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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, July 20, 2012

THE TWO FACES OF PUSSY GALORE

In the course of reviewing two 1960s superspy-films on my movie-blog, I've mounted an argument as to how *mythicity* can be discerned in works that may or may not be "politically correct" by a given social consensus.  I'm excerpting here just the section dealing with my chosen examples of mythicity: the representations of the character Pussy Galore in both the original 1959 novel by Ian Fleming and in the 1964 movie (scripted by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn).  I wanted to transport this section here in case I decide to build on it in future.

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The symbolic discourse of the [Matt] Helm films, though, is more dubious. Though I’ve said the films embody the “swinger” cultural fantasy, saying that doesn’t give one any means by which to judge the *mythicity* of these spy-fantasies. As mentioned elsewhere, a narrative has high mythicity in relation to the complexity of its symbolic discourse, quite apart from its value as pure entertainment.

So what if the entertainment is politically incorrect? The Helm films, like many superspy narratives— particularly the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming, the main source of the subgenre—constantly put hot women on display, though not as explicitly as the infamous PLAYBOY spreads. At the same time, the superspy genre wasn’t entirely devoted to the humiliation of women, and it spawned not a few characters—Emma Peel, Modesty Blaise—who became icons of feminine (and sometimes feminist) rebellion.

As it happens, one of Ian Fleming’s characters, Pussy Galore of the 1959 Bond novel GOLDFINGER, has become one of the mythic touchstones of both the novel series and the film adaptations of the Fleming books. And this mythicity remains strong despite the fact that her creator depicts her in rather demeaning terms, while her film-adapters depict her in more empowering (and for this time, more politically correct) terms. The coyly-named Miss Galore, then, offers a paradigm for showing mythicity in spite of the creator or adapter’s political orientation.

In Fleming’s book, Galore—a lesbian henchwoman of the titular villain Goldfinger-- symbolizes all of Fleming’s conservative—even primitive—opinions on the nature of lesbianism. By the book’s conclusion Bond wins Pussy over for Team Hetero, though there's some intimation that she joins him against Goldfinger as a way of reducing her sentence. That said, in her prose appearance Pussy’s mythicity rates as “fair” given that Fleming makes her the vehicle of his sociological beliefs in a relatively thoughtful manner, no matter what one thinks of said beliefs.

In contrast, the Pussy Galore of the 1963 film GOLDFINGER barely references the lesbian nature of the book-version, though there are a few lines to indicate that Pussy resists Bond’s suavity because she plays for another team. This Pussy is portrayed on screen by actress Honor Blackman, who prior to the 1964 film had essayed a heroic female spy-type on the AVENGERS teleseries. Possibly in deference to fans who expected Blackman to play another such character, film-Pussy defends herself against Bond’s advances with judo-skills. Bond still manages to convert her to his team, this time with a forceful persuasion that some would consider rape. In the end she still joins him against Goldfinger, however, with a little less implication that she did it to save herself some years in prison.
Therefore, when I evaluate the way the Matt Helm films stack in comparison in terms of either demeaning or empowering archetypes of femininity, they stand or fail not in terms of political correctness, but according to the “Pussy test.”

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