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Guest Thinkers

The Sex Appeal of Spies

Are spies like us? Just watch this. And then, well ensconced in romance and nostalgia, consider that Ian Fleming said—or did he write?—that “men want a woman whom they can turn on and off like a light switch.” This essential, and fierce, masculinity—or is it chauvinism?—has defined the literary history of spy-craft right up until Lisbeth Salander (and, n.b., Salander doesn’t work for her government). Is this is something we want in the genre, something we expect in spy storylines, even today? When spy-craft is coupled with “romance” it seems there is to end to our appetite for it. Now, as the U.S. government prepares for the latest round of well-intentioned realpolitik, it is worth considering why artful espionage, and the presence of seduction, romance and narrative within in, still seduces us.

Witness Bond. Witness Anna Chapman. The Russians who lived here under pseudonyms lived “normal” lives. It is the disconnect between what we think we know and what may otherwise be true that forms the crux of seduction; in the end we might want to believe we know less than we know. Rather than feeling deceived, as a government might feel/behave, individuals with an ear for story will always want to think that this neighbor, or that colleague, might be living a more sensational life than what appears to be the case. This suburban lie is the comedic heart of current cultural sensations, like Big Love. For the extraordinary among us, the cliché goes, things are rather ordinary. For the ordinary, the belief holds that there is something more than what we see.

The Cold War provided a certain geo-political stability, a storyline that everyone accepted. White hats, black hats, Wise Men and Dominos. In post-Cold-War times we are constantly racing to re-possess the glamour of those days, a glamour that came not from knowing what was next, but from not knowing.

The prospect of A Spy Next Door is less a threat than a seduction. Ann Chapman and her colleagues are a reminder that we can let go our narrow condescension for things we think we know are true. All spies (alas) do not look and act like Bond, providing further rationale for everyone to hew to the Golden Rule.

It is worth watching this, if for no other reason than as an antidote to Anna Chapman. Simon’s lyrics alongside the classic Bond titles are ageless. They capture what we all want to feel all the time: challenged, protected, and in awe:

Nobody does it better

Makes me feel sad for the rest

Nobody does it half as good as you

Baby, you’re the best

I wasn’t looking but somehow you found me

It tried to hide from your love light

But like Heaven above me

The spy who loved me

Is keeping all my secrets safe tonight

And nobody does it better

Though sometimes I wish someone could

Nobody does it quite the way you do

Why’d you have to be so good?


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