copyright 2013, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 55, fall 2013

Skyfall: a mother and her twin boys

by Robert Alpert

"NSA and intelligence community…is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible. It believes, on the grounds of sort of a self-certification, that they serve the national interest. Originally we saw that focus very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now increasingly we see that it's happening domestically and to do that they, the NSA specifically, targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. …

You can't come forward against the world's most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk because they're such powerful adversaries. …If they want to get you, they'll get you in time. …

But if you realize that that's the world you helped create and it's gonna get worse with the next generation and the next generation who extend the capabilities of this sort of architecture of oppression, you realize that you might be willing to accept any risk and it doesn't matter what the outcome is so long as the public gets to make their own decisions about how that's applied."

 —“Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations”[1][open endnotes in new window]

Skyfall has entertained audiences worldwide, reflected in gross revenues of over $1.1 billion.[2] The movie’s commercial success is, in part, not surprising, considering that its director, British-born Sam Mendes, won six Oscars for his first movie, American Beauty (1999), including both Best Picture and Best Director. He is clearly attuned to Hollywood and the demands of its audience. Yet Skyfall’s commercial success is, in part, also surprising, considering its narrative obsession with the aging and death of its characters.

Skyfall adheres to the classic formula of James Bond movies, Hollywood’s longest running franchise. Thus, it begins with a pre-credit action sequence in an “exotic” locale, Istanbul, and ends with Bond triumphant over the villain. It also announces the continuation of the franchise with Bond confirming his return to “fieldwork” and the introduction of a new “M” (Gareth Mallory as played by Ralph Fiennes) and a new “Eve” Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Yet the movie darkens that formula. The pre-credit sequence opens with the Bond character approaching the audience from the shadows of a long hallway, initially observing, “Ronson’s down,” and shortly thereafter leaving that agent to die. The movie ends with the death of the old M played for 17 years by Judi Dench. While the movie reaffirms the franchise formula, it also expose exposes through a darkening of that formula its audience’s craving for a cathartic mythology in a contemporary, global environment no longer understood by that audience. In a post-9/11 world in which technology has overtaken privacy and nation states have increasingly merged with global, corporate interests, Skyfall self-consciously subverts its audience’s expectations about the triumph of good over evil even as it simultaneously caters emotionally to those expectations.

Skyfall is a fantasy reflecting the zeitgeist of its historical moment rather than a documentary about its time. Thus, the settings for Bond’s exploits in defeating his latest villain function not to advance the plot but rather to mirror the contemporary concerns of its Western audience.

Nothing, however, could be further from the meaning of the narrative than this retreat backwards into time and Bond’s supposed triumph as the result of his recapturing of such times past. Globetrotting has been a consistent element of the Bond movie franchise. The exoticism, at least to Western eyes, of different places around the world is what early on attracted an audience to the franchise. It entertained by enabling its audience to travel conveniently, that is, to enjoy the visual pleasures of different cities and countrysides without the unpleasantness of travel itself, let alone the need to experience cultural differences inconsistent with and sometimes hostile to the Hollywood-created experience.

The passage of time has, however, necessarily changed what is considered exotic. For example, in From Russia with Love (Terrence Young 1963) Bond also traveled to Istanbul as well as Venice, and these locales acted at attractive backdrops for his Cold War exploits when the primary market for the franchise consisted of a U.S. audience. Fifty years later the audience for Hollywood’s movies, such as Skyfall, is far more global, with profits dependent upon international markets. With the advent of technology, especially the Internet, that international audience is already familiar with what decades ago would have been considered exotic. Indeed, much of that audience now resides in what for U.S. audiences in the 1960s was an exotic locale. China, for example, is now the largest theatrical market for U.S. produced films outside of the U.S./Canadian market.[4] Its audience surely does not view the Shanghai sequence in the same manner as a U.S. audience, and the reaction of a viewer to this sequence depends, too, on his or her social and economic class. Thus, Bond’s globetrotting functions today less as visual entertainment than as a cultural trope for the varied concerns of a far more global audience in a world strikingly different from the one in which the Bond franchise originated. In a more global economy geography plays less of a role in perception than the viewer’s place in that economy.

Cartoons, fairy tales and a good story are more readily enjoyed and passively absorbed by a global audience than realistic, complex or ambiguous enactments of stories about viewers’ fears, hopes, aspirations, difficulties and other concerns. Escapist entertainment, a cultural product no different than a Big Mac, sells. Globetrotting alone does not. Thus, a movie such as Syriana (Stephen Gaghan 2005) jumps with seeming incoherence from Geneva to Tehran to Lebanon to Washington, DC. It also develops several storylines simultaneously to demonstrate the interconnectedness of global corporations and their employment of government bureaucracies and technologies that advance corporate commercial interests. Likewise, Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow 2012) intercuts its narrative about torture and the CIA’s efforts to find Osama bin Laden with scenes of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Saudi Arabia, London, Islamabad, Kuwait City, NYC’s Times Square, Nevada and Afghanistan. It thereby encourages its audience to draw the narrative connections between the obsessiveness of its lead character, the CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain), and the commitment of Osama bin Laden to his anti-Western cause. The film’s audience is expected to draw its own conclusions, as, for example, when the killing of Bin Laden is confirmed with the verbal transmission, “Geronimo. For god and country.” Both movies either failed or were far less successful financially than Skyfall, because both insisted that their audiences work at and consciously unravel the pieces of each film’s global puzzle. Entertainment, however, drives box office returns, not political statements. Skyfall entertains in that it requires little of its audience other than that viewers passively “enjoy the show.” Nevertheless, its success in creating a pleasurable show is also dependent upon evoking the contemporary, emotional concerns of its global audience, letting its politics wash passively over viewers. Skyfall’s politics is embedded in its narrative’s DNA.

MGM, the Hollywood studio that produced the movie, and Sony, its distribution partner, celebrated in their marketing campaign for Skyfall that this film represented the fiftieth anniversary of the Bond franchise. Unsurprisingly the movie is filled with references to earlier Bond movies. Those references, however, consistently highlight the effect of the passage of time on the Bond mythology and thereby evoke a nostalgia for a time when moral clarity seemed to accompany the events enacted onscreen. Ian Fleming began writing the Bond novels in the early 1950s and Sean Connery first enacted the role of 007 ten years later at a time when global conflict could be understood as a Cold War between two nation states—the United States and the Soviet Union—and in which commercial globalization was only in its early stage. As such, the references in Skyfall to those earlier enactments are on their surface emotionally comforting to or resonant with its audience.

