Book Review: Fan Phenomena: James Bond and James Bond Museum in Sweden

3 Nov

Book Review: Fan Phenomena: James Bond

| November 2, 2015 | Comments (0)

9781783205172

Richard Drumm drops his his guns and gadgets and picks up Fan Phenomena: James Bond.

Edited by Claire Hines, Fan Phenomena: James Bond is a collection of essays and interviews that examines both the Bond franchise itself (mainly the EON-produced films but with reference to the novels, video games, etc.) and the multifaceted and ever-altering fandom for Bond. Some of the interviewees include author of the official continuation Bond books Raymond Benson, the owner of the James Bond Museum in Sweden, some of the newly emerging James Bond ‘crossplayers’ and more.

The essays themselves meanwhile offer a wide variety of topics; from examining the fandom and franchise’s tenuous relationship with continuity, Alan Moore’s scathing deconstruction of Bond in his work, the relationship between Bond video games and an authentic transmedia experience and a look at what the more cult-like and lifestyle-appropriating elements of the fandom can tell us about Bond as a cultural icon.

Of course, no self-respecting collection of Bond essays written in 2015, by academic types, would be complete without a look at Bond and gender and the collection certainly boasts a nicely varied selection of topics; from examinations of the changing representations of masculinity in the Craig-era to a defence of being a female Bond fan and an interesting discussion of queer readings of Skyfall from a growing fanbase of online female fan fiction writers. All presented in highly digestible chunks and with an eye toward the casual reader, Fan Phenomena: James Bond offers an insightful, varied and accessible exploration of James Bond.

The book on the whole is undeniably a good read but two things struck me, in a good way, that seemed noteworthy. The first is the sheer volume of essays from female scholars, they heavily outweigh the contributions from male authors. It’s just fascinating given the (well documented, highly problematic) nature of the franchise under discussion, that most (of the already quite sparse) scholarly readings of Bond come from women.

The second, related, point is that there is a very clear willingness on everyone’s part to acknowledge and engage with the glaringly problematic aspects of Bond as an institution. Given that this is geared toward fans, there must have been the temptation to make this one big love-in but that would have been disingenuous as no self-respecting Bond fan would avoid addressing these aspects. That’s not to say the book is judgemental (except perhaps Stephanie Jones’ highly amusing chapter that tears apart the James Bond Lifestyle Guide book) but rather takes a respectably mature view of the franchise and will deal with these elements where necessary or when they become of interesting relevance.

With a book like this it can sometimes seem like it would be of zero interest to anyone but hardcore fans and I’ll admit right now that as a hardcore fan that greatly enjoyed the book, it’s difficult to say ‘objectively’ how much mileage non-fans would get from it. However, the topics are varied enough that anyone with even a passing interest in cultural studies should find plenty to hold their attention. Similarly, the essays that make up the latter half or so of the book would definitely be worth reading for anyone with an interest in gender or LGBT studies as Bond presents a decidedly unusual starting point for those discussions. Especially since the last two essays in particular argue for the recent Bond installments offering something close to a progressive stance on those topics.In that sense Karen Brooks and Lisa Hill’s ‘Resurrecting Bond’ is possibly the highlight of the collection, a well-researched and in-depth analysis of the Craig trilogy as both a deconstruction and rebuilder of the franchise while also offering a compelling argument in favour of Craig’s Bond being highly feminised for a less rigidly gendered modern world.

Accessible as the book is, it does delve early on into topics like Transmedia and Phenomenology. And while both Matthew Freeman and Lucy Bolton, respectively, do an excellent job of providing simplified definitions of those concepts, they still remain a bit too complex to be fully explored within the confines of what a collection such as this is trying to achieve. Which is to say they still offer interesting discussions and fine introductions to those theories if you’re not already familiar with them but it seems like there’s still a lot to be explored from, say, Freeman’s arguments about Bond successfully defying transmedia logic. This is, however, a very minor nitpick and really more of an observation that really doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the collection.

On the whole, it’s a strong collection. Obviously, they aren’t all winners but none of them are ever boring and they’re short enough that even if you aren’t particularly taken by one you’d be on to another, different topic soon. And that’s the highest praise that can be given to Claire Hines’ editing of this book; she’s assembled a highly varied series of pieces which automatically negates the possibility of repetition of material. Her interviews with the various fans are also interesting but never pandering and again consist of a very varied selection of individuals with very different relationships to Bond.

I still feel that to really get the most out of the book you’d need to be quite a big Bond fan but even to more casual readers (and casual Bond fans) there should be more than enough to justify giving it a read if you have any interest in any of the areas under discussion in the book, which, given how wide that net is cast, you’re likely to find something.

If nothing else, it’s worth picking up for Karen Brooks and Lisa Hill, and Elizabeth J. Nielsen’s two closing essays along with Lisa Funnell’s ‘Thoughts on Female Scholarship and Fandom of the Bond Franchise’.

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