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Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 11:03 am
A sinister totalitarian organisation seeks world domination. It's us.

As a kid I played -- innocently, guiltily -- in the shadow of the Cold War propaganda of the Bond films. I guided a model Aston Martin DB6 around the carpet and enjoyed pushing the button that activated the deadly weapons that this car, alone amongst my toy cars, possessed. I watched the films, in which the British secret agent quipped and killed his way to inevitable victory over eccentric totalitarians with foreign accents and plans for world domination. It all seemed like innocent fun.



It was only later, as my political and ethical sympathies evolved, that I began to feel the Bond franchise might be infused with toxic values. Not just the values inscribed into the Bond themes and songs -- "he's got a license to kill", "you've got to give the other fellow hell", "live and let die" -- but the stuff I started hearing about Ian Fleming himself. That he was a right-wing xenophobe who talked about "niggers" in his books, or stereotyped Koreans as "the cruelest people on earth", who boasted that he'd killed a man while working for naval intelligence, and claimed to be one of the key figures in the creation of the CIA. It was even annoying that he'd named his villain Auric Goldfinger after the Jewish, Marxist architect Ernő Goldfinger, creator of the Modernist Trellick Tower and architect of the offices of the Daily Worker newspaper and the British Communist Party HQ. And yet every time a new Bond film came out the lifestyle press spouted reams of stuff about how suits and guns and dry martini and British males who killed foreigners were sexy again.



This week a new piece of back story to the Bond saga emerged. A BBC Radio 4 documentary called M is for Maxwell Knight looked into the background of the man on whom Fleming based the character of spymaster M. Some pretty unsavory details emerged; Knight "believed that socialism, and its attack upon the British Empire and commerce, constituted an existential threat to the British way of life and British government". And so Knight joined the British Fascisti Party.

Christopher Andrew, who's writing the official history of MI5, pops up to explain this one: "At the time the only fascists who were around were Italian fascists. And there were a lot of traditional conservatives and right wing radicals who thought that the best thing that had ever happened to Italy was Benito Mussolini coming along and getting the trains to run on time. So we shouldn't confuse the British Fascisti, or the British Fascists, of the mid- and late 1920s with the British Union of Fascists of the late 1930s, still less the further-right Right Club, and still less with the Nazi party." It was at this time that Knight, who'd become the Fascisti's Director of Intelligence, started working for British government intelligence, concentrating mostly on infiltrating left wing organisations. He encouraged fellow Fascisti members to join the Communist Party of Great Britain as spies.

Knight was close with Oswald Mosley and William Joyce, who became Lord Haw Haw when he moved to Berlin to make English-language broadcasts on behalf of the Nazis. Heather Joyce, Lord Haw Haw's daughter, remembers a visit Knight made to her father in the 1930s. "I did see him twice when he was in his uniform, and looking very handsome and impressive. They undid their belts, because they were going to eat, you see, and they sat over in the corner and everybody got up and... gave the fascist salute." Just as I, as a child, was playing with James Bond toys, so Heather and her sister were walking around in black shirts made for them by their parents.

Now, one line of thinking we could legitimately follow when we learn this stuff is that the beloved M from James Bond is an extremely right wing figure, that Fleming's slurs on communist architects and Knight's infiltration of communist organisations come from the same basic worldview, and that the Bond franchise to this day -- including all those style mag features on the sexiness of Anglo-Saxons in suits carrying guns -- has reactionary attitudes deep in its DNA. But Christopher Andrew draws a very different lesson: "British intelligence became world class because it was better at using eccentric and unconventional talents," he says, successfully turning "being a fascist" into "just being terribly British and charming", an argument which clearly cuts both ways and smears a lot of charming British eccentrics with some nasty slime. Andrew has an equally British explanation for Knight's later metamorphosis into a TV presenter of animal programmes on the BBC: "He had an unusual set of social skills," he tells us. "By unusual, I mean that he got on just as well with animals as with human beings. So what he's recognised as is a wonderful British eccentric with a wonderful ability for getting humans and animals to do what he wants them to do."

A sinister totalitarian organisation is seeking world domination. It's us, the British.

63CommentReplyFlag

electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)

I should make an imomus post bingo card. This one would get about half the squares, I think. A+


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autopope
autopope
Autopope
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 10:18 am (UTC)

You might want to track down a copy of my Bond/H. P. Lovecraft pastiche The Jennifer Morgue purely for the afterword -- in which yr. hmbl. crspndnt. tracks Ernst Stavro Blofeld down to his retirement home to get his side of the story. (Or prod me and I'll email you a copy.)