Take, for example, the reference to Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton 1964). When Bond touts to M his ownership of an Aston Martin, the musical theme from the 1960s movie plays and we overhear knowing banter between Bond and M about the car’s passenger-side ejection seat. The in-joke speaks to an audience knowledgeable about the most celebrated, ritualistic moments in the Bond franchise. In contrast to “company cars,” one of the perks of contemporary business, the Aston Martin has no “tracking device.” In a later sequence, following several shots in Scotland that spatially establish the car’s role as character, the car’s built-in machine guns perform their anticipated role in readily killing many of the disposable “bad guys.” Yet what are we to make of the fact that Silva, the movie’s villain, in a gesture both deliberate and seemingly gratuitous instructs that his men in a helicopter destroy the car? Silva momentarily stares at Bond at the moment of the car’s destruction, as though acknowledging the Aston Martin was not simply a car. Silva, too, is aware of the in-joke, and Bond’s subsequent destruction of Silva’s helicopter is appropriately framed by shots of the Aston Martin.

If the Aston Martin, a fetishistic object of the Bond mythology[5], today is ripe for destruction, then are Bond, the character, and his mythology, both gadgets and supporting characters, no less so? Bond identifies his “hobby” as “resurrection.” And for the studio, the incentive to “resurrect” his franchise and its mythology is commercially compelling.[6] Nevertheless, as Silva, the supposed villain, observes, Bond’s activities as a “field agent” are outmoded in a world of “point and click” computers—a world now also described as “flat.”[7] The Bond movie formula was born in the 1950s and 1960s when country mattered far more than one’s economic place in a global economy, and Bond, in particular, exemplified British “fortitude,” the term M uses for Bond’s obituary when she believes him dead. Culture has gone global. From that perspective, if popular culture consists of a working out of myths only unconsciously absorbed, let alone understood, then Skyfall evidences an anxious Western culture, implicitly rejecting its past and questioning both its present and future.

The movie seems to tout the continued viability of, or at least evoke nostalgia for, a culture in which the “old ways,” that is, the myth of the white, heterosexual male, remains intact and in which that character remains both invincible and fully cable of solving his audience’s problems. Indeed, a number of critics have responded positively to the movie’s seeming endorsement of the “old ways.”[8] From that perspective Skyfall is consistent with the many, commercially successful blockbuster movies in which the cartoon-like hero prevails against what seem initially like overwhelming odds. As M says upon Bond’s return to service after his near death experience —“enjoying death,” as he puts it—Bond came back “because we’re under attack” and “we need you.” There is both clarity and an emotional attraction to these “old ways.” At the government hearing investigating MI6’s security breaches, M opines that the world has become more, not less, opaque and hence the greater need for the British intelligence branch, MI6, including its 00 agents. Nevertheless, her 00 agent of choice, Bond, ironically employs the opaqueness of gas from fire extinguishers to save M when she is under attack at that hearing by Silva and his men, and they, in turn, are disguised as police officers.

Significantly, M, the white haired, experienced head of MI6, has the last word in this hearing in which she is harangued by a younger, female member of parliament, taking M to task for MI6’s failings. In response to the MP’s ceaseless verbal attack, M delivers an emotionally appealing case for the “old ways,” quoting Lord Alfred Tennyson’s martial-like poem Ulysses:

“Though much is taken, much abides: and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

The 19th century author of such poems as The Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson represents British imperialism at its height. M’s celebration of that vision and Bond’s apparent success in defeating the threat to the empire seemingly confirm that the “old ways” are still “the best.” That paean to the “old ways” is enunciated by Kincade (Albert Finney), an equally white haired character, who has continuously if quietly served as a caretaker for Skyfall, the castle-like home in Scotland in which Bond’s parents raised him until their early (and unexplained) deaths. Kincade utters his praise for the “old ways” at the very moment that he hands Bond the hunting knife with which Bond will kill Silva. Returning to his roots—or rather to the home of the Scottish-born Sean Connery, who played the first Bond in the franchise—Bond in Skyfall, as played by Craig, reanimates the franchise character by simplifying it.

The movie focuses on Craig’s tortured character[9] and eliminates much of the complicated special effects and gadgetry that had encumbered the franchise so that it had become indistinguishable from its blockbuster competitors. Bond and Q both comment upon this return to simplicity when Q’s gadgetry consists only of a Walter PPK pistol and a radio device. Q, in particular, observes that “exploding pens,” referring to a gadget from Golden Eye (Martin Campbell 1995), are a thing of the past. Despite all of the noise and visual chaos of the final confrontation between hero and villain, there are, in fact, only one large helicopter, stone-piercing bullets, and explosions. The setting, an isolated, countryside home in which Bond was raised, renders this confrontation a seeming resolution of Bond’s failed psychological evaluation: “pathological rejection of authority based on unresolved childhood trauma.” Skyfall seems to enact a Freudian drama in which the central, male character overcomes his past and thereby becomes an adult man. From that perspective M’s death and her replacement by Mallory resolves Bond’s personal, oedipal conflict. Bond is triumphant.

Yet viewing the narrative in this manner fails to take into account that Bond as a 00 agent licensed to kill ultimately fails in his mission on behalf of the state. Leaving aside for the moment the unsportsman-like manner in which Bond kills Silva from behind with Kinkade’s knife, Bond’s killing of Silva is hardly a triumph for Bond. He does not prevent M’s death. She dies moments later in Bond’s arms. The supposedly greater threat that Silva represents—disclosing the identities of all NATO agents embedded within terrorist organizations throughout the world—is, in fact, largely irrelevant to the central narrative of the movie. As we eventually learn, Silva had stolen the computer file with those identities and disclosed five of them only so that MI6 would hunt him down, capture him, and thereby enable him to see M “one last time.” In failing to save M, Bond thereby fails in the movie’s central narrative.[10] Appearing somewhat pained, M confesses to Bond—only after Bond has captured Silva—that she gave up Silva to the Chinese in exchange for six other agents, because Silva, a former agent of MI6 in Hong Kong, had supposedly gone “rogue.” He had hacked into the Chinese computer network and the Chinese were “on to him.” It is that betrayal of a son by his “mum,” the term used by Bond to address M, or “mother,” the word that Silva associates with “M,” that is at the emotional narrative center of the film. Thus, by failing to save M, Bond has failed in his mission.

