“You’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War,” Judy Dench’s M tells Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in 1995’s Goldeneye. Fast forward to 2018 and 007 – that prototype of white, heterosexual maleness – seems hopelessly out of touch. This stereotype of masculinity and Britishness – and even of an MI6 spy – is outdated, and Bond’s cult hero status is hard to justify in his current incarnation.
If Hollywood can create a black superhero in Black Panther, a character that challenges negative cultural stereotypes of African Americans, then it’s time to explore Bond’s identity in a way that better reflects who we are in 2018. In this online age, we all have an opportunity to explore our identity through our digital selves – through gaming, social media, and exposure to alternative cultures and lifestyles on the internet. And now that once-accepted traditional male behaviour is being challenged by the likes of the #metoo movement, it definitely looks like Bond’s time is up.
Who are we?
Our sense of self is our most basic understanding of how we interact with the world. It starts off with the first question your parents are asked before you are even born: “It is a girl or a boy?” Once, everything seemed clear cut and binary, but the recent emergence of transgenderism and gender fluidity into mainstream debate has revealed that for an increasing number of people, life is anything but binary.
However, the reality is that humans have never been binary. Typically, “normal” people have two sex chromosomes: females have two X chromosomes (46,XX), and males have one X and one Y chromosome (46,XY). However, Klinefelter syndrome (also known as KS or 47,XXY) is where boys are born with an extra X chromosome and girls with Turners syndrome (also known as TS or 45X) have only a single active X chromosome – but these genetic differences don’t make these individuals any less a man or woman.
Gender identity is just one example, but there has always been a cultural and historic lens through which we understand “normality”. For example, homosexuality was classified as a disorder in the first two versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – seen as the authoritative guide to mental disorders – and was only declassified in 1980.
But difference doesn’t mean abnormality either. For example, synaesthesia (which is not listed in the DSM) is a neurological condition where a person can literally taste words or hear colour – because of the “mixing” of sensory streams such as hearing, with another, such as vision.
In the digital world, “normal” is also being challenged because we have infinite opportunities to freely try out and take on different identities. In 2003, the online virtual world of Second Life saw people take on different identities and imagine a completely new existence for themselves.
These days, gamers can spend more time playing their online characters than being their real selves. So, if you are a World of Warcraft gamer, who are you really? A warlock, a warrior or Steve from accounts? Understanding gaming identity also reflects back to the “real world” because it highlights the importance of identity in how we learn. Educationalist James Gee, a proponent of learning through computer games, says:
Good games offer players identities that trigger a deep investment on the part of the player … Some games offer a character so intriguing that players want to inhabit the character and can readily project their own fantasies, desires and pleasures on to the character.
My own research has shown that children with autism – who supposedly have difficulties in understanding other people’s perspectives – can successfully role play different characters in computer-generated worlds. This can be used to investigate an autistic child’s understanding of non-literal language like sarcasm and figures of speech, but also trust and friendships. Recently, we used computer role play to understand how children see the boundaries between themselves and the adults in their lives. Doing so helped reveal children’s social vulnerabilities but in an ethical and controlled way.
Creating a Bond
So, in our ever-shifting world, the next James Bond should better reflect the way we now view normality and difference. Yet despite all this all potential for change, toxic masculinity has become a serious problem. The narrow, restrictive and damaging ways that men are encouraged to define themselves has led to a crisis that is being played out in all walks of life, not just in post-Weinstein Hollywood. Young men in particular need alternative ways of seeing themselves besides in the context of sexual prowess and power.
If we can assume and absorb new identities in the digital world, why can’t Bond be reimagined? If the reality of our genetics and neurology is more subtle than binary, why shouldn’t 007 be a woman or transgender or have a disability? Why couldn’t Bond be bisexual? (After all, being dogmatically straight effectively rules out his superlative espionage techniques on one half of the population.) Or what if Bond was of Caribbean heritage, from the place where his creator Ian Fleming himself lived and wrote? An Afro-Caribbean bisexual Bond would have a poetic symmetry and allow for a new journey of self-discovery of what it is to be a man in the 21st century.
We no longer have to feel ourselves straitjacketed by fixed ideas of national, cultural or sexual identity. In 2018 technology can help take us beyond who society tells us we are, where we can explore whole new worlds and different ways of life, and decide exactly who we want to be.