Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Vladimir Putin channels Blofeld - according to the Press

The image was a gift to headline writers: Russian president Vladimir Putin sitting in a mini-submarine preparing to descend into the Black Sea to explore the wreck of a 10th-century Byzantine ship currently under archaeological investigation.

The Metro went with the headline, "From Russia With Love... Putin in '007' submarine stunt", and went on to claim that Putin looked every bit a Bond villain. On its online edition, the paper ran with "Live and let dive: Is Vladimir Putin auditioning for next Bond villain?"

Presumably the paper drew on the association of futuristic submersibles (the underwater vehicles of The Spy Who Loved Me, or Diamonds Are Forever's bath-o-sub, for example) with the James Bond films, as well as the penetrating, somewhat sinister, expression on Putin's face. Perhaps, too, the khaki/beige shirt that Putin was wearing brought to mind the light-coloured Mao-type jackets favoured by Blofeld in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

The Times made the same connection. “Dive another day: action man Putin (or is he Bond villain?),” ran its headline. “All that’s missing is the sinister white cat sitting on his lap,” it continued, a clear reference to Blofeld. The Daily Mail asked, “Is he trying out for a role as the next Bond villain?”, while Sky News posted a video of Putin with the headline, “Vladimir Putin takes Black Sea adventure in James Bond-esque submarine.” Meanwhile Jonathan Jones in The Independent looked more critically at the event to examine Putin's seemingly underlying nationalist motives, writing: “Think Vladimir Putin looks like a Bond villain? It’s more serious than that.”

These headlines serve to demonstrate the extent to which the 'Bond villain' as an idea or meme is firmly embedded in popular culture. When presented with the 'action man' and controversial (to say the least) Russian president in an adventurous hi-tech activity, it was to the James Bond films, rather than, say, superhero films, that journalists turned. It shows, as well, how closely underwater exploration is associated with James Bond, the sea joining snow-covered mountains and the casino as an essential Bondian environment.

And, with the reference to the white cat, Blofeld remains the archetypal Bond villain. No doubt the upcoming Spectre has brought renewed prominence to the character, but the cultural impact of Blofeld's appearance in the early Bond films, particularly You Only Live Twice, cannot be underestimated.

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