Skyfall, a movie supposedly about MI6 British agents, is more about “family” and the betrayal of one’s family members than about “god and country.” It is more sympathetic to those betrayed than those who would uphold the myth of “god and country.” As Bond remarks to M, being “dead” has given him perspective, at least momentarily. Bond’s temporary outsider perspective is underscored when M coldly informs Bond that his apartment and all of his belongings, including, as we later learn, his childhood home Skyfall, have been sold, and that he must look elsewhere for a place to stay that night. Orphans do indeed make the best recruits, as M later tells Bond, an ironic observation in light of the movie’s identification of M as “mum” or “mother.”

Not surprisingly, therefore, M’s obituary of Bond lacks emotional content. She speaks only of his institutional role, the “god and country” side of him, and is silent about his worth apart from that role. It is wholly appropriate, too, that when Bond hugs the dead M in his arms, the music is martial, as the camera tracks backwards. God and country, the result of longstanding conditioning, prevail in the Bond mythology. Its characters are heroic in sacrificing themselves to their institutional roles. Thus, while supposedly “old school” in its portrayal of family, it affirms contemporary, corporate values in that “mother” and Bond, her “good” son, are most admirable when they are wholly distant from one another. There’s nothing personal in their actions; it’s only about business.

If Skyfall is a family drama, however, then the movie also posits M as Silva’s “mother” and Silva as Bond’s “brother.” As brothers, Bond and Silva share the same cinematic purpose, namely to entertain us with their toys. Bond’s pre-credit sequence is intended to amaze—the car pursuit through the alleyways of Istanbul, the motorcycle pursuit on the literal edge of the rooftops, and the foot pursuit on a train with cars and a giant, mechanical claw. When asked by M, who is following the pursuit in London by “point and click” satellite technology, what is going on, Moneypenny can only lamely respond, “It’s hard to explain.” In a self-conscious nod to the similarity of their toys, Silva later brings a subway crashing down upon Bond with the wry comment that he too has the “latest” technology, a radio transmitter—the same toy given to Bond by Q. While the handmade weapons which Bond, M and Kincade devise can be interpreted as the triumph of the “old ways” over Silva’s “point and click” “hobby,” Silva is no less an adherent to those “old ways” than is Bond. Silva also was once a 00 agent who reported to M, though in Hong Kong when it remained under British rule. Always theatrical in his entrances, he also seeks to amaze his audience no less than Bond, the movie’s supposed hero. As Séverine (Bérénice Marlohe), Silva’s mistress, notes, Bond’s introduction of himself into Silva’s affairs threatens to overcomplicate the plot. Silva, however, outperforms Bond. As Q notes, Silva’s narrative, in which he reintroduces himself into the affairs of MI6, has been years in the making.

Silva was once the favored child of “mother.” Having, however, ascended to that role, Bond remains committed to remaining the favored child, no matter the cost. In response to Silva’s lengthy tale in his first scene with Bond about rats that devour one another, Bond instructs Q to leave a trail of “bread crumbs” to Skyfall so that Silva won’t “smell a rat” and then triumphantly declares himself in their last scene together as the “last rat standing,” as he kills Silva from behind. Q’s earlier comment to Bond that MI6’s “new digs,” which date back to the 18th century, would be “fascinating” but for the rats, likewise places in context Bond’s self-satisfaction in killing Silva. If the “old ways” are the “best,” then they are also the most primitive and brutal ones. As Silva points out, Bond is what M has made him rather than the result of any conscious choice on his part. Bond is the result of conditioning that places a greater value on the competitiveness of a free market economy, a rat race, than on cooperation. “Cut-throat razor. How very traditional,” Eve Moneypenny appropriately observes. Of course, a rat’s triumph is at best ephemeral. Looking beyond the movie Skyfall, Javier Bardem as Silva will be replaced by another villain. Judi Dench as M has already been replaced. Q (played for over 35 years by Desmond Llewelyn) is now a young boy with bad complexion. Bond and Moneypenny may have one or two more “close shaves,” concludes Moneypenny, an allusion to their possibly continuing sexual relationship, but they, too, including the actor Daniel Craig, will eventually be replaced—discarded as not needed like the sheared off mirrors to Moneypenny’s vehicle in the pre-credit sequence.

Moneypenny is, of course, only one in a long line of “good Bond girls,” women whose role is to serve Bond sexually and in the process repress their desire. While others in the Moneypenny role have pined after 007 as they sat outside M’s office, allowing themselves to be flirted with but never consummating their desire, Eve is the first Moneypenny to sleep with 007, visually symbolized by the clichéd image of nighttime fireworks. That Moneypenny is a field agent entitles her to perform that role. She is also, however, a failed field agent, who nearly early kills Bond on M’s instructions to take her shot and as such leaves the field permanently. Serving under Garth Mallory, the new M, she first assists him by spying upon Bond and still later assumes the stereotypical role of M’s office secretary. Notwithstanding the flirtation and the momentary, off-screen sexual encounter, there is no emotional relationship between her and Bond. Moneypenny ultimately serves to promote the image of Bond’s male prowess. As characterized in the song lyrics to the movie’s opening credits, she may “feel the earth move” at “this moment so overdue,” but "you'll never take my heart." She functions to enhance Bond’s image. 

That physical prowess, Bond’s sexual voraciousness, is a given, but it too only functions as audience entertainment. Men in the audience can admire his prowess. Recovering after he is nearly killed, Bond is seen in bed with an unknown woman lying next to him who then disappears, having served her narrative purpose. Consistent with the longstanding Bond mythology, Bond is also successful in seducing the “bad Bond girl,” though since she is “bad,” Bond must fail to save her. In this instance the frightened Séverine loses her life. While her last words to Bond are, “I’m sorry,” Bond’s parting comment is brutal in its cold wit. Her death is a “waste of good Scotch.”

