June 26, 2015
From zombies to superheroes to a panel about the Joker, Rob Weiner, humanities and popular culture librarian, has caused Texas Tech University students to think about popular culture in a different way. He will be doing this again in the fall, except this time students have the opportunity to examine James Bond in Icons of Popular Culture, an upper-level seminar offered through the Honors College.
“The course is designed to be a revolving class to look at different icons in popular culture, whether music, film, art or literature, and of course Bond fits all those things,” Weiner said. “Bond has become one of the most iconic characters in our culture and has been able to change with the times and yet remain Bondian.”
Weiner said the idea for the class was the result of students asking him to teach an upper-level honors seminar. A number of topics were suggested for the class, but James Bond eventually won. Weiner has taught two classes about James Bond previously through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, has co-edited a book about James Bond, “James Bond in World and Popular Culture: The Films are not Enough” and written the foreword in “James Bond and Popular Culture” edited by Michele Brittany, all of which were reasons Weiner decided on Bond as the course topic. Having “Spectre,” the latest installment in the Bond franchise, set for release in November solidified Weiner’s reasoning.
The class has continued to gain popularity aside from the students who suggested Weiner create the course. Heather Medley, Honors College assistant director, said the course is full and has a long waiting list.
“Offering courses like this to students reinforces the strong belief that learning is and should be engaging and fun,” Medley said. “It provides students with a chance to access classic theories in economics, finance, literature and more through the world they know.”
Weiner describes the class as all-inclusive and multidisciplinary. It will focus on Bond as an art form, including topics about the literary, visual and fine arts. Students will be asked to read Ian Fleming novels, watch James Bond movies and read post-Fleming works. The course also will cover the origins of the British spy novel through reading and discussing “The Thirty-Nine Steps” by John Buchan. Because Weiner is a comics studies scholar, he said the class will look at James Bond adaptions in sequential art. Weiner plans to facilitate a class field trip to see “Spectre” once it is released and have discussions centered on the 24th Bond film.
During the duration of the class, students will be asked to examine poster art, dance and the opening sequences and the music behind the films. The class also focuses on gender issues, including what it means to be Bond Girl, contributing to Weiner’s goal of having a well-rounded focus.
“I believe in a well-rounded approach where students are exposed to a wide variety of material,” Weiner said. “That way they have a deeper and richer understanding of the subject matter.”
James Bond has been around for more than 60 years and has risen and fallen in popularity during that time. In the 1960s, the franchise became part of the three Bs: Beatles, Batman and Bond.
Successful Bond films have a formula, Weiner said, including chase scenes, exotic locations, expensive cars, gadgets and technology ahead of its time, outlandish stunts, a unique and interesting villain, and they are fun to watch, all of which culminates in Bond saving the world. This formula and how each film is unique in spite of it keep the franchise successful.
“From film to film some are greater than others, but all of them have unique characteristics that make them interesting despite the formula,” he said. “Going to see a Bond film is often a family affair now, or it’s a date night. Everybody has their favorite Bond, from your grandmother who loved Sean Connery to a millennial who loves Daniel Craig, to a Gen-Xer like me who loves Roger Moore.”
The films, especially those featuring Daniel Craig, who caused controversy when cast as Bond, have returned to their roots in Fleming’s novels while still creating a progressive trend through an “edgy” Bond.
Weiner would even argue the franchise is more relevant now than it was in the Cold War era, especially as a result of the terrorism the world is facing.
“We need Bond now more than ever because you don’t know who the enemy is,” Weiner said. “We need somebody who is going to have the world’s interest and Bond does not compromise. It’s always going to be for England, for the free world. You can take him prisoner and you can torture him, which has happened. Bond will do whatever it takes to make sure the world is not going to be blown up by a terrorist.”
But the progressiveness doesn’t stop there. Weiner lists examples from “Skyfall,” the last James Bond movie, where “M” went into the field with Bond and people were questioning Bond’s abilities.
Weiner’s class will focus on the progressive and regressive nature of the Bond films and mythos as well, he said, causing students to discuss why parts of the Bond mythos are not progressive, why something would be considered racist or misogynistic, and asking how these items can be critiqued.
“The important thing in all of this, which I want for my students, is to have an open and honest debate about these things, and that they come away with an understanding of the different facets of James Bond from all different artistic aspects,” Weiner said. “I hope their lives in some way are richer for it and that they learn to think critically about popular culture texts.”
James Bond has been a fixture in society for more than 60 years, and Rob Weiner believes he will remain a popular culture icon at least as long as the Broccoli family controls the film franchise, but that’s part of the discussion.
“Once the Broccoli family gets bought out, I don’t know what will happen,” Weiner said. “Of course the novels have gone on without Ian Fleming and some have been very good. Now, are they as good as the original Ian Fleming novels? No, but people debate that.”
Fans and critics debate which film and which Bond they like most and least, Weiner said. The speculation about who will become the next James Bond after Daniel Craig also has become part of the debate, with many actors, including Damian Lewis and his red hair and Idris Elba, who would be the first black Bond, suggested as replacements.
Weiner doesn’t mind a change from the Bond norm, he said, because what matters to him the most is a good story and that the actor is able to portray Bond staples, including the accent, charm, having the ability to play cards and fight, and carrying the character with dignity.
“I do think the Bond films, while not perfect, have slowly been getting more progressive in some ways,” Weiner said. “I think if they get somebody like Idris that’s very telling. The proof would be how successful the film would be, but I would applaud Eon Productions if they would do that. I think it’s time we mixed up everything. We live in a multiracial, multigender society and we need to accept that, but it’s also important to talk about why things aren’t that way in an open and honest discussion."