Yes, there was some really crazy cross-fertilization going on in the British intelligence world prior to 1991 -- and also in the intersection between fascism and the military/imperialist complex. Random example: Major General J. F. C. Fuller -- military spokesperson for Moseley's fascists -- was, during WW1, the chief tactician of the Machine Gun Corps' Heavy Branch, the world's first armoured unit. He pretty much invented the doctrine that later got named Blitzkrieg and associated with the Nazis; he was one of the authors of Plan 1919, the allied combined-arms motorized assault on Berlin planned for spring 1919. Barkingly patriotic, drifted into fascism during the 1930s because he thought the west was doomed, otherwise, to be overrun by non-white persons ... and he was also second string only to Aleister Crowley in the A.A. (before splitting with him acrimoniously in 1913).

Magick, eccentric hyperpatriotic generals, and blitzkrieg: what's not to boggle at?

Edited at 2009-01-29 10:19 am (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 10:19 am (UTC)

Off-topic: I see that Ocky Milk - the only Momus album that was on Spotify - has been pulled. Was that at your request? What do you feel about these streaming services?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 10:28 am (UTC)

It wasn't at my request. Maybe Cherry Red's? Someone gave me a Spotify invite, but when I tried to join it told me the service wasn't available in Germany.

My feeling is that pop music is too easily available, too ubiquitous, and that that's what has devalued it to close-to-zero. Music should become rare and difficult-to-find again. Instead of streaming music, we should be hiding it like Easter eggs or buried treasure.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 10:34 am (UTC)

Sean Connery vs Pierce Brosnan


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georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 11:30 am (UTC)

Presumably, during the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Goldfinger and Maxwell Knight would have been on the same side then.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 11:40 am (UTC)

To give old Knight his due, during WW2 he also infiltrated fascist organisations in Britain, which Goldfinger would no doubt have been happy about. He was responsible for the imprisonment of his old friend Mosley. But, according to his Wikipedia entry, "A notable failing was his entrapment of Ben Greene the pacifist Quaker refugee worker who was interned by the then Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson, as result of false evidence from Knight's agent provocateur Harald Kurtz."


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 11:48 am (UTC)

I watched the recent Casino Royale for the first time recently. I quite enjoyed it. I was peripherally aware of the kind of values you talk about, but they didn't intrude especially on my enjoyment of the film, as they might with other films.

I'm reminded, for some reason, of Judge Dredd. I believe the creator of the character - I forget his name - basically wanted to create the portrait of a fascist. Apparently he was a bit disturbed when everyone loved his character and thought he was a hero.

I don't suppose Ian Fleming was similarly disturbed at people loving James Bond.

I think the attraction is in the coldness of it, somehow.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)

Ah, Gavin McInnes. I wonder what a reasonable centrist like him would make of this extremist I met in a cafe in Nakameguro a few years back?


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downwithtunes.blogspot.com
downwithtunes.blogspot.com
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
Did you see the latest Bond flick?

It's absurdly left-wing in message, which gels really weirdly with the generally right-wing attitude of the characters.

Bond fights an evil corporation that topples Latin American democratically-elected governments with the help of the CIA, in order to control the water supply and make money off the indigenous population when global warming arrives. It specifically paints up the pre-coup Haitian government and Evo Morales's government in Bolivia in a positive light.

Some weird shit right there.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Did you see the latest Bond flick?

Well, the collapse of the binary Cold War mindset and the emergence of our own bankers as public enemy number one has thrown the Bond franchise into a guilty turmoil, I'd imagine. So they've started concocting plots where Anglo-Saxons with guns have to undo the damage wrought by other Anglo-Saxons with guns. I suppose it does at least replicate some of the Cold War paranoia -- "This guy talks like a banker -- whose side is he on?"

Edited at 2009-01-29 01:54 pm (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)

"It's us, the British."

I was going to say “you dismiss the long history of a British liberal left in four words. You can’t say Bond is Us”, although I think the two go hand in hand. The ‘good guy’ side of colonialism (charity, the World Service, internationalism as shown on Click Opera) can pave the way, encouraging trust, for ‘bad guy’ to get away with much more.

