Singing the Praises of James Bond

by Akim Reinhardt

Roger Moore in Octopussy (1983) Eon filmsRoger Moore died last week at the age of 89. He is the first important Bond to pass (sorry David Niven!), so predictably heated arguments ensued: Where does Moore rank in the canon of Bond actors?

It was a boring debate. Moore was the worst, plain and simple. He helped drive the franchise into a ditch of silly gadgets and bad puns. Revisionists now praising Moore celebrate the supposed "camp" of his films. That is badly misguided. They weren't camp.

John Waters films are camp. The Avengers and Charlie's Angels are camp. Drag queen lip sync cabaret is camp. Roger Moore's James Bond movies were just bad.

Moore's first turn as Bond (Live and Let Die, 1973) was actually quite good. That's because he was still cowed by the towering shadow of Sean Connery, so he played it straight. But director Guy Hamilton (who also pushed the franchise in the wrong direction) soon told Moore to stop imitating Connery and just be himself. It sounds like the kind of genuine, supportive advice you should give any artist. Except that Moore being himself, as it turned out, was little more than a dandy in a tux. By his second film (Man with the Golden Gun, 1974) pubescent girls were "upstaging" him in a karate scene. Har Har. It wasn't camp. It was failed comedy, 1970s-style. At that point Burt Reynolds could've been playing the role.

Part of the problem also stemmed from Moore's age; he was simply too old for the part during most of his career. Connery debuted as Bond at age 31. Moore was 45 when Live and Let Die premiered. From Moonraker (1979) on, his fight scenes were laughable and his love scenes with women half his age or less were creepy. Bond the charming dilettante. Bond the well groomed pensioner. Bond as a candidate for late life romance on The Love Boat.

Jesus, maybe it was camp.

Nevertheless, when my favorite film critic, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, exalts Moore as the best James Bond on the grounds of camp and pshaws Millennials for not getting it, I just can't go along. I'm a Gen Xer like Scott, and I do enjoy camp, but this smells of defending the crap of our youth with rationalized nostalgia. Waters wants to be camp. Charlie’s Angels has to be camp. But Bond movies can actually be good without being campy.

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Black Pete, the Washington Redskins, and Modern Minstrelsy

by Akim Reinhardt

Photo from Huffington PostBlack Pete. Good Lord, what a head shaker that is.

Most anyone who's not Dutch looks at Black Pete and thinks to themselves: For real? You've got Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, working his Christmas season magic accompanied by an army of little Jumpin' Jim Crows? Diminutive, black face helpers who look like an unholy cross between Al Jolsen and Rhoda from the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

If that ain't a goddamn freak show, then I don't know what is.

Until recently, most Americans had never heard of Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet as he's known in Dutch. He only first caught my attention a couple of years ago. But this year, the little fella began reaching an international level of infamy as even the United Nations chimed in on Holland's favorite little pickaninny.

White performers dressed in black face and performing as Black Pete is pretty cut and dried for most people: it's stunningly distasteful, and an embarrassing throwback to Europe's imperial culture.

But then again, most people aren't from Holland, and that's where it starts to get interesting.

The Dutch have overwhelmingly rallied together in defense of Black Pete. Amid the hubbub following the U.N. condemnation, a Dutch Facebook page supporting Black Pete quickly garnered over two million of Likes. In a nation with fewer than 17 million people, that's quite a statement.

But rather than helping their cause, the rationale most apologists offer only compounds matters. They insist that Black Pete needs to stay because he’s good for children; that the character is a cherished part of most Dutch people’s childhood, and many of them can’t imagine depriving today’s children of that joy.

Because really, nothing’s better for helping children gain a sound sense of themselves and others than watching black face performers prance around cartoonishly.

Americans such as myself can be quick to judge and condemn. Living in a country that saw a protracted civil rights movement reach its apex half-a-century ago, the knee jerk reaction is to condescendingly nod our heads and mutter something about Europe's backwards race relations. We know our own state of race relations is far from perfect. But black face in 21st America? And directed at audiences of children no less? Incomprehensible.

But what about red face?

The Kansas City Chiefs football team. The Cleveland Indians baseball team. The Washington Redskins football team. The Atlanta Braves baseball team. The Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. And beyond professional sports teams garnering huge profits, there are also prestigious research universities like Florida State University and the University of Illinois that continue to field sports teams with Indian names and mascots, have many fans who dress up in red face, and even present sanctioned red face Indian performances for the crowd.

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