Fifty years have passed since Sean Connery, the original James Bond set aside his gilded pistol to examine the insides and outsides of a seemingly unlimited array of seductive, tawny, large breasted double agents.
"Bond . . . James," Connery and his five successors always said in announcing their presence. Today they (in video form), their pistols, their Aston Martin super sport cars, their knives as well as the leather and gilded vests and dresses of their femmes fatales are all on display--more than 500 baubles in all--in the Grand Halle at La Villette, once the Paris's premier abattoir on the northern fringe of the city. It's a fantastic stitch in time into the kitsch imaginaire of the Baby Boom generation, the vast exposition center drowned in the same musical score that has been used in all the 007 films.
More than the fun of it all, the filmic James, like the man in Ian Fleming's novels, always asks one simple question: What is virility? His MI-6 overseers always feign shock when the surveillance cameras bedding one luscious lady after another, but is sexual prowess the only measure of virility? 007
Physical prowess and erotic competence are certainly always present in the virile silhouette, but a new doorstop of a book, A History of Virility published by Columbia University Press, proposes a deeper notion of what it means to be virile. Nowadays, the authors remind us, "virility" is a code word for penile performance, its original sense captured and displaced by the flatter term "masculinity." Yet for the Greeks the original term was andreia, or wise courage on the battlefield, could equally belong to numerous female warriors, most famously Artemisa, queen of the Amazons. Later the Roman term virilitas grew closer to the 19th century term, requiring manly force but also self assurance and maturity of judgment.
Manliness alone was indeed opposed to virility. Manliness might include brawny shoulders and ferocity (think Hugo Drax's steel teeth in Moonraker),
but lacking judgment and self control, it was undisciplined and unearned and therefore never arrived at the greatness required of genuine virility. In Moonraker Bond leaps into the mountain lake, the sumptuous damsel in his arms, while Drax is crushed alive as his cable car smashes into a concrete wall.
Calm, courage, foresight, wisdom at the Casino are the hallmarks of all the Bonds of the famous Albert Broccoli series up to and including the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, who played Agent 007 four times, the best known of which was Skyfall, the highest grossing Bond of all. All the Bonds are present in the expo at La Villette, along with all the presumed accouterments of genuine virility, through Labor Day, after when they return permanently to the Barbican Center in London.
Among all the 007 toys, not to be missed are the deadly spiked shoes Lota Lenya wore playing the sadistic double agent Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love.
COMING SOON TO A BOOKSTORE NEAR YOU: The Fate of Gender: Nature, Nurture and The Human Future, from Bloomsbury Publishers