Well, I Can See My Work Here Is Done…

Well, not quite, but I was feeling rather gratified to know someone out there has been listening to those lectures.

After the speech contest orientation (for a contest which is mandatory for our junior-year English Language & Culture majors), one of my students approached me and asked, “Is it possible for me to use things we’ve discussed in our Understanding Popular Cultures class for my speech?”

“Well… in what way do you mean?” I ask, wondering whether she means materials, concepts, or actual discussions on texts or films.

“I want to talk about sexist and racist discourses in James Bond 007 films…” she says. “Especially about the Bond Girls.”

Yeah, someone’s been listening. We’ve narrowed it down to sexism, for manageability within the 10 minute time limit, and she’s now off hunting up Moonraker, Octopussy, and Goldfinger — the titles that came to mind quickest for me — and thinking about what the marginalization and sexualization of women in Bond films suggests when we consider what Bond himself is supposed to represent. (If women are being excluded, who is it making room for, and why and how does he dominate the narrative?)

Interesting stuff. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about Andy Duncan’s story “Beluthahatchie,” the Robert Johnson mythos, and what both have to do with the construction of blackness in American popular culture. On which theme, following next week: Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, and blackface minstrelsy.

(Future weeks hold promises of:

  • A genealogy of jazz music, against the background of the Harlem Renaissance but extending, selectively, before and after that period.
  • Motown (which arguably has been more formative for Korean pop music than any other Western pop music, since all the boy-bands and girl-groups that dominate here must be, genealogically, descended from groups like The Four Tops, The Supremes, the Jackson Five, and the rest of those groups).
  • flappers and changing constructions of femininity and sexual mores which leads, many weeks later, to:
  • the “ultimate woman” media icon, a bizarre but arguably real position that has been held, sequentially, by women like Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Madonna, as well as whoever comes after Madonna — I’m gonna make them debate who today’s occupant of that position is; I hope someone says it’s 효리 or some other Korean media icon, in recognition of the globalization of this form of constructed femininity, or better yet raises the question of how the American genealogy of “ultimate women” media icons has affected the comparable handling of women in the Korean entertainment media.
  • the genealogy and pop-cultural significance of the Beats — their predecessors, the non-whites and poor whites they emulated and appropriated from, as well as their later influence on American pop culture
  • Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, rock and blues and folk music in America — still mulling it over but the debate about “theft” will be inescapable of course
  • Science and Religion in American popular culture…

… and more. Big fun.)

8 thoughts on “Well, I Can See My Work Here Is Done…

  1. Would love to hear an update on what she made of Moonraker; was my favorite of the Bond movies as a child, for reasons I’m sure you’ll appreciate it, and I must have seen it at least 30 times. Not as an adult however, and so it would be good to see it again with a heads-up on what to look out for in terms of the discourses you describe.

  2. I actually love those Bond movies, (I keep a complete set in my office), though if you think about it, the movies are also sexist toward men as well. If you’re not heroic and macho like Bond, you’re either a villain or a wimp.

    In my international economics seminar class, I use the last course to show foreign movies which have Korean characters, or feature Korea (not necessarily in the best context). One of the movies I show is parts of Goldfinger. Oddjob – the fat Asian guy who kills with his hat – was described as a Korean in the movie. Goldfinger also says that “golf is not exactly a national sport of Korea.” Talk about wrong predictions.

    Anyhow, I read the entire Bond series (Fleming’s books) a couple of years ago, and I came across this choice little quote in “Goldfinger” (where he is talking about his ruthless bodyguards):

    ‘Mr. Bond -’ Goldfinger snapped his fingers for the two servants – ‘it happens that I am a rich man, a very rich man, and the richer the man, the more he needs protection. The ordinary bodyguard or detective is usually a retired policeman. Such men are valueless. Their reactions are slow, their methods old-fashioned, and they are open to bribery. Moreover, they have a respect for human life. This is no good if I wish to stay alive. The Koreans have no such feelings. That is why the Japanese employed them as guards for their prison camps during the war. They are the cruelest, most ruthless people in the world. My own staff are hand picked for these qualities. They have served me well. I have no complaints. Nor have they. They are well paid and well fed and housed. When they want women, street women are brought down from London, well remunerated for their services and sent back. The women are not much to look at, but they are white and that is all the Koreans ask – to submit the white race to the grossest indignities. There are sometimes accidents but –‘ the pale eyes gazed blankly down the table – ‘ money is an effective winding-sheet.”
    Ian Fleming: Goldfinger (1959) – Penguin Books (2002) p.129

    You got to admit, it’s pretty funny.

  3. Guys,

    I have seen all those movies, but mostly so long ago they’re only vague shapes in my mind. I was thinking of getting my hands on them too.


    It’s likely she’ll drop by to discuss it more after seeing one or more of those films, but she may choose to get help from another prof. She may also be scheduled to present on the day when I’m not judging the contest — there’s too many for our small faculty to see all the speeches, it would take 12 hours in a row or two six hour days — so I may not see her speech live. (Though usually I’m asked to rank the top picks off a video, so I likely will see it eventually.)


