Popular culture and the narrative: the case of the James Bond 007 films

Doctoral thesis OPEN
  • Subject: Popular culture | James Bond films | Documentary films | Mass media and culture | Narration (Rhetoric)

This study examines the contribution of popular culture and artefacts in the narratives of the James Bond films and postulates that these narratives in turn become popular cultures of their own. In the audiovisual industry the actuality and novelty of the content and the production thereof relates directly to the success of the production. The main reason is because of actuality of the theme, topic and the popular culture portrayed in the production. The popular culture products at the time of production is set to change rapidly within weeks from the time the premiere has been broadcast. These products include technologies like colour, grain and resolution which are quite evident even to the untrained eye. Furthermore, and as the aim of this study, social products like fashion, hairstyles, language, décor, cars, watches, slang, paradigms, narrative schemes and actuality news stories will have rapidly changed and might not be accepted and embraced by the viewers. The unique way in which all of these elements are incorporated into the narrative scheme for the production can proclaim a stake in box-office income for a film. These popular culture elements are usually developed with a short term and immediate goal of success in mind. For the purposes of this study though, and as a result of its success, the James Bond 007 films by Eon Productions are studied as a unique case study of a sustainable popular cultural phenomenon. Although initially thought of as too popular for academic inquests Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels soon attracted the attention of academics like Kingsley Amis and Umberto Eco. In the years to follow numerous theorists the likes of Roland Barthes, Robin Wood, Tony Bennett, Janet Woollacot and James Chapman investigated the academic and socio-cultural implications of Bond. According to Chapman (1999:4-13) the main reason that the James Bond “phenomenon” is still not receiving much academic attention is because it is merely “unfashionable in the present intellectual climate”. Trahair (1976:1) states that merchandising the hero’s image is important in creating a popular hero. He adds that this is only possible if you have a “saleable” item, in this case Bond. Not only is the Bond phenomenon well marketed but also well accepted by audiences. It is estimated that almost half the world’s population has seen at least one Bond film (Chapman, 1999:14; Smith & Lavington, 2002:1). According to Smith and Lavington (2002:1) the Bond franchise is seen as: “the longest-running, most commercially successful and perhaps most recognisable film series in the history of the medium”. Bond raked in record breaking audiences and or box-office income for almost every newly released James Bond film over a period of forty years. It is also recorded as the highest grossing film franchise in the world with added grosses of more than $3 billion until 1999 (Chapman, 1999:14). This gives an indication of the acceptance of the holistic concept that is James Bond 007. It leads to the question of why James Bond works in a world that has changed enormously in the last forty years. What is presently in fashion and technologically advanced could be easily outdated and succeeded by the time it is sold. It is then the popular nature of the franchise as created through the narrative scheme and popular culture elements within this narrative recipe that lead to this enquiry. After branding Bond as being extremely popular, Smith and Lavington (2002:1) remarks that: “We know that. Everyone knows that. And that’s the point.” They are referring to the fact that Bond is so well known and accepted that an inquiry into its popularity is inevitable. Although many such enquiries have been made this study will focus on the use of popular commodities or popular culture artefacts to popularise the narratives of the James Bond films. These narratives in turn commodify the films as a popular franchise. Dr. F.P. Duvenage
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