Moreover, women can also admire Bond as played by Daniel Craig, since he is as much sexual object as subject. The many shots of his partially naked, well-developed body are clearly included in order to please women in the audience: Bond’s exposed, well-formed shoulder from which he removes a bullet fragment, the gratuitous shot of Bond swimming laps and then drying himself under a blue light at his Shanghai hotel, and the fleeting appearance of his naked body crossing the screen and then entering the steamy shower with Séverine. Her comment that she feels “naked” without her Beretta applies equally to Bond and his Walther PPK.

This sexual tension of Bond as both sexual subject and object makes Bond’s initial encounter with Silva, his “brother,” so revealing. Tying Bond to a chair, Silva caresses Bond’s chest and thighs, remarking with sadness and regret upon the condition of Bond’s body as he will later likewise remark upon the deteriorating condition of M who has been shot. There is an explicit sexual overtone to Silva’s caressing of Bond. M “never tied me to a chair,” Bond remarks, both defending M but also rendering explicit the eroticism of his position relative to Silva. “Her loss,” replies Silva, openly acknowledging the genuineness of the attraction. Pursuing further his seduction and mocking Bond for trying to remember the ways in which his training has prepared him for this moment, the “regulation to cope with this,” Silva comments, “Well, first time for everything.” Bond’s retort is pitiful in its braggadocio: “What makes you think this is my first time?” Silva displays embarrassment at the retort. “Oh, Mr. Bond.” Sexual prowess and a well-developed body, for which Bond has been conditioned and which entertain us, is no substitute for eroticism.

It is one of the ironies of Skyfall that M, too, is no less the result of her institutional conditioning, thereby evoking Silva’s empathy in his final scene with her. As Mallory comments, M like Bond continues to live in “the shadows,” and these “shadows” symbolize both the spying and thievery of the Cold War espionage period in which the Bond franchise was born, and death that the contemporary “point and click” culture both advances and denies. Symbolically, “mother” passes on to Bond as his only inheritance a porcelain British bulldog, a memento of one’s service to country, as Bond stands on a rooftop and looks out on a bright but grey London skyline in which the only elements of color are the flags of nation states fluttering in the distance. The British flag is most prominent among them. M is discarded in the same way that she, as MI6 agent, traded Silva with the Chinese for six agents, told Bond not to waste time trying to stabilize the condition of the dying agent Ronson, and insisted that Moneypenny “take the shot.” “I’ll leave when the job’s done,” M insists when Mallory offers her an early retirement “with dignity.” Yet as she lies dying, she acknowledges to Bond, “I fucked up,” the unexpectedness of her curse underscoring how she “did her job” and and the pitifulness of Bond's unsympathetic response. Regret is not professional, she told Silva in response to his observation that she shows no remorse for having betrayed him. In denying regret, however, she adheres to a movie mythology that denies her connection with people other than institutionally.

Silva is the one character in Skyfall who consistently refuses to accept his institutional role. If the villains of the Bond franchise have reflected and thereby commented upon its supposed hero, then the most interesting movies in the franchise have commented upon most provocatively that connection between hero and villain. For example, the villain Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) in Man with a Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton 1974) observes that he and Bond (played by the self-parodying Roger Moore) are one and the same character, except that Scaramanga gets to live well. In Skyfall the villainous Silva is the most emotionally appealing character. While, for example, the Bond mythology requires that Sylva must claim to kill Séverine because she is “redundant,” he does so, in fact, because she, like M, has betrayed him and in this instance at the prompting of Bond who uses her to find Silva, her employer.

Throughout the movie Silva expresses a vulnerability found in no other character. He confesses his jealousy at no longer being “mother’s” favorite; he candidly discloses the gruesome tale of his grandmother’s island; and he empathizes with Bond in his concern for the deterioration of Bond’s knees as a field agent who continues to run. It’s exhausting, he later comments, and to what end? Like a child visiting his old home or relatives whom he has not seen in years, he finds M smaller than he had remembered. Silva mocks Bond for “still clinging to his faith to the old woman,” referring both to M and the country that she and Bond serve, their “pathetic love of country.” Nevertheless, Silva momentarily exchanges looks with M at the hearing at which M is testifying. As a result of that momentary look and hesitation, he thereby fails in his quest to kill her. Still later, he expresses remorse when he finds M bleeding and dying from a gunshot wound. “What have they done to you?” he asks, echoing his earlier sentiment about Bond and seeming to address some outside, larger institution. He caresses her face and, placing his head next to hers with gun aimed at her head, he asks that she “free us both with the same bullet,” allow them to escape the mythology which has imprisoned them through longstanding conditioning.

That M locks up Silva in a transparent cell that resembles the cell of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme 1991), underscores that Silva is the central character of the movie in the same way that Hannibal Lecter was—a villain whose monstrous evil paradoxically made him both more sympathetic and central to the movie than its supposed heroine, FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). In his exaggerated gestures Silva, like Lecter, mocks the genre in which he plays. Yet at the same time those gestures underscore the deficiencies of the supposedly central character, the nominal hero. The lines he speaks, the meanings he conveys, are accepted by the audience only because they parody the concept of the villain as the obverse of the hero. Bond, in effect, plays straight man to Silva’s parodic hero.

Bond’s expressed “hobby” of “resurrection” resulting from his near death experience is an ironic, religious allusion when applied to the secular mythology of the Bond franchise. As Silva self-consciously notes, ironically the characters finally encounter each other in a chapel. Yet secular mythologies, such as the Bond franchise, have largely supplanted religious beliefs in Western culture. About to enter that chapel, Silva smiles in observing the gravestone for Bond’s parents at Skyfall, as though he recognizes that Bond, too, is an orphan and that “mother” has taken advantage of them both. The image of a skull (death) and a slot machine (chance) both appear on the screen to M’s computer. A variation on Psycho’s Norman Bates, who was also obsessed with mother, Silva is Skyfall’s conscience, though as the nominal villain he will ultimately be discarded. “Think on your sins,” Silva repeatedly cautions M through her computer screen. Evoking Othello’s line, “Think on thy sins,”[11] when Othello is about to kill Desdemona in the mistaken belief that Desdemona has been unfaithful, Silva, too, comes to realize in the final scene in which he caresses M that he, too, has been mistaken in placing blame upon “mother.”

