Sunday, November 25, 2012

Angels Can Make Sausage

I’m back!  Sorry for the Thanksgiving break, but I am sure you had plenty of other stuff(ing) to be thankful for besides this blog.  I certainly was thankful for the food, family and friends I visited over the holiday.  I am also thankful for Steven Spielberg’s latest film that I saw a few days ago, the obdurately titled, Lincoln.

The picture, which opened wide a week ago, has experienced some mixed buzz.  While the critics and Academy Award prognosticators have generally been awed by this incarnation of Honest Abe, mainstream audiences are being split by the movie like so many rails.  I personally think it is a wonderful film for precisely the same reason some are turned off by it.  This is a movie that, for those who pay attention, reminds us of the better angels of our nature…and, just as importantly, of the politics those angels can sink into.

The most remarkable thing about Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis’s extraordinary effort is they portrayed a man of pragmatism and not of marble.  Too often our fellow Americans want to romanticize the past and its leaders.  When it comes to presidents who have their names inscribed on statues or airports, this becomes even less a case of mythologizing and more a ceremony of complete canonization.  Joseph Hoover once famously said to Jimmy Stewart, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  That is a wonderful sentiment for when we stare misty-eyed at nostalgic mementos of “olden days,” but when we are trying to learn from the history of those who came before, it is a major problem if historical figures and events become nothing more than partisan Rorschach tests.

Let me ask, how often have you heard someone—be they a political pundit, newspaper columnist, work colleague or that disgruntled uncle from Thanksgiving—invoke the Founders, Lincoln or some other worshipped statue as a deity whose outrage they represent?  Today, I cannot count how many people seem to think that politics got nasty yesterday and it’s the other guy’s fault.  This broad point is always the same: Why should I care about politics when it has become so dirty and nothing ever changes?  It’s not like when <insert POTUS here> was in charge!

I cannot deny that the current level of partisan bickering and gridlock annoys me too.  But Spielberg’s Lincoln does a wonderful thing and reminds our cynical selves of the nobler side of politics.  Being charitable and socially connected is great, but the still last, best hope for effecting true change on a grand scale comes from getting down into those partisan trenches and rolling up the sleeves to compromise, barter and do all those other 4-letter words ideologues of all stripes don’t want to hear.

In the film, Lincoln enters 1865 after securing a second term at the polls.  The Civil War, beginning its fourth year, may be winding down and the then-conservative Democratic Party has just lost 34 seats in the election.  That meant 34 lame duck Democrats who could potentially vote how they wanted, because there was no angry constituency to face.  Lincoln saw this as a second, and possibly final, opportunity to pass the 13th Amendment and abolish slavery once and for all.  Everyone knows about the Emancipation Proclamation, but most forget that it was a war document that only “freed” slaves in the rebelling Southern states and left the pro-Union border state slaves in bondage.  To truly end this evil institution, Lincoln needed the 13th Amendment to pass the House of Representatives.  And if you think we live in a polarized time now, try the Civil War.

Before Lincoln can even turn the minimum of 20 Democrats he needs to get the 2/3 majority for a Constitutional Amendment through the House, he must also contend with conservative Republicans who care little for the abolitionist movement and more ideological Republicans who think Lincoln is an appeaser for not abolishing slavery the moment South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter.  Personifying the latter is Tommy Lee Jones in a deliciously restrained performance as Representative Thaddeus Stevens, a lion for the abolitionist cause.  He views Lincoln as a fair-weather politician who does not feel the moral imperative of ending slavery.

Representing the apathetic Republicans is Preston Blair (Hal Holbrook), a private citizen who still controls the conservative bloc of the party.  Lincoln must keep Stevens from torpedoing the effort by saying what he really thinks and labeling the anti-amendment Democrats as the bigots that they are while also stroking Blair’s ego (and love for his uniformed son) by sending him to Richmond to begin the process of negotiating a peace with the South.  All of which makes getting those 20 Democrats to vote for the amendment harder because a Southern surrender means they can wait for those states to return to Congress and kill the amendment for them.

Lincoln gets his amendment, but only by pandering, cajoling, bribing and misleading the People’s House.  In the film, Lincoln boldly exclaims, “I am the president clothed in IMMENSE POWER!”  Surely, Spielberg admires how he uses that power in ways that most Americans today would express disgust at.  Lincoln, the master statesman, sizes up all individuals and uses their greed or love of a dead brother to his advantage.  The charitable would say he is shepherding the votes he needs and the critics would bemoan that he’s buying them.  Either way, the Great Uniter of history united his coalition by any murky, political means necessary.  For him, it is all for the greater good and for the audience it is for what is hopefully a better appreciation of our system.  Obviously, not all leaders are as well meaning or brilliant as Abraham Lincoln.  But politics is still the Art of the Possible.  Even a sausage factory can have a greater vision.

