Skyfall: Anglophilia in the Age of Globalization

John McGovern

 

The latest Bond film Skyfall fills viewer’s heads with delectable, admirable views of what it means to be British. There are plenty of other explanations as to why Bond films are adored by American audiences. But some of that success must be credited to the long tradition of Anglophilia in America. The American expansionist impulse has a connection to the love of Englishness, as the United States inherited, more or less, the role of the great imperial power from Britain. As Britain’s position as a global power has decreased since the end of World War II, it is unfathomable that it could possess such a well-funded spy agency, like Mi6 in the Bond franchise. But the myth continues to live on.

 

For American bibliophiles, the motherland of the language will always be a place of interest. Yet, even though the average American only reads a few books a year, the attraction of United States citizens to the old Empire is more complex. America’s Anglican origins may be the foundation for the love of British culture, but it does not explain the phenomenon’s pervasive presence in America’s psyche. As Christopher Hitchens chronicles in his book about Anglo-American relations titled Blood, Class & Nostalgia, strains of Anglophilia and Anglophobia have fluctuated in America’s conscious since its inception as a nation. Amongst ordinary Americans, a strain of Anglophilia persists strongly. There’s no better example of this than in popular culture, with British cultural exports like Harry Potter and The Beatles becoming ingrained into America’s conscious. Tabloid obsessions with British royalty, and, more recently, the Olympics, are other manifestations of Yankee love for the English. But any discussion of British cultural exports, and how they reflect Anglo-American relations, is void without James Bond.

 

The pleasures of the empire are experienced through Bond. The promises of capitalism are embodied in the lifestyle of Bond; travel to exotic locations across the globe, sex with beautiful women, luxurious accommodations, high-end cuisine and expensive booze. The fact that Bond is British gives him an edge that is appealing to Americans. That is edge is superiority. Hitchens writes, “The ideology of ‘Anglo-Saxondom,’ based as it was on blood, could infuse the meanest in station with a sense of superiority.”  In reality, an American spy, albeit one who leads a less glamorous, martini-soaked life, would possess more power than a British contemporary. A British spy has the attractive quality of foreignness, and is from a country so closely entangled with the history of the United States that his foreignness seems familiar and therefore, appealing. Besides, though he works with Americans at times, he still represents the West. He fights all the same villains as America. There is not a possibility of betrayal and he can be seen as a “good guy.”

 

 

The Bond narrative is often contrived, exaggerated and apparently fictitious, but it still offers glimpses of reality. The plot might be schematic, but the enemy is real. It’s not Lord Voldemort; it’s the Soviet Union or a rogue internal “terrorist.”  As the power of the nation-state declines, patriotism becomes lauded more ardently by the new right. This renders Anglophilia, and more importantly, national identities, a new face that is unrecognizable, that is always changing. M’s incantation of Tennyson’s Ulysses, during a trial attempting to prosecute her for her inadequacy as the head of Mi6, attempts to demonstrate the tenacity of Britain in face of its new enemies who are brought about by globalization. Just as globalization unifies the world while projecting misleading images of diverse, ethnic multiculturalism, pop-culture icons, like Bond, will adapt to these processes so they can remain relevant and realistic to the audience.

 

Skyfall’s Englishness is, nevertheless, ubiquitous. From M’s famous aloofness, to the subtle shots of the Thames glistening - and the not so subtle shots of London’s cavernous tube stations - there’s plenty for Anglophiles to feast on. Of course, the accents provide ample doses of Englishness as well.

 

M and Bond’s relationship is explored further than any previous film in the franchise. This is perhaps a testament to the need to solidify Bond as a true, faithful emblem of Englishness. A new villain is always around the corner, and the future of Britain seems unclear - with enemies who are now “opaque”- there is a sense of security offered by watching Bond. He has always triumphed in the past, so he could not fail now.

 

As the insular past of the nation begins to dissipate, those who wish to hold on to their national identities most become radicalized. Look no further than this year’s election. The GOP does not want to accept the changes that are happening to the world. Evoking traditional, conservative, family values is an attempt to rewrite the circumstances of the modern world. M’s Great Britain represents a variant of this conservatism. It reminds us of a world where nations seem more cohesive, where national identity was easier to formulate, with the Soviet Union around to demonize and simplify the nation’s moral compass, the nation’s worldview. M’s eloquent rebuttal at her trial doesn’t acknowledge this epoch shift directly, but it does point at the issue of identity. It is the dilemma that all art, in its essence, deals with or confronts. That is, the question of identity.

 

Most of the world does not have the luxury of traveling. Even for those can afford it, days or weeks abroad will not often be sufficient enough to subdue a person’s romanticized views of a culture. Enough travel and education will likely change this, but that is a further demand of luxury that requires wealth. Just as America’s influence on the world through soft power has the ability to create a deceptive image of American life and culture, Britain has the same effect on the U.S. It would be troublesome to negate the idiosyncratic differences between the two cultures. There are many that exist and could be elaborated on at length. But in order to understand Anglophilia, it is best to focus on the similarities, rather than the differences.

 

Author Bio:

John McGovern is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

 

Anglophile photo: Dave Gates (Flickr, Creative Commons).

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