Watched Skyfall on a plane the other day. A well-made and entertaining film. Old fogies like me will appreciate the retro Bond touches. But it’s hard to be a libertarian and fully enjoy these sorts of movies, especially in today’s political climate. The surveillance / national security state is glorified every day in the mainstream press; do we need this from Hollywood as well? Of course, in the film, Bond’s MI6 uses its cameras and supercomputers and technical genius to spy on the bad guys, unlike the real MI5 and MI6 and FBI and CIA which use this stuff to spy on you and me. (I much prefer the way the CIA is portrayed in the Bourne films, as a lawless predator using shadowy “assets” to carry out its extrajudicial executions. And the portrayal of the NSA in the Will Smith film Enemy of the State is even better)

Skyfall opens with an exciting car, motorcycle, and train chase set in and around Istanbul. But I couldn’t help noticing the wanton destruction of person and property carried about by Bond and his agent-partner, smashing cars, shops, and market stalls belonging to innocent bystanders, even using a piece of construction equipment to crush cars and rip a train car in half, all to recover a stolen computer hard drive containing the identities of NATO spies embedded in “terrorist” organizations around the globe. Hey, what’s the life and property of a few random Turks compared to vital Western national security interests?

And, as is usual in Hollywood portrayals, MI6 is coordinating this melee from its headquarters in London, with nary a Turkish official in sight. (We see this too in the Bourne films, where the CIA can apparently control all the CCTV cameras in London with a few mouse clicks.) Perhaps the most egregious example I can remember appears in Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer, where US special forces are seen operating at will in Germany, using tanks and helicopters and futuristic weaponry to capture the titular bad guy in a Bavarian forest before taking him to their secret local base. You’d think that some German military or civilian officials would be at the scene, granting permission for Americans to blow stuff up on German soil, but I suppose this would have gone over the heads of the American audience.


  1. “the wanton destruction of person and property carried about… smashing cars, shops, and market stalls belonging to innocent bystanders”

    This is a staple of ALL “good-guy” movies. The amount of death, injury and property damage caused by the likes of Bruce Willis or Matt Damon seems never to factor into the equation of what ends they are willing to go to in order to save their own skins.

    It seems to me to be a sort of authoritarian collectivism disguised as altruistic individualism: I, the hero, am worth saving at ANY cost, because it is only I who have the powers needed to save the collective. I am willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, so those around me (and their property) will be sacrificed as I deem appropriate, without their consent, to achieve the greater good.

    In this process, some small faceless portion of the collective will naturally be expendable. Not only do we not need to fret about the losses of those faceless few, we can actually enjoy the spectacular and dramatically violent nature of their injuries and losses, since they are rendered non-human by their facelessness as it relates to the imagined face of the collective. The imaginary and fictional collective becomes real, represented by the face of the “hero”, and the real individual bystanders with shattered bones become the fictions. Reality is inverted.

    Picture an action-flick starring Obama. No amount of collateral damage would be too great to protect the Chosen One from harm, so that he could fulfill his destiny of not only saving the free world, but making it “better”.

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