Lincoln is a powerhouse of a film that consists almost wholly of old men sitting in rooms talking.  However, if you listen, what they are saying is of the greatest importance.  Perhaps, if more people listened to what the old men sitting in those same rooms said today, they would be able to remember why politics can matter if used right.  Especially if they quit wishing it was more noble like when Lincoln was president.

Friday, November 16, 2012

One Step Closer to the Zombie Apocalypse!

Friends, Americans, fellow humans, I come here this evening with direct and terrible news: We are one step closer to the Zombie End of Days!  I know many of you have already prepared for this moment and likely have years of canned foods stored up next to your machetes, carefully preserved cricket bats and detailed escape plans to the nearest mall, prison or other impenetrable structure.  But alas, the most precious and desirable of post-apocalyptic rations may now be gone forever when we are forced to regulate ourselves among the quick and the reanimated dead.  At approximately 10 am on November 16 Anno Domini 2012, the Provider of Twinkies, Hostess, announced that they will provide no longer!

Woe be to us who must face this Brave New World without our Twinkies and our Ho-Hos!  Truly we wretched few have been damned to a life where only those with a MacGuyver-like aptitude for making weapons from dismembered body parts or are masters in the Art of Parkour can survive this winter that has come.  For it is Written in the Ruben Fleischer zom-com, Zombieland, so must it be…

As Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) has foretold, Twinkies do, in fact, have an expiration date.  And when they are gone, so too goes the way of civilization.  Some of you may say, ‘But that is just a movie.’  O, but if that were only so!  In the prophecy of Woody, the survivors in a zombie-wrought Armageddon must struggle day-to-day just to find the world’s last box of Twinkies.  Now, look around you.  Look to your grocery markets, convenience stores and run-down 7-11s that have been laid barren of their Hostess products on this day.  Then ask yourself, does this dystopia seem so different from the film's?

I care not of why this Chapter 11 has come, only that it is here.  Fortunately, the Zombie Apocalypse has not fully commenced yet.  We have time to horde what Twinkies, Wonder Bread, Donut Gems and other bountiful gifts sprinkled on this world by the brands and subsidiaries of Hostess that we can before fate grabs us all like so many Honey Buns.  Treasure that last Ho-Ho next to a final round of ammunition, for you will need it in your stomach before being consumed yourself by a marauding corpse.

When that day arrives, likely sometime in late-December, it is best to split off into small groups that you can trust to roam the countryside for a series of whacky misadventures and related shenanigans.  It is preferable if that group includes Emma Stone and/or Bill Murray.  

 I too wish we could include Woody, but alas he will be out there searching for those last Twinkies.  And today, that just became a little harder.

Sex with the Vampire

Today is the most important day of the year in many a young girl’s life.  No, I’m not talking of the surely thousands who will be celebrating their birthdays.  No, I’m speaking of the millions more who will be lining up at the multiplexes tonight (or did very early this morning) to journey into the angst-ridden world of Twilight.  The latest fan-driven money printer from Hollywood concludes this weekend to the tears and relief of a deeply divided audience.  The target demographic, unsurprisingly, slurps up every frame of shirtless biceps like a vampire at the back of a blood drive.  Yet, much more intriguing in this pop phenomenon is the monstrous backlash it faces.  The books, films, CDs and commemorative dish sets being moved by the Twilight brand come under constant criticism for ruining the image of “real vampires.”  This disconnect is even better when one considers the idea that there is a working definition for what a vampire is in fiction.  The truth is there has never been a clear-cut explanation of vampirism in anything from folklore to counterculture.  Even in the sparkly-Edward dominated landscape of today, there is contention of what makes a vampire be a vampire.  I have little interest in discovering if KStew and RPatts have an eternal happily ever after (onscreen or otherwise) or if wolf-boy can hook up with their daughter without seeming like a creeper.  But despite my apathy, I like that the series highlights an even older tale in pop culture: the Gothic reworking of the vampire formula.

