Oh, James Bond will return. The end credits of each of his films promise, nay threaten it. Rather, the revelation that newly indicted longtime Donald Trump associate Paul Manafort’s password of choice across several platforms is “Bond007” should serve as a termination warrant more binding on all men who care about style than anything SMERSH, SPECTRE or indeed Woody Allen’s Dr. Noah ever issued.
Bond isn’t guilty, but certainly irrevocably tainted by association with the man who spent $849,000 of possibly laundered funds at a New York men’s clothing store (and an additional $500,000 or so at a clothing store of unidentified gender in Beverly Hills) who still doesn’t look good, except in, as fashion critic Robin Givhan pointed out, a sort of dated 1980s glitziness. The same sort of glitziness that animates the style of Donald Trump, whose campaign Manafort co-chaired, taking credit among other things for the selection of man who cannot trust himself alone with women Mike Pence as Trump’s vice president.
We appear to be in an age where American psychos or Bond villains, Max Zorins if you will, think they are Bonds. Each age gets its Bond, not necessarily the one it deserves. Poor Timothy Dalton, my favorite Bond after Daliah Lavi, was dealt a bum hand playing Bond in a period that didn’t know what to do with him. (Why Dalton? Connery looks too much like my Dad.) Since Dalton, the Bond films have been about first acknowledging that Bond is a cliché, then resituating his anachronism. Like Manafort, however, Daniel Craig’s recent Bond films and his wretchedly ill-fitting Tom Ford suits show that all the money in the world can’t necessarily buy elegance.
Manafort’s password precipitates many ironies. The man using the most famous secret agent as his password is charged with failing to register as a foreign agent for a power (the former government of Ukraine) allied with Bond’s most infamous state enemy. Like Bond’s return to basics (a male M; gadgets reined in from invisible cars to a Home Alone-style DIY showdown in Skyfall), Russia too has come full circle from Cold War adversary to détente fencing partner to corrupt ally to hostile entity better poised than ever to destabilize the United States. Perhaps his terrible, constricted fits are aa similar return to source, an homage to Bond’s creator Ian Fleming, whose real-life sadomasochism is well documented.
It gives me little joy to write this. My Bond bore credentials are embarrassingly extensive. But Manafort’s Bond self-identification recalls yet another early Bond theme, the worry expressed by some critics that the very first (shut up, fellow bores) Bond film, Dr. No, with its scene of 007 shooting an enemy in the back half a dozen times, portended “a fascist cinema uncorrupted by moral scruples.” Today’s portents are of a bigoted, ultranationalistic executive uncorrupted by moral scruples and unchecked by the rule of law, installed and supported by men like Manafort, those he lobbied for, and a handful of billionaires who believe their ends justify any means.
Bond was fun for a while, but as he recalls his “first expensive tailor” saying, we can do better now. Find inspirations elsewhere in heroes more aware of their ridiculousness, like Steed, or of their crassness, like the Kingsman crew, or simply in those who strive to do right, like Patrick McGoohan’s John Drake, or the tailor spy Elim Garak. Or perhaps leave the spy genre altogether and pick alternatives; I’ve written about enough of them to fill a Zorin blimp if you need to start somewhere. We can find better style inspirations than those picked by these trite, terrible, tacky men.