So, I was listening to Rush Limbaugh today.*
Still here? Some people probably clicked away after they read that sentence.
Anyway, so Rush was talking about how the media was gushing that Sony is going to release The Interview in theaters and whatnot, in spite of the threats against the theaters and possible blackmail of further leaks of stuff from the big hack a few weeks ago.
First, I don’t want to see this movie. It looks…ugh…I don’t even have the words. It just doesn’t look that good to me. Could I be wrong? Sure. But frankly, based on what I’ve seen and read about it, it just looks like they’re trying so hard to be edgy that they will have mostly forgotten to be funny.
Again, could I be wrong? Sure. And I suppose, eventually, I’ll see it.
When I don’t have to pay for it.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about here.
From The Interview, Rush segued into the leak itself, and the fact that Amy Pascal (who caught some flak for insinuating in her emails that President Obama might only like to watch “black” movies, such as The Butler,) was found to have suggested that the next actor to portray James Bond (since Spectre is to be Daniel Craig’s last outing) might be Idris Elba.**
And Rush, as he does, immediately jumped into the reductio ad absurdum which serves him so well when it relates to politics. But this time, as it relates to pop culture, he’s a bit off the mark.
After correctly identifying that fact that Ian Fleming created James Bond as a white, Scottish man who becomes 007 (“that’s who he is”), Rush suggests that in the inevitable movie adaptation of Obama’s life, the part of Barack Obama be played by George Clooney. “Why not?” It’s just a movie, right?
Silly? Yes. But–in the abstract—I see what Rush is saying. But he has chosen an incredibly poor choice of analogies.
This is not the same thing as having a gay actor play straight, or a straight actor play gay, although there now seems to be some controversy about that from the LGBTQ community. But that’s why it’s called acting. Actors can act like they love or hate their fellow actors without actually loving or hating them. Actors can drink “alcohol” for a role, but be non-drinkers. Smoke without smoking, etc.
These are characteristics that can be simulated or altered for the purposes of telling a story.
[I know, I seem to be deviating from the whole “Idris Elba for James Bond” thing, but I swear, we’re getting there. Hang in just a bit longer.]
To take a character who is written with certain physical characteristics, clearly defined and long-established, becoming an unquestionable reality for the audience, and to simply, arbitrarily, ignore those out of some sense of “political correctness” or “cultural norming,” or whatever buzzword of the month you’d like to use here, is just wrong.
I’ll even admit that I was upset when the proposed cast for the reboot of the Fantastic Four movie shredded the family unit and made Sue and Johnny Storm step-brother/sister, with Johnny being African-American. Yes, that pissed me off.
Not because Johnny was going to be black. It was the dissolution of the core of the comicbook (Yes, according to Stan Lee, “comicbook” is one word. Deal with it) in the first place. The nuclear family that was the Storms, the fact that they were blood was what made that relationship work in the comicbook.
And, just so we’re clear, I’m not saying that a non-nuclear family cannot carry an equally powerful emotional link, providing its members a sense of belonging and allowing them to draw strength from that.
Think I’m lying? One of the best movies of 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy. Can there possibly be a more non-nuclear, non-traditional family than those five characters? Hardly. And yet they demonstrate the ability to elicit such feelings of love, loss, strength, and understanding that even they don’t realize that they’re a family until the credits roll.
The problem I had with the new Fantastic Four casting is that it’s not the source material. It’s not canon. They wanted to make characters into something that they’re not. Period. That’s it. That’s my beef.
Now, you must be thinking that Rush is making the same argument about James Bond. James Bond is a white, Scottish man. Period. If I actually believed that was the case, then I would have to back Rush up that casting Idris Elba is a bad idea, because, well, James Bond isn’t black.
But what if Bond isn’t really white, or Scottish?
There is a theory floating around the internet (not mine, but a good one, nonetheless, but please don’t ask me where I saw it. Google is your friend.) that James Bond isn’t a person.
What if James Bond isn’t a person, but a persona?
This theory explains why James Bond has been portrayed by SIX different actors, and no one seems to notice the differences in behavior, speech, mannerisms, affinity for weaponry and gadgets, etc from Connery’s bond, Moore’s bond, and the others***. What if, just as M is the head of MI6 and Q is the head of the Quartermaster division, James Bond is really the individual holding the 007 position as a killing agent?
He’s a secret agent, so is it really so hard to believe that the name they call him isn’t his real name at all? Hell, the one real, true fact that we can seem to glean from the movies about any of the 00-agents is that they’re orphans (thanks to Sean Bean in Goldeneye).
If that is the case, then casting Idris Elba (or any other black actor, for that matter) in the role of James Bond is perfectly acceptable, because James Bond is simply a role that exists in canon, not just in the movies.
This makes even more sense when you realize that the movies are no longer based on the books Fleming wrote. They’ve already moved beyond the canon. Beginning with: Goldeneye.
That meta enough for you?
So Rush got it wrong this time.
Now, would Elba be interested in playing Bond?
Who knows? I know he’s been asked. It’s all hypothetical at this point, really. Personally, I think I’d like to see a younger Bond. Not like a 24 year-old Bond, but someone with a little more youthful lust for life (and not just a youthful lust in the bedroom). But he still needs to be able to project the multiple layers of authority that Bond invariably exercises. Street smarts and diplomacy. Hip and sophisticated. All in one package.
Not an enviable task. For a secret agent or the actor who would portray him.
* I listen to Rush most days from 10 am – 1 pm on 105.7 FM, KNRS, Salt Lake City. Deal with it.
** By the way, let’s not forget that this idea was apparently shot down because black leads don’t get the overseas box-office draw (read: MONEY) that white leads do. Which country is racist now?
*** The theory as proposed also explains why George Lazenby’s Bond lasted one mission: he fell in love, married, lost his wife, lost his way, resigned and opened the position of James Bond for Roger Moore to take over.