She challenged me when I called James Bond a fiction.
“James Bond is real. I’ve seen films of him. I’ve seen the proof.”
“Those are just movies. C’mon.”
“He is followed around by cameramen. They record everything he does.”
She spoke with such sly confidence. She was beautiful, too. Brilliant highlights bounced and shone in waves around her crown, complimenting her cerulean eyes, though her long hair seemed far too black, as if were absorbing light with an impossibly localized gravity. The nose might have been altered, but if it was, it has been done nearly perfectly, without any of the tell-tale signs so common to rhinoplasties of that era. She aspired to a career in acting, but wouldn’t lower her standards to join any of the stage groups on campus, as I had.
“There’s an actor named Sean Connery. An author, Ian Fleming…”
“Oh, yes. I’ve read the books. Remember the preface to ‘The Spy who Loved me’? Fleming refers to, and I quote, ‘the same James Bond whose secret service exploits I myself have written from time to time.’ Fleming had gotten a first-person narrative in the mail, from a woman, along with a note assuring him that this was ‘the purest truth and from the depths of her heart.’ You got that? The purest truth. Publication took place only after Fleming obtained ‘clearance for certain minor infringements of the Official Secrets Act.’”
I remembered the preface, of course, though I couldn’t quote verbatim from it the way she could. And I had thought myself something of an expert on the subject of James Bond, having latched onto the books and films at an early age. She spoke with utter conviction, but also with a sly undertone of condescending tolerance, forbearance of my ignorance. I was starting to lose a debate I should have easily won.
“Look at the movies themselves. They all have credits for the many people involved, the actors, the directors, the script writers. And you’ve seen the actors in other movies, in other roles.”
“That’s just a cover.”
“Why would they bother?”
“It works, doesn’t it? It has you fooled.”
“It doesn’t make any sense, you know, to risk such an elaborate ruse. What would be the point?”
“Look how much money the films make for the British Secret Service.”
“Of course. Anything that makes so much money has to be real. Then tell me this—how come the full reality of the ruse isn’t included in the movies? Why do they only show part of what’s really going on?”
“Because, silly, it would blow the cover.”
She had thrown down a gauntlet, and for days, I refused to surrender. When she showed up in the dining hall dressed in white silver and gold lame, affecting the imperious tones of a southern belle, our usual crowd of friends from the dorm opted to side with her. What other outrageous claims might be lurking on her agenda? Would we be debating the reality of Scarlett O’Hara and the film crew following her around? Next, she showed up for dinner wearing a tight mini-skirt, midriff nonchalantly bared, even more intimidating than the previous night’s gown. This time, speaking with a Russian accent, she came on like a spy gunning for Bond himself. She was so lovely as she stared me down with her navel, so convincing, so sly and charming in her arguments, and so charismatic. No one was going to take my side, despite the obvious rightness of it.
Privately, I asked some of my closer friends to help crack the shell of illusion that was becoming weirdly ominous, at least to me. “No way,” they all said.
She was so was so insistent on her position, so unrelenting and natural, I began to wonder if she actually believed it. Perhaps some method-acting psychology had driven her to lose herself in a role. Or maybe she had some kind of other need to embrace this fantasy. Maybe the films and the books and the character of James Bond had become so important in her mind that she couldn’t have the full aesthetic experience, the absolute heightened visceral thrill, unless she achieved a total and complete suspension of disbelief.
These possibilities were easier to swallow than to face up to the greater probability– that she loved the sport of our debate, smugly playing me for the fool as an idle entertainment, attracting an audience while amusing herself, savoring the way I would get flustered and confounded.
I was on the verge of giving up. I couldn’t think of any tricks of rhetoric or logic capable of disproving the notion that I was the victim of a world-wide conspiracy. The more passionately I argued, the more gullible I seemed. Any attempt to cite some respected authority only bolstered her claims of a villainously effective deception. And even if I could finally prove my point– who was I to trifle with her abiding and naive faith, her utter devotion, her joyfulness, even if it was all a joke at my expense?
“There’s just one thing I want to know. How come you can see past the illusions, past the cover and all the trickery while everyone else is fooled?”
“I’m that much smarter than everyone else.”
It was a testament to the power of positive thinking. And the power of myths.