Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Daniel Craig in Drag, or, How to Shame-Bludgeon

Scanning the interwebz for scents of the upcoming Skyfall--a sequel to the 1960s cult flick Dr. No--I stumbled across this gem. Dressed in a decidedly non-007ish suite, Daniel Craig looks manfully into the camera as Judi Dench's disembodied voice chastises him for systemic sexism. (Dench plays his boss, M, in the Bond films.) Craig walks off camera, then back on in drag, as Dench continues her Auntly lecture. I guess this was supposed to be a surprise or something? Like, we didn't know it was him until the camera zoomed-in on Craig that we were indeed looking at Craig-qua-drag?

I hesitate to leap right into all the ways that this ad is fucked up, because I don't want to puritanically search-out the evil in everything that doesn't 100% agree with my own political agenda. So, let's talk about what's good in this ad.

Dench's first line is, "We're equals, aren't we, 007?" This is important: the whole gist of the commercial is disproving the claim that Dench is practically equal to Craig, and by extension that women have practical equality to men. I guess there are people who believe this? If so, then, by all means: yes, pile up evidence of systemic sexism until it is cognitively impractical to suppose that women are not perpetually disenfranchised, disempowered, fucked with, etc.

That said, there are so many things wrong with this ad. The most obvious is the line that men stand "hardly any chance of falling victim to sexual assault." Like most fucked-up statements, there's an important element of truth here: namely, that women are far more at risk of sexual assault than men. But that's by no means equivalent to 'men are hardly ever raped.' What's fucked up about this statement is the way that it frames the issue: women get raped, men don't. This is a simple and clear message, which makes it a friend of rhetoric and an enemy of truth. It presupposes conventional heterosexuality, and implicitly denies the existence of (for instance) gay men and/or trans people. Let me emphasize: the problem is not the explicit message (i.e. that women get sexually assaulted way more than men). The problem is the implicit message, i.e. that conventional sexual assault by conventional men against conventional women is the only sexual assault worth talking about.

Come to think of it, isn't it kind of weird that James Bond--who's not just any privileged straight white (etc. etc.) dude but is in fact the Ur-Man, the archetype of conventional maleness--is the stand-in for men-in-general? And that sexless, grandmotherly Judy Dench is the clucking, churchlady voice of Conscience? The sanctimony in this ad is just stifling, like a stiff fart in a closed room:

"SHAME! SHAME ON YOU, JAMES BOND! SHAME ON YOU, MEN OF THE WORLD! With your systemic privilege and your fancy suit-jackets, while we poor Women lie shivering and less-opportune'd, under the bus, out in the cold! SHAME!!!"

Then comes the weirdest part: "For someone with such a fondness for women, I wonder if you've ever considered what it might be like to be one..." Exit James Bond, enter Daniel Craig in drag. At this point Dench started listing some devastating statistics re: work done by women vs. women's pay, but I was too disoriented by what I was seeing to pay any attention to what she was saying: "What the fuck? That's...Craig in drag. I.e. the reason I clicked on this Youtube clip in the first place. But he's just standing there, posing, with this like I guess accusing look on his face? Like by putting on drag, he knows what it's like to be a woman? And now he's taking off his wig and staring-down the camera? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON???"

Dench: "So, 007: are we equals?" Long stare.

I mean, I guess he's supposed to be the standard-man (James Bond) who puts himself (literally) in the shoes of a woman, and with this new firsthand experience of sexism, he piously stares at the audience.

There's nothing more righteously indignant than a long-stare.

And there's nothing more sanctimonious* than scripted righteous indignation. And that's why I basically hate this ad: rather than critically discussing sexism or portraying alternatives to it (or, for that matter, portraying sexism itself), it uses a caricature of maleness and a sexless, bodiless voice of Women to bludgeon the (male) audience with shame: "SHAME! SEXISM IS BAD! YOU CAUSE SEXISM! GO FEEL BAD!" What is the ad's goal: to get all the (conventional) men in the audience to say three Hail Mary's and five Our Father's? What better way to get men to clam up about their privilege and refuse to discuss oppression than shame-bludgeoning?

*Sanctimony: the use of putative morals as an instrument of manipulation.

But what I really hate about this ad is the way it frames stuff like gender, sex, class, race, class, etc.: y'know, the whole panoply of privilege/oppression spectra. Rather than questioning hyper-privileged James Bond as the embodiment of what it means to be a man, it reinforces the idea that he constitutes the essence of maleness (white, straight, English-speaking, educated, casually wealthy, etc.). And WHERE the fuck is Judy Dench? SHE'S A DISEMBODIED VOICE! There are NO WOMEN in this ad about the OPPRESSION OF WOMEN. This ad is like one of the 'gay' episodes of Community, in which there are no gay characters, just straight people thinking about gayness.

Plus the ad talks about "equality," which is the bourgeois substitute for "justice." And it acts like queer people don't exist. And implies that men don't get raped. And it clumsily uses drag (presumably for novelty, since it makes no sense otherwise). And its atmosphere of guilt precluded me from enjoying the sight of Daniel Craig in drag, which--never you doubt--is bloody difficult to do.

What the fuck.

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