    Have you seen Ape? Because, man… Joanna Kerns, before she was Kerns, in what I think is her first acting credit.

    There are a few scenes which have bizarre conversations about Seoul — that is, besides the actual street shots outside of the car, and the Korean family she stays with when the (King Kong ripoff) giant Ape attacks Suwon.

    An outstanding one is when the two main chartacters — a white couple — drive past the Blue House. The dialog there sounds so much as if it were written by a Korean national.

    Also, the American army is represented in interesting ways. (Park Chung Hee insists on capturing the Ape, which gets lots of people killed an frustrates the poor American military, who want to just kill the ape and save all those poor Koreans. Ahem.)

    I haven’t read any of the Fleming, though they’ve been reissued now, and I picked up You Only Live Twice out of curiosity.

    That passage is: wow. The most interesting thing is how many bits of it echo with how pissed-off foreigners write about Korea on their blogs and on various discussion boards online. (Hopefully my blog doesn’t approach anything like Goldfinger’s little tirade, at least not to that degree!)

    Yeah, now I need to watch some of these films…

  4. Ha… well, it is fun, but I fear you probably would intuitively grasp a fair bit of the stuff we’re discussing in class.

    Today’s discussion of Andy Duncan’s short story “Beluthahatchie,” for example, could have gone much farther. We discussed a couple of short passages — one being a description of the racial representation of the Devil and of the protagonist, the parallels between racial hierarchy in Depression-era America and Christian cosmological hierarchy (since the Devil asks whether things in Hell actually could be worse than in “life”), the use of African-American dialect in words like the title (an old word for hell). We also discussed the intersection of the magical Faust narrative and the delegitmization of black achievements as part of the Robert-Johnson-sold-his-soul narrative… as well as the echoes with the notion of blacks being somehow more prone to magic and supernatural things. And how all of that could also take currency in African-American culture as well as in the dominant white culture.

    Neat discussion, but I am teaching this to people for whom American culture is quite foreign, beyond the superficialities, so we’re perhaps not going quite deep enough to keep someone from that culture interested.

    And, yup, Bamboozled indeed is quite the movie. I think it’d be fascinating to run a senior discussion course just on Spike Lee films, actually. Lots to talk about there. Or, for that matter, a number of other directors. I think, if I do another film class, that’s what I’m going to do: focus on one or two directors and really discuss their work at more depth.

    (As opposed to the “let’s learn neat English phrases from this film” approach, which is useful perhaps on some level, but sounds like freshman or high school stuff more than University senior stuff.)

  5. I’ve never seen A*P*E, but it sounds like a movie I should check out to use in the class. I wonder if the movie was produced by Americans, Koreans or both?

  6. Someone once described the Bond books to me as wish-fulfillment for traveling businessmen. Bond gets an assignment that requires he travel to some exotic locale where he gets to kill people and sleep with women.

    I’ve only read one of the Bond books but the sexism/sadism was worse than in the movies. Although the visual image has more power.

  7. Junsok,

    Ah, yeah, you should check it out. It’s spectacularly bad, but it’s also quite interesting as a weird (distorted) picture of Korea in ’76. It was a Korean/American co-production, says Wikipedia. BTW Apparently it was 3D, though when I saw it, there were no 3D effects.

    Here’s a video from the film, by the way, which many reviews claimed summed up the film itself in terms of its attitude toward viewers:


    That’s a funny-yet-scary take on the Bond books, which makes me wonder, but also feel slightly afraid, to look up how popular they actually were. But I guess if it’s bad people they’re killing, right? Er…

    As for sexism and sadism permeating the book you checked out, this doesn’t surprise me at all, given the publication period. The early sixties, I think, had lots of older and middle-aged (and surely even some young) white guys who were not at all pleased at how things were changing. Fantasy was one of the places they could work out that rage and frustration with little or no real risk.

    I knew to expect sexism and probably racism too, when I picked up You Only Live Twice… I mean, look at this cover:

    It manages to take most of the imagery from two earlier covers:



    6a00d8341c3b2653ef00e5522e96cc8834-800wi… and create something that’s arguably both more sexist and more racist at the same time (and in a way that inherently connects sexism and racism) than either earlier cover. And has a character named Kissy Suzuki.

    Incidentally, I was reading about Sidney Reilly the other day, because of his involvement in the Lockhart Plot. (Because I’m researching Moura Budberg, HG Wells’ last lover, and Budberg’s earliest known lover was RH Bruce Lockhart, the British agent in Moscow for whom the plot was named, and whose autobiographical tell-all was a huge, huge hit and perhaps a formative spy-thriller narrative.) Anyway, it turns out Reilly is widely believed to have been the basis for the character of James Bond, which is kinda funny as intersections go.

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