The release of a James Bond film is traditionally accompanied by huge press interest, promotion of featured products, magazine and TV specials, and the leading actress’ claim that her character is different from the Bond girls that preceded her – this time, she’s Bond’s equal.
With Quantum of Solace (2008) in the cinemas, Olga Kurylenko said of her character, Camille, ‘She very strong and independent, but at the same time vulnerable’. Eva Green thought that, in Casino Royale (2006), Vesper Lynd was ‘an equal match’ to Bond. Die Another Day’s (2002) Jinx, played by Halle Berry, was ‘very intelligent, she was Bond’s equal’. Denise Richards thought Dr Christmas Jones in The World is not Enough (1999) ‘very smart’ who ‘plays well off of (sic) Bond’. For Michelle Yeoh, starring in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), it was important that ‘Wai Lin was as intelligent as Bond’, and not ‘another of his side-kick floozies’. Izabella Scorupco’s Natalya Simonova in Goldeneye (1995) was ‘so intelligent’ and ‘without her Bond is not going to be able to accomplish his mission’.
Many claimed that the strong, intelligent woman appeared in the earlier films, too. Honor Blackman relished her role as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964). The academic Camille Paglia viewed the character as ‘one of the most commanding, authoritative women in popular culture of the time’. It was especially the physical aspects of the role that, like Cathy Gale, Blackman’s character in The Avengers, meant that she ‘fought like a man, fought better than a man’. Diana Rigg, playing Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), thought her character ‘much more dimensional than most of the other women who’ve ever been in the Bond pictures’. Lois Chiles regarded Holly Goodhead in Moonraker (1979) as being ‘capable of doing everything that Bond could do’. Octopussy, played by Maud Adams in 1983, was billed as Bond’s equal: ‘We’re two of a kind’, Octopussy tells Bond. In interviews, Adams stressed her character’s role as an adventurer, smuggler and businesswoman.
The implication of the emphasis that the principal actresses give to the intelligence, emotional and physical strength and resourcefulness of their characters is that the Bond girls before them were regarded as having none of those qualities. The previous-Bond-girls-were-bimbos meme has been very successful. It is widespread, being reproduced by the press and commentators wherever the films show. It is cyclical, being propagated with the release of each film and, because it carries the weight of the entire series, has greater survival value than the memes (the criticisms, reviews and quotations) accompanying each individual film, which generally last only the long as the film plays in the cinemas. And, without the need to refer to specific cases, the meme replicates faithfully.
But the meme also adapts well to the changing cultural or memetic environment. The notion of what constitutes equality between men and women now is different from that during the 1960s. The sexual revolution of the Sixties paved the way for improved opportunities for women in the Seventies. In the Eighties, concerns about HIV/AIDS influenced the way sexual relationships were depicted, and the Nineties onwards have brought, at least in most Western countries, full(er) equality in pay, opportunities, pensions, and law. The Bond girl character has reflected those changes, but yet the ‘the-previous-Bond-girls-were-bimbos’ meme survives.