. Thus they are worthy of examination. In the context of this series, I am looking at Bond’s character traits in the broad light of life, love, and leadership in the, dare I say, real world.
Their very exaggerations point us to a root of truth, a germ of reality from which the exaggeration has grown. It is that root of truth which encourages our examination of Bond’s reasons for success and then applies them to the context in which we live. It is most likely far less dangerous and glamorous than Mr. Bond’s, but it is every bit as important that we win in the world of challenges and threats we face every day.
So Bond has indeed something to show us. The principles of successful living, loving, and leading are both universal and timeless. They work whether they are applied in situations of fiction or fact. We can learn from his life and career even if neither ever really existed. The enduring appeal of folk proverbs, morality tales, and Aesop’s fables merely add legitimacy to the precept that good ideas and concepts are given depth and relevance by their setting in a ripping good story. For over fifty years Bond has given us one entertaining tale after another. Without making the whole thing academic, Bond now has become educational too. What better justification for buying more books, videos, or DVD’s?
This series of essays explores Bond’s most critical secret traits for living, loving, and leading, those principles and practices that make the character of Bond real enough to take on the air of truth and are universally found within those who attempt great things and achieve them. Most books begin with a concept, proceed through an explanation, and end in a demonstration using real situations and examples. Taken from both the Bond books and movies, this series explores a specific situation in Bond’s vast repertoire of experiences, extracts a key principle, continues through a thorough explanation, and concludes with an application to real life situations faced everyday by people like you and me.
So, the next post sets us off on our journey of exploration and explanation and will continue until it is over. See you in a few days.