The modern vampire arguably began with the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897.  The book is a clever allegory and contemplation on modernity, professionalism and the woman’s role in society during the upheaval at the turn of the century.  It represented the dawning of new technologies and the last breath of Victorian exceptionalism.  Of course, you probably just know for being the granddaddy of all sexy vampire stories.  Dracula’s the suave, elegant aristocrat, afraid of sunlight.  A seductive monster draped in black capes and tight threads…except that’s not Stoker’s Dracula.  Instead, it’s our lusty image of the “traditional vampire” which mostly stems from Bela Lugosi’s iconic portrayal in Dracula (1931).

In the novel, Stoker’s blood-addict is introduced as a frail old man with hairy palms and a long white moustache worthy of Fu Manchu.  Throughout the course of the story, he regresses in age to a young, but ugly man full of cruelty and paleness.  At no point does he wear a cape, say “I never drink wine” or, much like mocked-Edward Cullen, wither in the sun.  Based on Stoker’s own Gaelic legends, Dracula is a daywalking corpse with a sweet tooth for repressed English virginity.

And isn’t that what vampires are really all about now?  Sex.  Stoker used his folklore as a sort of Victorian PSA on the dangers of promiscuity.  Drinking blood is to vampirism as rampant sex is to syphilis, venereal disease and chaste women becoming streetwalking whores.  However, the sexual implications changed in the 20th century from one of horror and rape to one of fantasy and forbidden pleasure.  In the 1922 German masterpiece, Nosferatu, the sexuality of the vampire is still spreading death, as he literally brings the Black Plague with him on a ship loaded with rats to kills off most of Germany.  Yet, by the time the 1950s roll around, Christopher Lee is getting his fang on with buxom beauties clearly enjoying the fluid swaps in scenes meant to titillate.

All this pent up frustration was released when Anne Rice published Interview with the Vampire in 1976.  Instantly, the narrative moved from being the story of vampire hunters to the story of vampire anti-heroes.  Rice introduced the mainstream to not a lone predator, but a whole race of bisexual vampires that are humanistic, tortured, philosophical, and very, very pretty.

Her undead were still monstrous, but the protagonists felt remorse and shame for their actions.  The influence of the guilt-ridden vampire was overwhelming in pop culture.  The sexualized creature of Victorianism no longer had to be branded a villain, but rather a misunderstood victim and hero.  Popular American literature became flooded with romantic heartthrob vampires intent on sweeping maiden women off their feet.  Edward Cullen may be many things, but unique is not one of them.

There has been a cinematic backlash to this image with films like The Lost Boys, Near Dark, From Dusk Till Dawn and Blade to name but a few.  Those flicks rewrote vampires for mass consumption as grungy, greasy post-modern thugs.  If they were sexy, it was a con for the monster to show its teeth.  But none of them could redefine the creature.  Demonic Youth Gangs, Strippers Succubi, Holy Water, no Holy Water, none of them caught on like Anne Rice and her imitators.  But they did prove the rules of what makes a vampire are still in flux.

With all these conflicting definitions for how a suckhead should behave, it is unsurprising pop culture would welcome the most recent incarnation with open arms, especially when the archetypes are recast as moody teenagers afraid of consummating their relationship because when his fangs penetrates her flesh, she will “become a monster.”

Twilight is just another popular stop on the long road of vampire mythos, no more invalid in reinterpreting nosferatu than when Germans added sunlight.  Sure Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight books, has her monsters walk in the day, but so did Stoker.  Her vampires regret drinking blood and even abstain from the practice of feeding on humans, but so do Rice’s.  And her fangless vampires sparkle in the sun, such as….okay that’s just dumb.

Even so, Meyer is mixing her gothic literature with the time-old Prince Charming fairytale for modern tween girls.  Now, Prince Charming is a vampire and his princess is a teenage daughter of divorcĂ©es who feels awkward at school—making her a terrific avatar for any and all female readers to graph themselves upon—whose swept off to a fang-tastic happily ever after.  Is that any worse than other popular revisionists in the genre?  Meyer’s Mr. Darcy with sparkles is just as valid as the toothy Count.

In the end, Twilight has not taken anything away from vampire mythology or pop culture.  It is just what is popular right now.  It continues the trend of sex and blood and mixes old themes from folklore and Victorian repression into a singular, easy-to-digest piece of popcorn…if you can stomach it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Results for 'Mad as Hell' Politics

Okay, I’ve got a confession to make…you know how this blog popped up a few days after the election?  That wasn’t a coincidence.  I purposefully decided to start it AFTER last Tuesday.  While I, like hopefully most Americans, had an opinion on the election, I figured the last thing you would want to read was another political pundit throwing in his two cents.  With that said, we are one week out and I cannot help but give at least a single, brief thought on the election before it becomes too passĂ© to even mention.

Last week was a rude realization for many in this country.  We realized that, more than ever, our culture has become what Paddy Chayefsky predicted over 30 years ago…a nation “informed” and insulated by infotainment media bubbles filled with hot air.  The biggest of which popped on election night like it was the Hindenburg.

Politico ran an excellent piece yesterday about the “GOP’s media cocoon.”  Written somewhat defiantly against criticisms of their reports on the president’s lead in the polls as being biased, the article chronicled how stunned the right was that President Barack Obama was not only reelected, but that he carried over 330 electoral college votes.  It was so surprising, Governor Mitt Romney was reportedly “shellshocked” after he lost an election that he didn’t have a concession speech prepared for.  But can you really blame him?  For months, if not years, the rightwing punditocracy from Fox News on up to the conservative intelligentsia of George Will and Charles Krauthammer have reported how awful Obama is and were predicting a landslide.  I mean even Dick Morris said so!

“What Republicans did so successfully, starting with critiquing the media and then creating our own outlets, became a bubble onto itself,” conservative columnist Ross Douthat told Politico.  Lifelong think tanker Ben Domenech took it a step further, “The right is suffering from an era of on-demand reality.  We have become what the left was in the ‘70s—insular.”  Indeed, it was so unbelievable that Republican mastermind Karl Rove was in utter denial on Fox News and challenged the electoral reality with all of America watching.  Woe is the man who took $300 million by promising the world on cable news and delivered but one Senate seat.

Yet, none of this should be surprising.  For over a decade conservative media has become increasingly withdrawn into its own rhetoric to the point where they did not only dislike the perceived liberal bias in the "mainstream media,” but rejected almost all information reported in it.  A month out from this election, there was a firestorm on talk radio, Fox News and other media outlets about refuting professional polls simply because they showed Romney was trailing Obama’s numbers.  This happens when a culture cultivates its own facts.  This blog is not an indictment of conservative ideology, but an observation that one cannot simply will their desires and opinions into reality by saying them angrily and repetitiously enough.

At the beginning of the Obama presidency, Fox’s biggest rising star was radio host Glenn Beck.  He built his brand on one of outrage and paranoid innuendo.  More than once, he proudly announced his kinship with Peter Finch’s Oscar-winning character, Howard Beale, as seen in the clip at the top of this blog. “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” was Beale’s slogan and supposed philosophy in the movie, Network.  “That’s the way I feel,” Beck said.  In 2009, Frank Luntz, pollster and icon of Fox News and the conservative blogosphere, surveyed some 6,400 Americans and found that when asked, nearly 72 percent of participants agreed with the Beale catchphrase.  It practically became a mantra of the right going into the 2010 midterms and now the 2012 general election.

The lost irony is that the quote from Chayefsky’s screenplay is entirely empty, meaningless and satirical.  Even as Beale is screaming it, he admits he has no idea how to solve any problems, but he wants to create a populist rage anyway.  While he gets his viewers to scream into a literal thunderstorm of cacophony, Faye Dunaway’s opportunistic TV producer is already calculating how to market, patent and merchandise the line.  As the movie progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Beale is suffering from a mental breakdown and has no clue what he's talking about.  But he becomes the star of his network and the hard-edged nightly news broadcast in the mold of Cronkite that he once anchored is thrown away for little more than a game show.

Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet created a pitch-black comedy and prophecy of where our media in the age of infotainment was headed.  A few decades later, with the advent of cable news, we saw media personalities like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann rise to prominence as popular entertainers.  The product they sold?  Mighty, righteous anger at those who disagreed.  More recently, shock jocks from radio and Internet blogs have become increasingly louder in our discourse to the point where one blogger unscientifically estimated conservative numbers on top of “biased” polls that showed favorable statistics for Obama and was reported as a viable resource by other conservative media personalities.

This circular vacuum has become incredibly destructive for the Republican Party that many of these opinionaters purport to defend.  As it turns out, what is good for ratings is not necessarily good for political gain and the snake is consuming itself.  Creating a safe, nurturing environment that coddles aggrieved, likeminded viewers with only the conservative worldview left half the country stunned when a president who has been compared to Hitler, Stalin and Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) on Fox News was reelected.  Fox’s Standard-Bearer, Bill O’Reilly, choked up as he realized on election night that this was the end of the “white establishment.”  He said this as if it was surprising that soon whites won’t be the nation’s majority to a plurality of minorities and that 20th century social wedge issues are now harmful to the Republican brand!

