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Is James Bond suitable family entertainment?

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The past week has been…educational. If you follow my social media channels, you’ll know I have had both my children at home from school because they were ill. Both had different illnesses with different symptoms, but housework and freelance work still had to be done.

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Me as James Bond. Question is, do I have an Aston Martin and Walter PPK?

I have been spinning a lot of plates. Aside from school holidays, which I always plan for, it was the first time I’d had both children at home sine Helen was a toddler.

Each day I did some school work with the kids (emphasis on some, neither of them has written a dissertation). I also got them to walk around the block once every 24 hours, fresh air definitely being beneficial.

At some point during each day, however, I would look around the house, see piles of plates, cups bowls and dirty laundry, not to mention feel the pressure of looming work deadlines. Something had to give and a film would go on. It needed to be a long film, one that would keep the kids entertained for a couple of hours. Question is, what film?

For a little while now, Helen has been asking about James Bond. When she has done so, happy memories would flood back from my own childhood.

When I was a kid and my age was in single figures, you knew when a James Bond film had been on the previous evening. These were the days when there were only four television channels. In scenes that simply couldn’t be replicated in today’s age of on-demand, multi-streaming media, everyone would be talking about the film in the playground and in the lunch hall. If you hadn’t seen it, you had seriously missed out.

I had some misgivings about Helen’s wish to watch James Bond. Nonetheless, I popped on a couple of films and, just as I did when I was a kid, she and her sister loved them. Aware that later Bond films have higher age ratings, I was careful with what I selected, trying to put on films from the sixties, seventies and eighties that were a bit more innocent.  At least I thought they were a bit more innocent, but I’ll come on to that.

Helen and Izzy loved Jaws, the quiet, metal-mouthed baddie played by the late Richard Kiel in both The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Together, we laughed at the ridiculous stunts in films such as Goldfinger.

Very quickly, however, both kids picked up on James Bond’s womanising. “He has three girlfriends in every film,” quipped Izzy at one point.

This is one of the aspects of the Bond films I had misgivings about. Nonetheless, it enabled me to have a conversation with the kids about what sort of person would behave like that and whether they’d like a boyfriend who couldn’t be trusted.

A few other issues cropped up in the films that I wasn’t entirely happy with. For instance, in Goldfinger, there’s a scene where Bond dismisses a female companion by telling her he had to get on with some “man talk” with a friend before slapping her across the buttocks. That made me feel more than a little uncomfortable and a conversation was had about whether James Bond should have behaved in such a way.

Let’s just analyse this for a moment. The James Bond of Ian Flemming’s novels was a misogynist. To be true to the books, the film character has to resemble this. I would expect no less. The films were also made in an era when such behaviour was widely tolerated, if not accepted. Nonetheless, I was beginning to question whether the films, which all had a Parental Guidance (PG) rating, were suitable for my kids.

Worse was to come when I put on the 1967 film You Only Live Twice. Thankfully, we all sat down together to watch this as a family so both Mrs Adams and I were on-hand to leap in and comment when something unreal happened on screen. The film is partly set in Japan and there’s a scene where a member of the Japanese secret service informs Bond they have to “turn him Japanese” to complete his mission.

I had never seen the film before so was completely unprepared for the outrageous scene that followed. It involved James Bond lying down on a bed while a handful of giggling Asian women, who for some inexplicable reason were wearing nothing but underwear, added prothesis to Sean Connery’s eyelids to give him a more Asian appearance.

In that one brief scene we had sexism, misogyny and the portrayal of highly dubious racial stereotypes. Even by 1967’s standards this much have been highly questionable.

Needless to say, Sean Connery didn’t look remotely Asian after their attempts “to turn him Japanese.” He was about twice the size of the Asian counterparts he was acting alongside and the eyelid prosthesis made him look like a cheap version of Spock from Star Trek.

I am not the kind of person that believes such films should be banned or edited to remove such scenes. They are of their era and you cannot change the past and you should never attempt to re-write history.

Is it, however, right to settle down as a family and watch old films? Is it right for children to see such things on screen? Should mum and dad stick to modern Disney films with the family and watch the old, less politically correct films when the kids are in bed?

All I remember form the old Bond films is the excitement, the action, Q’s amazing but ridiculous gadgets, the car chases and Jaws biting through steel cables or Odd Job being electrocuted during the Fort Knox heist in Goldfinger. As an adult I see the misogyny and behaviour that I would consider unacceptable. As a kid it went over my head. Am I worrying too much? Should such films simply be considered entertainment?

Also, you can police films as much as you like. As soon as your kids start using YouTube or TikTok or playing Call of Duty, they’re going to see things much more graphic than they’ll see in any old film.

Ultimately, I don’t think you can protect children from the political incorrectness of the past. I’m not entirely sure you should as they need to learn about it and appreciate why we consider certain behaviour unacceptable.

Even so, I’ll admit I’ve had my fill of James Bond. I fear the “turning Japanese” scene was just a bit too much for my liking. In the meantime, I’ll chose some different films. If you’d care to suggest any, please do!

2 thoughts on “Is James Bond suitable family entertainment?”

  1. Oh the memories, I used to love sitting with my old man and watching a James Bond film. Sinbad and John Wayne movies were always popular with my dad too.

    As an adult and father looking back on the james bond films, these days they are highly portrayed for sexism, racism and what not. But they were from an era when this sort of thing was the norm.

    It would be a great lesson for kids of today. Not with my girls just yet I dont think they are at an age where they would understand the concept of the Bond Films. But for older more understable young minds it can be a good lesson to show compared to the modern era we live in now how the conceptions and views have changed and more equality we have in our world today.

    1. Well Eddie, you’re absolutely right. These films can be a great lesson and watching these films has led to some interesting conversations with the whole family about what is and isn’t acceptable in this day and age. I still feel a bit awkward about the films, but I could have chosen a lot worse.

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