Monthly Archives: November 2012

“Looking-Glass Self” in Skyfall: The Identity of James Bond”

[Spoiler heavy zone]

Two nights ago, I went to see the latest James Bond movie, “Skyfall.”  I’d just started my Thanksgiving break, and  I was hoping for a fast-paced action movie with good cinematography.  I felt even the introduction was worth the price of admission.  Although I enjoy watching Bond movies, I often feel uncomfortable with the overt (and covert) sexism.  Particularly, the aggrandizement of traditional masculine gender roles like violence to solve problems bothers me, as well as the objectification of women.  Despite all of this, I usually enjoy going to see Bond movies.  Today is not the day that I’m going to explore my hypocrisy on my blog.

“Skyfall” justifies the need for spies and the entire spy industry in today’s world, but the spy “industry” needs to adapt.  The parallel between Bond and the overall spy business is evident.  One of the major questions in the movie is despite psychological and physical limitations, can Bond continue to be efficient in a career field that needs to adapt to changes in globalization, technology, and warfare?  The “enemy” has drastically changed.  However, I like the fact that the villain of this movie was created by the British government itself, as opposed to an operative from another traditional, national enemy, or a terrorist, say, from the Middle East.  It makes sense people having to make monstrous decisions who are abandoned might eventually become villanous.

The movie had gorgeous psychological symbolism in it, which, as my spouse and I discussed may go back to “Casino Royale.”   When a character, Silva, asks Bond about his hobby, Bond quips, “resurrection.”  Yet, this is very accurate.  I can think of at least three cases of Bond being symbolically resurrected, and I’ll bet that there are more.  Bond gets shot by his partner and  falls into water.  He’s presumed dead, but I think that it is important that we never witness him emerge from the water.  However, he is alive and taking a break, reminding me of being in paradise or purgatory.  He returns to the UK when he sees the main plot of the movie shaping up on television.  After returning to the home he grew up in, Skyfall, he winds up destroying his home in flames and eventually falls through the ice.  (Before this, he runs through underground tunnels attached to his house.  This also seems very psychological in terms of the subconscious.)

Personally, when he emerges from the ice feels like his actual resurrection to me.  Another interesting symbolic motif in the film is the continual use of mirrors and reflections of Bond. This reminds me of Cooley’s idea of the looking-glass self.  Our self image comes from how we think that others see us (Conley).  This cute wikipedia image is an example of this.  This idea is important in this movie because Bond “dies”, and he has to determine who he is again.  He is “James Bond,” which apparently is truly his name.  It’s neat to see the interactions happen between Bond and the gamekeeper, Kincade, that knew him as a child.  This person would be one living person that shaped his identity before he was an agent. Kincade obviously had a relationship with young Bond, but he doesn’t fully know his adult identity.  M makes a comment about orphans making the best agents.  While one might assume this is due to their lack of social connections, I believe it’s because without parents and other caregivers, it’s easier to shape the identity of a person into an agent.  In this movie, it seems that the people helping Bond to solidify his identity are is “Mother”, M, his symbolic brother, Silva, and even other characters like the new “Q,” and his new partner.

MI-6 also goes through many of these same transformations.  It is blown up and damaged at the beginning so they change headquarters. (A similar chase seen occurs under the tunnels attached to the new location.)  Then, it is under assault from the government for being ineffective and useless due to globalization.  It is under the same threat and has to go through the same identity reconstruction process that Bond did.  At the end, there is a changing of the guard that make it evident that the institution is continuing, but their identity has been permanently changed.  I look forward to seeing where the franchise and the characters go from here.

What symbolism have I missed?  Do you think that I’m right about the imagery in the movie?




Filed under Movie Review, Sociology, Uncategorized

The Tolkien Professor Podcasts

“History often resembles ‘myth’, because they are both ultimately of the same stuff.” Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories”

[Spoiler free for a change.]

This post is a bit different than my previous posts, but in honor of “The Hobbit” coming out next month, I thought that I’d share a delightful discovery that I made this summer.  Last year, I wrote a fantasy novel for National Novel Writing Month. I’ve been trying to analyze how good stories are constructed to improve my second draft.  I bought myself new copies of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy to mark up with my reflections.

