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Not shaken or stirred: My Bond deflowering

After being shamed for admitting I'd never seen a James Bond movie, I finally surrendered to 007's charms, and came away from the experience strangely unchanged.
/ Source: msnbc.com

My name is Courtney Hazlett and I’m a virgin — a James Bond virgin.

Does that sound melodramatic to you? It did to me, when I was still keeping such personal intel close to the cuff, for emergency uses like impromptu games of “I never” or as an excuse for missing a related pop culture reference. But as it turns out, I might as well not own a television or consider myself American, so shocking this news is to most people.

Let me lay it out for you: The names Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton mean very little to me. Say the name Sean Connery and I'm more likely to think Indiana Jones, “The Hunt for Red October,” and a guy who says “yesh” instead of “yes” (an affectation I'm told I sometimes adopt when I'm really, really tired). As for Daniel Craig — the current 007 — I do identify him as the guy who plays Bond (and as one of my boss’ favorite, um, actors) but his appeal, physical or otherwise, was still never enough to get me to sit still for any of the 21 James Bond films in existence.

And why, with a full DVR, a pile of books, magazines and mail I’ve been meaning to read, not to mention some semblance of a life to attend to, should I make the time for a blind date with Bond? I took an informal poll among my male friends and was shocked by how limited their vocabulary became when I asked for a compelling reason to do so.

“Well, he’s just, he’s ... he’s the man,” was the answer that tumbled from the lips of several normally articulate friends. One of the few who expressed some level of verbal acuity on the subject (though this might be attributed to the fact our exchange was via e-mail) was my friend and screenwriter John Ridley, who put it to me this way: “Bond is the original ass-kicking, womanizing, killing machine. The Terminator, but not from the future, wears a tux and has a Brit accent instead of an Austrian one.” OK, now we’re getting somewhere.

And Ridley hits on another common theme, that Bond treated his ladies like dirt, which is apparently supposed to be part of his appeal, too. “Most men are secretly boorish killing machines, or at least secretly want to be a boorish and get away with killing a few dozen people with cool gadgets,” said one friend (who wisely requested I not use his name). “That’s why we like him.”

From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, see the many faces of 007 and vote for your favorite one.

And so, armed with this info I nestled into my desk chair at 30 Rock and popped “Goldfinger” into my computer. “Goldfinger” was selected by msnbc.com readers as the best pick for my Bond first-time. Before you lay into me for not attempting to view it in a more organic way, much as I love my new couch and high-def TV, I felt it more important to be surrounded by people who might be able to field my questions, should they arise. And they did.

I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of my experience and present the strongest of my impressions.

A. If you like ‘Mad Men,’ you'll like ‘Goldfinger’
Like the AMC series, stylistically, this Bond business is slick stuff. I’d wear the clothes and I’d like my gentlemen friends to do the same (save for that abnormally short terry-cloth bathrobe Bond sports early on). Beyond that, it’s set in the same era as “Mad Men,” so if you can’t take the misogyny, get out of the kitchen.

The scene that caused my initial pause: Bond, fed up with the tomfoolery and double-crossing of Jill Masterton, palms her face as if passing a well-worn basketball during a casual game of street ball. Horrified by how naturally this came to Bond/Sean Connery, I reacted inappropriately — by laughing nearly to the point of tears. And that’s where msnbc.com’s former Tabloid Tidbits scribe and current Technotica columnist, Helen Popkin, who was within earshot, chimed in (while laughing), “You know, it takes someone who’s never seen (a Bond film) before to say, ‘that’s really unacceptable,’ and realize just how bad that behavior is.” A compelling argument for how we’ve become de-sensitized (and a case study in inappropriate laughter).

B. Car chases have been ruined by cable newsYou don’t need to see a Bond film to know that the cars are characters themselves; I just didn’t realize how much time was spent on car chases. And sure, I might be jaded by working in a place where car chases are treated with the importance of lunar landings, but given that chase scenes take up so much screen time, if you aren’t into them — and the inherent gadgetry that goes along — you’re going to spend a lot of time doing what I did: asking my co-workers to remind again what I was supposed to like about this stuff.

C. I feel no more culturally informed than I did a week agoWill Femia, a senior writer for msnbc.com was present for my Bond deflowering and after witnessing countless heavy sighs, snarky comments and plenty of eye rolling, he asked, “Don’t you at least understand ‘Austin Powers’ a little better?” The answer is no. I mean, I get what he was driving at, but thousands, if not millions of Austin Powers fans have enjoyed the series for what it is without a deep understanding of any Bond subtext. I feel like I should feel changed somehow, and I just don’t.

All that said, there are reasons to respect the Bond franchise. First, it’s a money maker in a time when the entertainment industry — and the economy as a whole — could really use it. The first 21 Bond films have grossed more than $11 billion; “Quantum of Solace” is on track to make $150 million in its first week of international release. That commands some level of respect.

And there’s also this: nostalgia. One friend of mine, one I expect to respond to my queries with sarcasm instead was thoughtful about his Bond exposure over the years. He recounted evenings spent watching Bond with his dad, and thoughtfully explored why he liked it despite its inherent flaws. “Roger Moore was my first Bond ... just a generational thing. It wasn’t till later that I learned there was more to Bond than quips. I just grew to love it more ... or Moore?” I’m not going to take that kind of trip down memory lane away from anyone.

So what now? I know this for sure: If I go back to the Bond well, I’m not dipping from the Bond era of the mid-90s, which I’ve learned is basically considered the emasculation and watering down of James Bond into a politically correct iteration of the spymaster, when they stripped everything controversial away and left nothing but puns — and Dame Judi Dench — behind. As one friend put it, “The new Bond is back to being a cold-blooded, womanizing cat and men are all over it again. You watch Daniel Craig and you know that guy could kill people. He is just the man.”

I might not be all over it, but hey, who doesn’t deserve a second date?

Courtney Hazlett delivers The Scoop Monday through Friday on msnbc.com.