At the end of Network, Beale’s ratings begin to slip because he starts preaching corporate nihilism as handed down to him by the network’s chairman (and the face of God).  Thus, the network quietly decides to literally terminate Beale in an assassination/publicity stunt and replace him with a new talking head.  While Beck’s exit from Fox News was not nearly as violent, the network’s tone and message hardly changed after his dismissal.  And this week, Rove, Morris, Grover Norquist and all the rest are still reeling from the fact that half the country doesn’t see what they’ve been telling themselves ad nauseum for four years.  To quote Edward R. Murrow from the 1958 RTNDA Convention:

We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information.  Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

Much of the right, as well as the nation as a whole, should have understood this over the last week.  Murrow spoke of television and radio, but it is only more true in the age of cable, Twitter and, yes, blogs.  When you pick your news and facts, the real ones are going to hit you harder than an angry donor who gave you millions for a Romney victory.  Hopefully, those who would be opinion leaders for half the voting public will accept this soon.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Hello one and all!!
This page is my half-cocked attempt at starting a new blog and getting my voice out there.  I know it’s a novel idea that is almost unheard of in the age of Facebook and Pinterest, but I am going to do it anyway!  Am I self-deluded enough to think you care about anything I say?  Absolutely.

This blog will be dedicated to considering the social and cultural aspects of what’s going on in our rapidly evolving world, be it entertainment, music, art or a beer I drank somewhere in Brooklyn last week.  If that’s not vague enough, what I intend to write about is what informs our cultural norms and what is the subtext, pretext or any kind of related text in each blog’s subject.  In other words, I am not going to review a movie to give you my profound opinion on whether it deserves three stars, a plus or minus letter grade or some kind of meticulously aimed appendage rating.  No.  Instead, I am going to try to add perspective and see how WE as a society can influence what we consume and enjoy.  Think of it as a really long, but cool tweet.  So sit back, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em and welcome to DCROWSNEST!

007 Skyfalls into Our World

One thing was on all Americans’ minds this week: His pressed suit, his disarming smile, his love of public service and whether he would be up to face new challenges in the world after a difficult four years.  I am of course talking about James Bond’s long awaited return to the big screen!  <Unless I’m forgetting about something…..>

Yes, after a four-year absence from multiplexes and a long affair with the ever-collapsing MGM that makes tussling with Goldfinger look pleasurable, Bond has returned to woo American audiences (he’s already been pumping the UK box office for two weeks) in the now playing Skyfall.  With his latest adventure, Daniel Craig’s 007 shakes off a botched mission by going after a villain from M’s past whose dark forgotten secrets force Bond to confront his own.  The knee-jerk reaction on the Internet so far has been this is a rip-off and pale imitator of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies—but what isn’t these days?—and is nothing more than The MI6 Agent Rises!  There is no denying that, like most Bond movies, it is influenced by other contemporary films.  After all, who can forget Craig dong his best Matt Damon impression in the shaky-cam savant flick, Quantam of Solace?  Skyfall’s director, arty Sam Mendes, even credits The Dark Knight with influencing his decision to wade into the world of 00’s.  Still, one of the many things being glossed over about this spy-thriller is what a pivot the film is for Bond’s producers.  While James has always had larger-than-life big bads who dream of either ruling or destroying the world, this is the first 007 flick to truly address our post-9/11 one with a villain who represents what terrifies western audiences in 2012.  Bond, a product of the Cold War, has for the first time in 20 years moved beyond it and into the terror of today.

In 1989 (the same year as the final and little-remembered Timothy Dalton Bond entry), the world was changing.  All signs pointed to the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.  On November 9 of that year, the East German government announced all GDR citizens could visit West Berlin and the rest of democratic Germany.  Within a year, the Berlin Wall would be gone.  A sense of hope was in the air.  In that era of Western good feeling and optimism, The National Interest published Francis Fukuyama’s infamous essay, “The End of History?”  His point, which he expanded upon with the book The End of History and the Last Man in post-Cold War 1992, was that liberal democracy had triumphed over the failed communist experiment of the Eastern European states and in the soon-to-be globalized world, all states and major players would share the same economy and friendly government relations.  Writes Fukuyama:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

So in a nutshell, every nation will be some form of a democratic-republic in the future and have no ideological inclination to blow another one up.  Ergo, we citizens of the world have nothing to fear.  LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!  It was certainly an idea that hit home to the Broccoli family (stewards of the Bond franchise).  It forced them to spend all of Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as Bond (1995-2002) defending the continued existence and need of the character.  In 1995’s much-loved GoldenEye, the series returned to the silver screen and tackled this problem head-on by featuring Bond flying into a post-Soviet Russia and teaming with ex-KGB and Russian patriots to stop a leftover monster from the Cold War.   