Silva is the Cassandra-like character who sees most clearly the contemporary world in which the Bond mythology exists, but he is ignored and unable to prevent those whom he loves, “James” and “mommy,” from continuing down a path of institutional conditioning and emotional coldness. With the openly erotic shot of Bond tied to a chair in the foreground, the camera allows us to watch as Silva slowly approaches Bond from afar, an entrance reminiscent of Bond’s emergence from the shadows. The camera dwells on Silva as he delivers his lengthy vision of the Bond mythology in his audience’s contemporary world:

“Hello, James. Welcome. Do you like the island? My grandmother had an island. Nothing to boast of. You could walk around it in an hour, but still it was, it was a paradise for us. One summer, we went for a visit and discovered the place had been infested with rats. They'd come on a fishing boat and gorged themselves on coconut. So how do you get rats off an island? Hmm? My grandmother showed me. We buried an oil drum and hinged the lid. Then we wired coconut to the lid as bait and the rats would come for the coconut and... they would fall into the drum. And after a month, you have trapped all the rats, but what do you do then? Throw the drum into the ocean? Burn it? No. You just leave it and they begin to get hungry. And one by one...they start eating each other until there are only two left. The two survivors. And then what? Do you kill them? No. You take them and release them into the trees, but now they don't eat coconut anymore. Now, they only eat rat. You have changed their nature. The two survivors. This is what she made us.”

Ever the skeptic who continues to live in the mythology of times past, Bond inquires whether “this is about M.” Silva replies,

“It's about her, and you, and me. We are the last two rats. We can either eat each other... or eat everyone else.”

Instead of missions exhaustingly pursued across the globe, Silva offers instead that Bond

“pick your own secret missions. As I do. Name it, name it. Destabilize a multinational by manipulating stocks. Bip. Easy. Interrupt transmissions from a spy satellite over Kabul, done. Hmm. Rig an election in Uganda. All to the highest bidder.”

Bond refuses the offer, sarcastically referring to the “gas explosion in London.” Silva is insistent: “Just point and click.” Bond is no less insistent in his sarcasm: “Well, everybody needs a hobby.” “So what's yours?” inquires Silva. Bond replies, “Resurrection.”

This exchange between hero and villain encapsulates the movie’s narrative focus and as such is the source of the movie’s attraction for its audience. Skyfall portrays a competitive world, a world of rats eating rats, in which the winner takes all and in which no one owes anything to anyone else. It consists of a free market economy in which each person is alone and unable to find aid or comfort elsewhere. Global corporations in concert with governments exist separate and apart from the daily routine or understanding of each person. Silva’s character thereby represents an acknowledgement of how the computer with its global network furthers these economic interests of the few and how it facilitates the diminishment of individual, geographic differences in Western culture. Cultural distinctions are increasingly more about differences in externally created images than in indigenous realities. Bond may have devoted his life to serving his country, but he remains an orphan whose belongings are sold off the moment he is believed dead. In that context, there is a quaintness to the hearing in which M’s actions are subject to “democratic” oversight.

Meanwhile in the non-cinematic, real world, there are likewise Congressional hearings and supposed oversight on surveillance and anti-terrorism efforts. Nevertheless, the U.S. government sends by remote control drones into other countries in order to kill its enemies, including its own citizens. It also works with Silicon Valley to seize telephone records and other forms of digital communications so as to identify the threats to the democratic state, including security leaks—even as it condemns the “cyber-weapons” of North Korea and Iran. Likewise, while Skyfall posits that Silva had gone rogue by hacking into the Chinese computer network, China hacks into the computer networks of U.S. corporations in order to facilitate the development of its own economic technology and the U.S. hacks into the computer networks of its supposed allies.[12] The geographic boundaries of nation states have seemingly disappeared replaced by the competitive commercial and cultural interests in cyberspace. The extent to which private boundaries have disappeared are exemplified by the following two slides recently made public and among the many documents that have been and continue to be disclosed by Edward Snowden. [12a]

That Bond both refuses Silva’s offer to join him in “secret missions” by computer and declines to “take a desk job” at the movie’s end position him as a hero upon whom his audience may nostalgically look in a world in which physical boundaries seem increasingly less important and in which control has been lost to a faceless world of digital “shadows,” both government and corporate. Q readily locates Bond through a tracking device as Bond makes his way in London’s underground and then finds Silva through cameras that project on a wall of screens the rush hour crowds in the Tube. Nevertheless, Skyfall imagines that the encrypted codes—which Q characterizes as “security through obscurity”—and surveillance cameras in the Tube are less effective than Bond’s instinctive reading of that code on MI6’s computer screen through his recognition of an old Tube station, “Granborough Road,” and his physical pursuit of Silva in the Tube. And what does Bond’s “hobby” of “resurrection” reflect but a misplaced belief that a religious or spiritual world continues to exist in the face of a global, materialist economy in which corporations are multi-national in reach so that nation states become less relevant, more a means by which to facilitate those global, commercial interests? Governments and corporations without boundaries, including the producers of Skyfall, are the invading aliens from outer space, and computers are the weapon of choice for all.

At the time of the 25th anniversary of the Bond franchise, 1987, the franchise found “the venerable secret agent with his finger in the hole of the imperial dike.”

"Bond became the embodiment of Western discourse on the Cold War. The men who would later construct the Reaganite view of the universe turned, time and again, to their Bond for edification.”[13]

The cinematic Star Wars (George Lucas 1977) became U.S. President Reagan’s “strategic defense initiative,” which was soon dubbed “star wars.” That world now seems equally quaint in its clearly drawn mythology of good and evil and the threat that the latter would annihilate the former, whether from nuclear weapons, e.g. Thunderball (Terence Young 1965) and Octopussy (John Glen 1983), lasers from space, e.g. Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamilton 1971) and Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori 2002), or nerve gas, e.g. Moonraker (Lewis Gilbert 1979).

In contrast, Skyfall taps into the fear that there is no longer the clear divide between good and evil. Hero and villain are not merely competitors in a geopolitical race but rather brothers in which the “evil” twin more accurately reflects the contemporary world. It is surely appropriate that music reminiscent of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan 2008 and 2012), a story in which the central character is a divided personality, plays from time to time in Skyfall, including when Bond insists that M and Kincade “go to the chapel. Use the tunnel.” Where, however, Bruce Wayne found his identity in the Bat Cave, Bond, according to Kincade, emerged as an “adult” from the tunnel following his parents’ death. Thus, he expresses no regret at the destruction of his childhood home. “I always hated this place.” Kincade is Bond’s servant Alfred, [4] and Silva, whom Bond kills with Kincade’s knife, is his “mask” with which he displaces the unspoken fear of everyday living at a “desk job.” Significantly, Silva acknowledges that he possesses his own “mask.” “Say my name. Say it. My real name. I know you remember it,” he insistently asks M. And only belatedly, and then only to Bond, does she acknowledge that Silva’s “real name” is Tiago Rodriguez.

