Edited by Claire Hines
Fan Phenomena Series
Bristol: Intellect, 2015
Paperback. 152 p. ISBN 978-1783205172. £15.50
Reviewed by Claire Jenkins
University of Leicester
Claire Hines’ edited collection on James Bond provides useful and contemporary scholarship on a hugely popular franchise. The book covers a range of topics, brought together through a shared focus on fandom, covering continuity (William Proctor), transmedia (Matthew Freeman) anti-fandom (Jesüs Jiménez-Varera and Antonio Pineda), fan lifestyles (Llewella Burton, Stephanie Jones) and queer readings (Elizabeth J. Nielsen) amongst others. Although, as an edited collection, there is not one over-arching argument that draws this book together, what does emerge is a clear understanding that Bond remains a significant cultural icon, and the texts of huge significance to popular culture. Underpinning this is a similar recognition that the character of Bond is problematic – in the words of M in GoldenEye (Campbell, 1995) a ‘sexist, misogynistic dinosaur’ (Brooks and Hill: 122), and that both the texts and the fans have had to negotiate this. As Lisa Funnell writes, of her experiences as a feminist fan and scholar, ‘I appropriate the (traditionally male) spectatorial gaze and negotiate my own reading of the film’ (Funnell: 92). Brooks and Hill note that the most recent films have tried to reboot the character and develop him for a modern age explaining ‘Craig’s spy is hardy and desirable, but unlike his predecessors, the rebooted Bond is in possession of a peculiarly feminine-like frailty that distinguishes him as a liminal figure’ [122-123], and as such there is a real coherence running through the volume. Its further strength is the focus on Bond films within a wider context, for example Llewella Burton’s chapter draws attention to the consumerist tie-ins to the franchise that began in earnest after Goldfinger and were initially exploited by the Parisian department store Galleries Lafayette’s 007 range. Similar Stephanie Jones unpicks and critiques Paul Kyriazi’s self-help audio/e-book The Complete James Bond Lifestyle Seminar. It is this focus on extra-textual material that allows the volume to broaden out from existing scholarship.
The collection is part of Intellect’s Fan Phenomena series, a series that bridges the gap between popular and academic scholarship, and whilst that does mean the production of the book is of high quality, it does have its drawbacks. The Fan Phenomena series intersperses essays with interviews with significant fans – in this instance Raymond Benson, author of official Bond novels, Peter Lorenz, a Bond artist, James Bond the owner of a fan-museum in Sweden and two cross-players. The interviews offer interesting stories and an insight into the breadth of fandom, but for scholars reading this collection, a more critical and evaluative approach to these interviews would be preferable.
The positioning of this book between academic and popular audience does hinder its scholarship. This is most evident in two ways, the light touch in terms of academic sources cited (and no real citation system), but mostly in length. It is a credit to this volume that it offers more nuanced and insightful scholarship than other books in the series, the sole-authored Hunger Games volume is particularly disappointing and demonstrates the value of an edited collection on a topic such as this, but many of the chapters feel as if they have been cut short. That is not to say they do not offer original and insightful scholarship, but they do feel constrained by the style of the book. For example Lucy Bolton’s interesting work on phenomenology and the Bond films demonstrates the various ways in the different eras/incarnations of Bond have been ‘comfortingly familiar and appropriately respectful’ , but the chapter feels like it does not not have time to fully get to grips with ideas of phenomoneology and what this might mean for Bond films and Bond audiences. The same is true of Lisa Funnell’s equally as thoughtful discussion of her own experiences as a feminist Bond fan and scholar. Funnell argues that as a feminist viewer she is not aligned with female characters but is instead ‘staking claim’ on Bond’s male privilege . Funnell further challenges expectations regarding gender roles and Bond by drawing a comparison between Bond women and the heroines of romantic comedies arguing that in both instances ‘professional women are stereotyped and taken to task usually by men who constitute their love interests’ and that ‘by the end of the film, they are made to see the error of their ways and take on more traditional gender roles’ . This assertion needs further attention, there are nuances missed here regarding agency and bodily objectification. A longer essay would have more time to unpick these complexities.
The strongest chapters are certainly those that manage to situate their analysis clearly within a wider fan studies context, particularly Freeman’s chapter focused on transmedia Bond texts. Freeman focuses on the hot topic of transmedia that is fully exploited by popular franchises such as the Marvel universe. Freeman notes how the Bond franchise functions differently from those around it explaining that ‘whereas transmedia storytelling depends on narratives evolving and continuing across media, Bond is a fictional storyworld that relies on a tendency to keep things the same’ . Willie’s essay about fan edits clearly demonstrates the way in which fan productions are not interested in financial gain, but in remaining faithful to the canon, again situating the work within a wider sphere. Perhaps two of the most convincing and insightful chapters are those that move away from the central Bond texts and look at the way Bond has been appropriated by others. The first of these is Jiménez-Varera and Pineda’s analysis of Alan Moore’s scathing representation of ‘Jimmy’ Bond in his comic series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. They argue that this depiction acts as an example of anti-fandom, for Moore has immersed himself deeply in the character and has spent time and creative energy actively undermining Bond. Stephanie Jones analysis of Kiriaki’s Lifestyle Seminar, aimed at helping Bond fans improve their lives by living like their hero, makes the argument here that such a text is problematic as it offers only a fixed reading from the perspective of a male viewer. For this reason the Lifestyle Seminar becomes a problematic text, for, as Jones notes ‘it remains a challenge to provide a reading of the lifestyle that is able to balance a fan’s own personal connection with Bond…ultimately…fandom works as an extension of the self’ .
Despite the constraints of the series, this volume does offer a valuable addition to Bond scholarship. This is particularly evident in the strong focus on contemporary Bond films, and contemporary responses to the franchise. The final two chapters are specifically concerned with Craig’s tenure as Bond and the way in which the hero has been updated and developed for a contemporary audience. Despite the limitations of this collection, that primarily emerge through the constraints of the volume and the series, this does offer a significant addition to Bond scholarship.
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