Skyfall, Daniel Craig, and the James Bond Gender Gap
While pundits dissect the Republican Party's dearth of women voters, there's an even more polarizing figure who splits the vote along gender lines. His name is Bond. James Bond. Specifically, we're talking about Daniel Craig as James Bond. This is based largely on anecdotal evidence, but while almost all women love Daniel Craig as James Bond, almost all men don't. Skyfall, his third go-around as the super spy, hits screens today, and it’s sure to widen the gender gap. Among the reasons men say Craig is not their Bond: He's too hunky and handsome. Unless he's not hunky and handsome enough. Then he's too coarse, too brooding, too brutish. Craig has the strongest acting chops of anyone who's ever donned Bond's tux. Why, then, is he so unappealing to men?
We’re not he first to observe that in Dr. No it was Ursula Andress who emerged from the sea like Venus in a white bikini while Sean Connery watched. In Casino Royale it was Craig in skimpy blue trunks who strode onto the beach. Although that detail would seem to reveal all you need to know about the new incarnation of 007, it's not the whole story.
For all his cachet as the ultimate man's man, James Bond was actually something of a metrosexual. He was the fellow with the complicated hi-fi stereo (to say nothing of other gadgets), the flashy sports car, the elegant suits. He didn't just have a favorite cocktail, he had a preference for how it was mixed and garnished. (How modern is that?) James Bond as cinema icon entered the culture and ascended hand in hand with the Playboy philosophy. As much as we love the Bond of the corny double entendres and exploding pens (a Bond standby that is itself exploded in Skyfall), that age is gone. Bond cannot simply be a suave, smoky throwback to a more patriarchal era. Nowhere is this more evident than in Skyfall, where the conflict between old and new is both hamfistedly obvious and semiotically sublime. These days, elements of the archetypal Bond have been appropriated by newer characters from pop culture. Think of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark or Don Draper from Mad Men. James Bond circa 2012 not only reevaluates the concept of the "man's man," he reconfigures what it is we want out of our strong silent types.
As the movies become grimmer, more realistic thrillers, Bond himself becomes more of a mercenary -- and the character struggles to find a place in a new social order. The James Bond of our era has little penchant for baccarat and other forms of hedonism. There’s almost no sexy time in Skyfall. Not once does Bond even crack a smile. He spends less time being social and more time being sociopathic. In the old movies, James Bond was having a hell of a lot of fun. He was living out every stereotypical hetero male fantasy. A sly strategist, he was an expert combatant, wielder of cool weapons, and a hero who covertly and constantly saved the world. He managed to do this while bedding the most beautiful women in the world. And he never broke a sweat. The classic James Bond made everything look effortless, from playing cards to dispatching his adversaries. If he had a way with women, it was because he had a way with the world. These days, Tony Stark feels more like Bond than Bond does. For all his looks and skills, Bond no longer seems to be having any fun.
Each generation gets the James Bond it deserves. Daniel Craig is the existential Bond, the Bond who never looks happy being himself. As Camus might have put it, one must imagine Bond happy. For the millions of men who can only dream of having his life, that has to be a letdown.