Bond’s frequently flippant quips hardly suffice to dispel the logic of those characters who acknowledge that time has had and continues to have its effect on the Bond mythology. For example, Q betters Bond in their introduction to one another:

“Q: It always makes me feel a bit melancholy. Grand old war ship being ignominiously hauled away to scrap. The inevitability of time don't you think? What do you see?
Bond: A bloody big ship.”

And M is more honest than Bond in her last exchange in which she acknowledges that she has run out of time:

“M: I suppose it's too late to make a run for it?
Bond: Well, I'm game if you are.”

Indeed, while M utters as her last words that in Bond she “did get one thing right,” thereby defending Bond as the audience’s hero, M speaks to the Skyfall audience’s central fear when at the hearing called to investigate her department’s failings she states:

“Today I've repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. ‘Why do we need agents, the Double-0 section? Isn't it all antiquated?’ Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do, and the truth is that what I see frightens me. I'm frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map. They're not nations, they're individuals. And look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No. Our world is not more transparent now, it's more opaque. It's in the shadows. That's where we must do battle. So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves, how safe do you feel?”

The irony of M’s speech is that her government[15] and other governments—often in furtherance of corporate interests—engage in the creation of this non-transparent, opaque world. “A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.”[16] Yet in the UK, for example, pursuant to its Terrorism Act of 2000, the Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, the UK’s equivalent of the US’s NSA, detains without notice persons perceived as facilitating disclosures about the government’s surveillance efforts and effectively compels the press complicit in those disclosures to destroy its computer records. [17] Likewise, in the United States, the Patriot Act and the invocation of the “state secrets” privilege enable the government to undertake surveillance without oversight and bar from public scrutiny that same surveillance and other activities, including both rendition and torture.[17b] The earlier “blacklists” of the 1950s in the U.S. have been replaced by massive surveillance declared lawful by that same government.[18] Routine collection by government of DNA of persons charged with but not convicted of any crime is deemed acceptable, [19] and corporations collect masses of data—then swept up by government—with a simple click as each person consents to the convenience of readily available commodities no longer produced locally.[20]

M goes on to quote Tennyson so as to leave her audience with a sense triumph. Yet the movie undercuts her jingoistic last hurrah. It has long been the case that spy stories have depended upon how

“[g]ood and evil come to depend on each other through an overarching third term: the law and its embodiment in the state, which the villain must elude, and heroes either convince that justice should be meted out, or delegated so they can mete it out themselves. But the latter’s assumption of false personae weakens their truth-claims and their identification with transparent valour.”[21]

Where, however, the law no longer possesses the political coherence or moral authority that justifies its hero, then not only does the hero lack any claim to truth or identification with valor, but instead the villain takes on that role. The audience may naively and nostalgically continue to look favorably upon the hero, but it is the villain with whom the audience, consciously or not, identifies.

While Bond insists that M never lied to him, Silva accurately observes that M has lied to Bond in telling him that he has passed his tests and that England, including its MI6, are things of the past, antiquities, in today’s world. Bond may momentarily recognize the incongruity of his mythology, commenting upon Kincade’s unexpected appearance at Skyfall: “Good god, you still alive?” He also momentarily acknowledges the deceptiveness of the state, pointing out with a smile on his face that M, notwithstanding her seemingly sympathetic expression of care for Bond, knows when Bond’s parents died. She knows his entire life story given MI6’s electronic file on him. It is the villain Silva, however, who both correctly understands and remains loyal to the lesson to be learned from those who fled his island based on a mistaken belief that there had been a chemical leak and who grabbed only what was important. Life clinging to Silva “like a disease” has taught him, reminded him, to focus every day on the essentials so that there is nothing superfluous – ecologically extraneous—in his life. He eliminates all else. In contrast, Bond in the end has learned nothing from his near death experience, and instead retreats by the movie’s finale to his mythology. As Bond comments to Moneypenny, being in the field is not for everyone. In his case, as she, however, assures him, he looks the part and, as such, will continue to play the role for his audience.

Skyfall has successfully “re-booted” the Bond franchise. Craig as Bond has commoditized the franchise’s hero by portraying 007 as both sexual subject and object. He has also darkened the character by focusing on 007’s institutional aloneness and on the personal, emotional consequences of being an agent licensed to kill. Where, for example, Sean Connery represented Bond in an era in which his audience believed in the niceties of a “martini shaken not stirred” and the progress of science, including its gadgets, Daniel Craig represents an era in which its global audience feels uneasy with the unending presence and reliance upon computer networks as well as the disappearance of geographic differences. No less than the members of his audience, Craig as Bond remains alone—on the rooftops of London and with only a ceramic British bulldog to remind him of “mother.” Mendes, as the director of such films as American Beauty, Road to Perdition (2002), Revolutionary Road (2008) and Away We Go (2009), has consistently explored and exposed the U.S. mythology of family, both the ideal and its reality in a culture that places greater value in mythology than in the people populating that culture. Skyfall likewise exposes the contemporary audience’s attraction to and fear of the resurrection of the Bond mythology. If Skyfall is arguably both entertainment and art, it is the former that accounts for its commercial success by maintaining the illusion of its longstanding mythological hero. M tells Bond that he has returned to London because we’re under attack and need you. The mythology demands that we readily accept and excitedly concur in her observation and that he return in order to save us. “A storm’s coming,” he triumphantly announces just before his successful confrontation with Silva at Skyfall.

