In my review of Casino Royale (following on from my reading of James Bond: The Authorised Biography) I mentioned – it was difficult to avoid it – the overt sexism. In Live and Let Die, while the sexism is still there (of course, it was written in the fifties) it is more the racism that sticks in our PC-brainwashed throats. Mixing my metaphors a bit here, but you know what I mean.
Let’s start with one or two quotes, not from philosophers or politicians, but from novelists, because the novel is what this blog is really all about
“I believe that political correctness can be a form of linguistic fascism, and it sends shivers down the spine of my generation who went to war against fascism.”
That’s P. D. James.
Note that they are both women.
So what exactly is the problem here? First and foremost, I imagine, the continual use of the word “Negro”. But this book was first published in 1954. Even ten years later, the word “Negro” was being used without any pejorative connotations by one and all – witness Martin Luther King’s use of it in his great speech delivered on the 28th August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.:
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
Now let’s get back to the book. Speaking of “Mr Big, a negro gangster”, Fleming has M say:
And the negro races are just beginning to throw up geniuses in all the professions – scientists, doctors, writers. It’s about time they turned out a great criminal […] They’ve got plenty of brains and ability and guts.
Which leads us straight to Mr Big himself:
Born in Haiti […] initiated into voodoo as a child […] emigrated to America and worked successfully for a hi-jacking team in the Legs Diamond gang […] bought half-shares in a small nightclub and a string of coloured call-girls. His partner was found in a barrel of cement in the Harlem River in 1938 and Mr Big automatically became sole proprietor of the business. [After the war] he disappeared for five years, probably to Moscow […] returned to Harlem in 1950 […] bought up three nightclubs and a prosperous chain of Harlem brothels […] as a result of weeding by murder, he was expertly and diligently served […] originated an underground Voodoo temple in Harlem […] rumour started that he was the Zombie or living corpse of Baron Samedi himself, the dreaded Prince of Darkness, and he fostered the story […] commanded real fear, strongly substantiated by the immediate and often mysterious deaths of anyone who crossed him or disobeyed his orders.
A much more entertaining villain than poor old Le Chiffre in Casino Royale.
But what about the ageism? Bond and Solitaire are heading for St Petersberg, Florida. She tells him about it:
Everybody’s nearly dead in St Petersberg […] It’s the Great American Graveyard […] Everybody goes to bed around nine o’clock in the evening and during the day the old folks play shuffleboard and bridge, herds of them […] but most of the time they sit squashed together in droves on things called “Sidewalk Davenports”, rows of benches up and down the sidewalks of the main streets. They just sit in the sun and gossip and doze. It’s a terrifying sight, all these old people with their spectacles and hearing-aids and false-teeth […] You’ll love it […] You’ll probably want to settle down for life and be an “Oldster” too.
“God forbid,” says Bond. As well he might.
Later, he is there with Felix Leiter.
Bond noted the small grudging mouths of the women, the sun gleaming on their pince-nez; the stringy, collapsed chests and arms of the men displayed to the sunshine in Truman shirts. The fluffy, sparse balls of hair on the women showing the pink scalp. The bony bald heads of the men. And everywhere a prattling camaraderie […] You didn’t have to be among them to hear it all. It was all in the nodding and twittering of the balls of blue fluff, the back-slapping and hawk-and-spitting of the little old baldheads. [And so on.]
That offend you? If you are one of them, it almost certainly does . Time to hear from Stephen Fry, well known representative of another minority group, but not a great fan of Political Correctness or a supporter of censorship or bowdlerisation:
The bottom line is: do we, can we, recognise that our notions of political correctness are purely local in time and space?
Live and Let Die is a great story. We have no more right to criticise it on PC grounds than we do to criticise the Bible or Homer or Shakespeare – or Harriet Beecher Stowe or Mark Twain – on those same grounds. It, and they, are true to their day and age. You don’t have to read it if you fear some of the words or notions in it may offend you, but if you do read it, I think you will enjoy it.
And here to close with is something I found on the internet: