back to bond and the queen

Believe it or not I am still intrigued by the sketch in the Olympics where bond escorts her majesty to the opening ceremony. While most would just say that it is merely a superficial bit of fun, I would argue that there are things about it which need to be pondered. I am interested in the power structures involved: before now I was incredibly amused by this sketch, but it occurs to me that, on another level, something quite sinister is afoot. What were the makers of this sketch trying to say? Were they trying to reinforce and uphold dominant power structures, or parody them, or both? By having the queen appear with bond, were they trying to claim some credibility in popular culture for her? Sort of trying to jump on the bond bandwagon in order to make the queen and thus hierarchy as central to mainstream British culture as the Bond franchise, thereby reinforcing and attempting to legitimise ideas like class. After all, Ian Fleming placed bond in a world where the decline of the British empire had not happened: he wrote as if Britain was still a world power. Bond, in this sense, is a figure of imperialism, just as her majesty is. In a way, then, this sketch maintains a nationalistic, imperial narrative, partly created by Fleming, in which the queen is the head of a superpower able to control world events. From this viewpoint, the sketch is quite sinister, as it tells the world ”we British still have a right to control the world just as we did a century ago.”

It also occurs to me that, now that Bond has been used in such a mainstream piece of culture, it could be argued that it has lost something – that some of its ‘street cred’ has been lost. That is to say, the franchise has been usurped by the mainstream in order to support something which, to many fans, isn’t very cool; the character was made to appear in something not really in keeping with Bond’s persona and the rest of the Bond franchise. In doing so, bond looses some of his cache as a rebel. However I’d say to such bond fans that you can’t get much cooler than seeing ones hero cough at a reigning monarch. Only 007 could get away with that.

It can also be argued that by having the queen appear beside such an overtly fictional character, this piece functions as a nod to the fact that ideas like monarchy are a fictional construction too. As I wrote here, if Bond is fiction, wouldn’t this sketch make the queen seem part of that fiction too? The queen is a real person, but it could be argued that, on one level, her position is as much a construction as the bond franchise. They are both pieces of the iconography we associate with britishness, both tales we tell about ourselves, so having the queen appear beside James bond can be read as an allusion to the fact that, at the end of the day, the queen is just as ephemeral, just as much a cultural construction as Double O Seven.

Therefore what interests me about this sketch so much that keep returning to it is that there are two ways of reading it which are directly opposite. On the one hand we can read it as speaking to and reinforcing the dominant political structures: it simply accepts the queen’s position and authority as read, using or even usurping a prominent piece of popular culture to lend it a legitimacy it may or may not have. On the other hand, the piece can also be read as an admission of the queen’s true position in our culture, as one of many pieces of entertainment. By uttering the immortal line ”Good evening, Mr. Bond” as so many caricature villains have done before her, the queen, in a way, enters herself into a fictional space and thus acknowledges the very constructed nature of her own position. Read like this, the film is quite politically radical.

Which is it, then? Is this short film part of an oppressive state apparatus which usurps parts of popular culture to make dominant hierarchical systems seem more legitimate, or does the film actually reread those very systems, admitting their fictional nature? I actually got quite perturbed about this the other night, when it occurred to me that I had been obsessing over something quite oppressive, manipulated into accepting hierarchy. But it seems to me that both readings are just as valid, and that as much as the film can be seen as presuming an automatic acceptance of authority, to the same extent it admits that that authority is a construction. That is what so intrigues me: this film plays with concepts like power and culture, what is real and what is fiction. There is a lot which can be read into it. Yet, on another level, it is just a six minute bit of fluff played at an Olympic opening ceremony.

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