Bond as mythic hero remains a source of entertainment to which his audience continues to cling, thereby enormously profiting its multi-national producers. Hanging on the wall between Bond and the new M in the final scene is a portrait of warships firing upon one another, “grand old warships,” as Q with his bad face complexion would put it. In returning to the field, Bond is supposedly resurrecting the myth of such warships. In hindsight, however, if we, as audience members, do not allow ourselves simply to be entertained, then it is the villain in Skyfall, Silva, who speaks to us and in whom we ought to place our sympathies and our hope that he will one day prevail over “god and country.” It is Silva the technologist with whom we should empathize insofar as his hacking of MI6’s computer network opens the doors to an underground beneath MI6 as well as opens the deceptively transparent door to his own cell. It is also the Silva who perceives our institutional aloneness in a stateless, technological world in which there is no privacy and rats devour one another. Silva is Skyfall’shero, and the movie’s greatest darkness resides in the fact that he is its nominal villain. While there are those who view Silva and others like him in real life as representing a political change,[22] nothing is certain in today’s cultural climate.

“… [Y]ou have to make a determination about what it is that's important to you. And if living unfreely but comfortably is something you're willing to accept, and I think it many of us are it's the human nature; you can get up everyday, go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows.

“The greatest fear. …is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They'll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests. And the months ahead, the years ahead it's only going to get worse. … [A] new leader will be elected, they'll find the switch, say that ‘Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.’ And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny.”
—Edward Snowden[23]


There are those in the real world who have refused to cooperate and comply with the demands of government. [24] Nevertheless, it has become increasingly apparent that the challenges in resisting the expansive policies of both private industry and government are significant. Computer tracking enables private industry to profile each consumer’s movements. Governments can sweep up vast amounts of data, whether through purchasing from private industry or directly collecting and decrypting that data. Cameras are now nearly everywhere, including on buildings, in subways, or on eyeglasses, and technology will soon permit instantaneous identification through such recordings. [25] In the face of the NSA’s annual “black budget” of $52 billion, it is not surprising that, as of this writing, Edward Snowden, whom many have labeled as a villain and traitor, remains stranded and stateless in Russia where he has been given a one-year residency. It is equally not surprising that in a display of power worthy of a 007 movie the plane of the Bolivian president is denied airspace and landing privileges because the U.S. government suspects that Snowden may have boarded his plane in an effort to leave Russia. [26]

And what of the much-vaunted U.S. press with its First Amendment protections? Within the last year one reporter has been ordered to testify against his sources, another has been labeled a co-conspirator in the prosecution of a whistleblower, and yet another is fearful that her life has forever been altered for having made public the clandestine activities of the U.S. government. [27] Does the “fourth estate,” as has it long been traditionally known in the U.S., continue to exist when The Washington Post, former home of Woodard and Bernstein of Watergate fame, is acquired by Amazon? [28]

Massive surveillance is justified in the name of combatting terrorism. Does that end justify that means when, for example, information was available pre-9/11 but was not coordinated between U.S. government agencies? And what of the 2013 bombings at the Boston Marathon, notwithstanding that the NSA’s surveillance was then in place? Ironically, the U.S. government allegedly knew that Snowden posed a potential threat but then failed to act upon that knowledge so as to deny him access to classified material. [29] Instead, it now labels and seeks to prosecute him as a traitor. There are no criminal sanctions for incompetence – or perjury, for that matter when the perpetrator is the government.

Skyfall is a commercially successful Hollywood movie. It entertains because of these challenges faced by its audience. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that the producer of the 007 franchise is now apparently involved in the negotiations over a film about Edward Snowden. [30] In entertaining, Hollywood documents the night terrors of its audience.


1. The Guardian article on Edward Snowden, including a video interview of him, may be found at
and a transcript of that interview may be found at http://www.policymic.com/articles/47355/edward-snowden
both downloaded on October 15, 2013. [return to text]

2. See, for example, Box Office Mojo, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=bond23.htm, and Skyfall, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyfall, downloaded on October 15, 2013. 

3. This contemporary anxiety and sense of an approaching, apocalyptic ending is surely reflected in the many, contemporary movies about the threat of the dead coming back to life. There is long history of zombie movies, e.g. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene 1920), I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur 1943), and Night of the Living Dead (George Romero 1968). Nevertheless, the number and varied nature of such movies in recent years have dramatically increased, e.g. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle 2002), Dawn of the Dead (remake)(Zack Snyder 2004), Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright 2004), 28 Weeks Later (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 2007), Day of the Dead (remake)(Steve Miner 2008), Diary of the Dead (George Romero 2008), Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer 2009), The Crazies (remake)(Breck Eisner 2010), Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (Richard Shenkman 2012), and World War Z (Marc Forster 2013). There is also the recent phenomenon of the zombie movie as an ongoing series both on the theatrical, e.g. Resident Evil (2002—2012) and television, e.g. Walking Dead (2010—) screens.

4. The Motion Picture Association of America’s 2012 report shows that the largest theatrical market outside of the U.S./Canadian market is now China. MPAA 2012 Theatrical Market Statistics,
which was downloaded on October 15, 2013.

5. For a fan-like tribute to the Aston Martin as an icon of the Bond franchise, see http://www.emanuellevy.com/comment/bond-films-loyal-to-aston-martin/, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

6. The commercial incentive for resurrecting a successful franchise knows no bounds. For example, the “Alien” series resurrected its central character, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), by keeping her in hyper-sleep for 57 years (Aliens 1986), secreting an alien onboard while she is again in hyper-sleep and then crash landing her on a prison colony (Alien 3 1992), and cloning her 200 years later when she has previously thrown herself into the fire of a burning furnace (Alien Resurrection 1997).

7. Friedman, Thomas, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Friedman, who has popularized the notion of a “flat,” global economy fails to draw the connection between that “flatness” and the means of control through government technology, that is, its dependence upon the technology of those global, commercial ventures. See, for example, his editorial in which he attacks Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the massive surveillance by the NSA in the U.S. (and elsewhere) on the basis that they will potentially lead to yet more surveillance. “Blowing a Whistle,”
, downloaded October 15, 2013.
His argument is reminiscent of the Cold War argument that justified “naming names” and blacklists and that later defended the presence of U.S. troops in Vietnam based on a “domino theory.”

8. See, for example, Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2012 (“’Skyfall’ keeps us caring, intensely, for a hero who, by any rational measure, is a vestige of a vanished era.”) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324894
downloaded on October 15, 2013. 