The rest of Brosnan’s films featured him fighting the horrors of the 1990s—North Korean communists, oil barons and Rupert Murdoch, oh my!  Of course, the starry-eyed dream of a liberal democratic utopia populated by peaceful Western states, one that had become a near religion for neoconservatives fixated on the 1980s, inevitably and tragically ended on September 11, 2001.

After 9/11, nobody thought they had reached the epilogue of World History.  The United States and much of the West became driven by the need to stop the existential threat of terrorism.  U.S. President George W. Bush famously dubbed this conflict as a “War On Terror.”  The war is fought as nebulously as the ever increasing TSA security measures in airports and as massively as the decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Many mainstream Hollywood films grew darker and more cynical over this period in the last decade.  The cheeky humor of the Brosnan films suddenly seemed quaint and inappropriate in our culture and the Broccolis opted for a back-to-basics approach when they rebooted 007 with Craig in 2006’s Casino Royale.  Still, for his first two entries, Bond primarily fought smarmy European moneymen who worked for shadow-states as traditional and redundant as the ones Sean Connery defeated in the 1960s.

Enter Skyfall.  In the newest movie, Bond faces a deliciously evil villain known only as Silva.  The character, played broadly and brilliantly by Javier Bardem, features many of the hallmarks of a Bond baddie: He has bleached blond hair, a predilection for grandiose speeches and seemingly poor dental insurance.  However, he is the first Bond nemesis in a long, long time that is a reflection of our real fears today.  His goal is not to take over the world or even just accumulate money and power through evil deeds.  His goal is chaos and revenge against a state that did not even know it was in the crosshairs of an ideological madman.

Undeniably, there are some similarities between Silva and Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker in The Dark Knight.  But, Mendes and the writers are going for something more than following the cue of another in-vogue movie.  They are addressing why they think 007 is truly still needed.  In our “post-history” world, the threat is less-and-less other nations and states.  It is the non-state actors, driven not by the need to empower or protect a citizenry, but by an ideological desire for destruction.  Bond finds his boss, mentor and “mum,” Judi Dench’s superb M, besieged by politicians from the British Parliament in the wake of Silva’s terrorist attacks on London.  They are grappling with the same problems we are right now.  How do you confront an enemy who hides in the shadows?  Does invading a country stop an enemy who can simply slip across borders to evade capture?  What role does the security state and intelligence community, such as MI6, play in this “war?”

Silva acts alone for much of the film and confirms our anxieties in the modern world.  He will blow-up chunks of the London Underground as al-Qaeda horrifically did in 2005.  He uses cyberspace to dismantle MI6’s defenses in the kind of attack that former U.S. National Security Advisor Richard Clarke, the man who warned of Bin Laden’s determination to strike within the U.S. in 2001, dreads of in the book, Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It.  Silva even uses our interconnected world and media as a tool to endanger British lives when he leaks undercover MI6 agent names onto Youtube.  One doesn’t have to look abroad to see how non-state partisans with their own agendas can use technology and free speech to pursue goals while ignoring consequences, such as when a Florida pastor burned a Koran, despite being begged not to by the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Silva is the face of chaos and fear in 2012.  In Skyfall, the Bond producers are announcing that their hero is not dated in the past, even as the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary, but more relevant than ever.  When M stands before a Parliamentary hearing to be berated for her and the 00’s usefulness, she none-too-subtly announces the film’s real mission:

Today I repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become.  Why do you need agents, the 00 section?  Isn’t the world quaint?  Well, I suppose I see a different world than you.  And the truth is that what I see frightens me.  I’m frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us.  They do not exist on a map.  They’re not nations.  They are individuals.  Look around you.  Who do you fear?  Do you see a face?  A uniform?  A flag?  No, our world is not more transparent now.  It’s more opaque.  It’s in the shadows.  That’s where we must do battle.  So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves, how safe do you feel?

The answer obviously is less so than before.  The threat is no longer the Soviet Union, a state whose pragmatic self-interests can be used to and even worked with on occasion as seen in the Roger Moore Bond films.  No, the threat is something insidious, hidden and unpredictable.  In such a world, it is comforting to be reassured by one predictability: It’s nice to have James Bond around to save the day.  Skyfall ensures he will be for a long time to come.