The key is ‘domination’, and here the problem is compounded. Are good schools, good hospitals, stable governments who don’t dehumanise “the people” domination? Bring it on. That is what we used to believe would happen if Bond helped remove a corrupt system.

But isn’t there a new generation who believe that their government is not only incompetent but actually dangerous? Aren’t they asking why the double benefits their parents had have disappeared (socialised protection in the workplace, capitalist windfalls on the property ladder). One things sure - their spy would be a much richer character..


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
extreme right wing in film

extreme right-winged figures and the extreme glorification of heroe-ness is bashed at: http://www.pink-rabbit.org/


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)

I am not sure if this has been discussed before or if it is off topic, but I think that those who steal the "national identity" of nations are xenophobic facists and nationalists. Not immigrants.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)

Bond films have always upset and angered me greatly - partly, I think, for the subliminal fascist codings that I've apprehended but have now come to understand more fully thanks to your persuasive exposition, Momus, but also (not unrelatedly) for the casual 'funny' violence. It's not that I can't appreciate the effects engendered by ironic mediations of violent suffering; they often work in complex and aptly unsettling ways in David Lynch films and sometimes in Coen brothers' films (the nihilistic laughter that echoes emptily behind Tarantino violence is beyond me, though). Like many, my exposure to Bond movies, at a young age, was as Saturday teatime TV family entertainment: cosy, light-hearted, flippant burnings, electrocutions, slicings, et al. I'm sure I felt even then - as I do now - that the slick, swift despatches, clearly designed to elicit transient and unconcerned adult mirth, were somehow also meant to toughen up the kids in the room, caught as they were within that jovial acoustic, for gorier things to come - and, of course, for sexually cold-but-proficient, easefully violent adulthood. But I never really went in for Nazi youth...

Jamesy


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
"For a European, you are exceptionally well cultivated"

Was "You Only Live Twice" an influence on a young Nick Currie, and his subsequent interest in Japan?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
Re: "For a European, you are exceptionally well cultivated"

My family may have been strange, but we didn't really see Bond movies at all. I don't think I've ever seen You Only Live Twice. The one I know best is probably Live and Let Die, only because it was on in the cinema of the SS France when we were emigrating to Canada, and me and my brother went every day.


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endoftheseason
endoftheseason
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)

Doesn't the ironic, tongue-in-cheek quality of the Bond stuff, in all its bombastic obviousness and which anyone over five is going to pick up on, undercut what might otherwise be its totalitarianism? I suppose you could say that it's totalitarian in spite of its knowing self-awareness about its totalitarianism and that that makes it even more sinister (whereas the USSR was at least up front and embarrassingly earnest about the whole thing), and therefore to be censored. But by that time you might find yourself on some committee arguing that Momus records have a deleterious effect on the morale of the workers' state and, so, are ripe for a good old-fashioned suppressin'.

PS--I'm not a big fan of the Bond movies. They're thin, repetitive, and boring, so that after about fifteen minutes you'd give almost anything to go dig some ditches.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)

I agree that they're terribly boring movies. I would give all the Bond movies just for this one scene where Mike Myers plays Dr Evil in therapy:


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC)

This is the best Bond theme: Nancy Sinatra, John Barry, You Only Live Twice:



But, as I say, I've never seen the film! I'm sure the portrayal of Japan would annoy me even more than Lost In Translation's did.


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funazushi
funazushi
funazushi
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC)

After watching your clip I just noticed that Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay.




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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)

Bond movies always bored me to death too. I liked his spanish counterpart a lot better: http://comicsenextincion.blogspot.com/2008/10/anacleto-agente-secreto-por-vzquez.html


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robinsonner
robinsonner
the maven
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)

The infiltration of The Communist Party by right wingers intrigued me as I read about Anthony Blunt and the Cambridge Spies. Were they treble agents?
I have ordered a copy of "Deceiving The Deceivers".

Another M who intrigues me is ex British Intelligence George Markstein, the person who worked with the late Patrick McGoohan on the original Prisoner stories and is behind the desk No6 thumps as he hands in his resignation.
Here is the real Village in Inverness Markstein told Mc Goohan about.

There is also a rare Adam Curtis series called "The Living Dead" on Google video which studies in episode two the paranoid hall of mirrors in the CIA during the era of "mind control" experimentation.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8179092243297154729

Edited at 2009-01-29 10:35 pm (UTC)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jan. 29th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)

Wow, an Adam Curtis documentary I haven't seen! Excellent!


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