While understanding the various critiques of Tolkien’s writings, I admire a great deal of what he did.  The first time I read the books in my early twenties, I was riveted.  And I still find them delightful.  After I had been working on this project of mine for a couple of months, I discovered Dr. Corey Olsen, also known as the Tolkien Professor, on I-tunes.  He has many different podcasts, and I’ve only listened to about ten of them so far.  In some ways, I enjoyed the episodes on Tolkien’s essays the most since I haven’t read them yet.

There’s some fascinating material here that I had never been exposed to before like “On Fairy-Stories,” “Mythopoeia,” and “Leaf By Niggle.”  Olsen discusses Tolkien’s view of the importance of art.  As I have been reading “The Fellowship of the Ring” again, I can really see the elements that are discussed in these other essays and works.

From a sociological view, I love the fact that new technology is changing the landscape of learning.  Listening to an English professor’s thoughts on Tolkien while commuting to work would have been a dream when I was in college.  I’ve thought about doing a series of podcasts for my own online sociology students, and it is great to see that Professor Olsen is making this technology work for both his own students, as well as for people like me with a commute and an inquisitive mind.  Listening to his podcasts has enriched my own study of “The Lord of the Rings,” and  I hope that you’ll enjoy these podcasts as much as I did!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Sociology, Teaching, Technology, Writing

“Crime and Punishment”

[Spoilers alert.  But then, you probably already know the plot of this one.]

“‘Brother, what are you saying?’ Dunia cried out in despair, ‘You have shed human blood.’

‘Which they all shed,’ he interrupted, almost frantic.

‘Which cascades, and always has, down upon the earth like a waterfall, which they pour like champagne, and for which they are crowned on the Capitoline and called the benefactors of mankind…’” (499).

While I’ve mainly been reviewing science fiction and fantasy, I read many other types of books including “classic” literature.  For years, my spouse, who happens to be a Russophile, has recommended “Crime and Punishment” to me.  In all honesty, I barely knew anything going into the book, other than it’s about a murderer and the criminal justice system in Russia during the 1800s.  I happened to read the translation by Sidney Monas for no better reason than it was at the library.  Although this novel is from the 1800s, it remains relevant for analysis today.

The focus of this blog is the intersection of books, culture, and sociology.  “Crime and Punishment” was both a challenging and rewarding read for me, and I think that it’d be a good book for discussing many topics in an introduction to sociology class.  It’d be useful for comparing and contrasting the judicial system in the US today with that of Russia in the 1800s.  For example, what is true punishment?  Is rehabilitation possible?  It’d also be a useful book for discussing early field of psychology in terms of looking at obsession.  Does a psychological, sociological, or religious framework work better for discussing why people commit crimes?

It’d also be an excellent book for considering how the structure of the society around the characters leads to feelings of alienation from themselves, others, and society at large.  Since “Crime and Punishment” looks at the rapid social changes happening in the period, it be a great way of discussing the concept of anomie.  There is a sense of normlessness in the society that leads to many people attempting to commit suicide.  This book was published before Durkheim’s work on called “Suicide,” but it represents many of the ideas well.  It’d be possible to relate some of these ideas to our time period, too.  With rapid globalization, changing technologies, and many fluctuating social norms, people today may also be inclined to alienation.  If you are interested in reading more on this anomie and globalization, there are some interesting articles in this archive of The Global Sociology Blog.

Raskolnikov, the main character, and murderer, cites many reasons for his murder of a pawnbroker.  He murders her sister, too, when she returns too early while the murder is in progress.  The rest of the book is an exploration of what thoughts and theories led the character to commit these heinous acts.  Additionally, the novel is overtly religious.  It seems as if Dostoyevsky was making the argument that in a period of uncertainty and disorder that individuals need something to give their life meaning.  At the end of the novel, Raskolnikov starts to feel love for another character, Sonia, that also connects to Christianity.  After reading the book, I don’t feel that he was necessarily making the argument that religion is “real” but that it is important for people.  I’d love to hear what someone else thinks about this topic.

Finally, the novel would be great to illustrate social inequalities.  Social class is addressed extensively in the book, as well as gender.  Additionally, students might notice how there are threads of anti-semitism by some of the characters in the book.  Tensions between characters of different ethnicities is apparent, too.  “Crime and Punishment” is an emotionally challenging read, but it is a riveting book of both psychological and sociological importance.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Classics, Sociology