There are also those critics who would see in Skyfall’s seeming endorsement of the “old ways” and the resulting commercial success of the movie an adherence to the “action spy formula” in contrast to the “realist spy film”. From that perspective Skyfall is part of the “fantasy-based cycle of the spy film [that] still reflects the traditional theme of society as a rigid, ruthless organization but [that] tends to take it for granted, placing more emphasis on life-saving action instead. It abandons the realism of bureaucratic spy work in the favour of heroic fantasies…” Luis Garci-Mainar, “The Return of the Realist Spy Film,” CineAction, no. 88 (2012) at page 12. That a film is commercially successful would, however, suggest that it reflects more accurately its cultural moment in appealing to the emotional tropes of its audience. Realism is hardly a guarantee of truth.

9. Daniel Craig’s Bond differs in that respect from many of his predecessors. For example, in his first role as Bond in Casino Royale (Martin Campbell 2006) Craig falls in love and resigns as a consequence from MI6—only to lose his love in an emotionally dissatisfying ending that calls into question whether Craig, as a 00 agent, can ever allow himself to fall in love. That type of narrative, including the tortured character Craig has consistently portrayed, would have been unthinkable for a predecessor actor such as Roger Moore who played Bond for 12 years.

10. In an example of real life imitating cinematic art, the whistle blower Edward Snowden has claimed that the disclosure of U.S. “assets”, which included the identity of its agents in the field, was wholly irrelevant to his intention:

“Anyone in the positions of access with the technical capabilities that I had could suck out secrets, pass them on the open market to Russia; they always have an open door as we do. I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all over the world. The locations of every station, we have what their missions are and so forth. If I had just wanted to harm the US? You could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that's not my intention….."

He elaborates elsewhere as to his intention:

"I'm no different from anybody else. I don't have special skills. I'm just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what's happening and goes, 'This is something that's not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.' And I'm willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them and say, 'I didn't change these, I didn't modify the story. This is the truth; this is what's happening. You should decide whether we need to be doing this.'"

downloaded on October 15, 2013.

11. William Shakespeare, Othello, Act V, scene 2.

12. For a brief description of the war now conducted through computers by nation states, see, for example, “U.S. Helps Allies Trying to Battle Iranian Hackers,”

“China Seen in Push to Gain Technology Insights,”

and “U.S. and China Move Closer on North Korea, but Not on Cyberespionage,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

The participation in the U.S. by Silicon Valley’s private industry in surveillance programs by the U.S. government is described in “Tech Companies Concede to Surveillance Programs,”
downloaded on October 15, 2013.

Following Snowden’s disclosures, the press has written extensively on the NSA’s computer surveillance of its supposed allies. See, for example, “New NSA leaks show how U.S. is bugging its European allies,”
, downloaded on October 9, 2013,

and “NSA spying: Ally anger justified?”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013. 

12a. The “prism” slide may be found at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data.  

The “upstream”slide may be found at
each downloaded on October 15, 2013.

13. Alexander Cockburn, “James Bond at Twenty-Five,” American Film, July/August 1987, Vol. XII, No. 9, at page 26.

14. See Ted McGowan, “Should the Dark Knight have risen?” Jump Cut 45 (fall 2012)
downloaded on October 15, 2013 (“Alfred as villain”).

15. The British government, according to documents made public by Edward Snowden, has worked with the U.S. government in its efforts at digital surveillance. “New Leak Indicates Britain and U.S. Tracked Diplomats,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

In fact, the British government through its own agency is also collecting massive amounts of data and then sharing that data with the U.S.. “GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world's communications,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

16. Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) to Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) in A Touch of Evil (Orson Welles 1958).

17. Thus, the British government detained the partner of Glenn Greenwald, David Miranda. Greenwald had assisted Snowden in disclosing the NSA’s surveillance and Miranda was then detained at Heathrow airport and his electronic equipment seized. “Glenn Greenwald's partner detained at Heathrow airport for nine hours” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/18/glenn-greenwald-guardian-partner-detained-heathrow.

The British government then effectively compelled the Guardian in the UK to destroy its files relating to the materials provided by Snowden. “NSA files: why the Guardian in London destroyed hard drives of leaked files” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/20/
, and

“Guardian told to destroy NSA files for national security, says Clegg”
, each downloaded on October 15, 2013

17b. See, for example, Clapper v. Amnesty International (2012),
in which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide whether the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in expanding the government’s right to monitor telephone calls and emails with persons outside the U.S. was constitutional. In a Catch-22 dilemma, the Court held that the plaintiffs bringing the lawsuit, reporters, lawyers and human rights advocates, lacked “standing”, i.e. had not demonstrated sufficient damage, to bring the lawsuit given that the government under that Act and other laws have effectively denied the plaintiffs access to such information; and Mohamed v. Jeppsen (9th Cir. 2010)
in which the appellate court dismissed a lawsuit brought by non-U.S. citizens seeking recovery for rendition (forced disappearance and torture) coordinated between the CIA and foreign governments. The appellate court held that “national security” barred the plaintiffs from obtaining the evidence necessary to support their claims and hence upheld the government’s assertion of the “state secrets” privilege as a bar to the entire lawsuit. Both cases downloaded on October 15, 2013.

18. See, however, “Comparing Two Secret Surveillance Programs”,
which describes both the types of surveillance undertaken and the legal basis asserted for these programs; and “Obama Calls Surveillance Programs Legal and Limited,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

Given the supposed legality of these surveillance programs by the U.S. government, the disclosure of such programs itself becomes unlawful, “Ex-Contractor Is Charged in Leaks on N.S.A. Surveillance,”
and an open discussion and public debate on the issue of surveillance is difficult, to say the least, “Debate on Secret Data Looks Unlikely, Partly Because of Secrecy,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

19. In Maryland v. King (2013)
the US Supreme Court upheld a state law that authorized the “collection and analysis of a DNA sample from persons arrested, but not yet convicted, on felony charges.” Downloaded on October 15, 2013.

20. The connection between government and Silicon Valley’s private industry has been characterized in a variety of ways. A benign description views Silicon Valley as resistant to government demands for data:

“It also highlights a paradox of Silicon Valley: while tech companies eagerly vacuum up user data to track their users and sell ever more targeted ads, many also have a libertarian streak ingrained in their corporate cultures that resists sharing that data with the government.

‘Even though they have an awful reputation on consumer privacy issues, when it comes to government privacy, they generally tend to put their users first,’ said Christopher Soghoian, a senior policy analyst studying technological surveillance at the American Civil Liberties Union. ‘There’s this libertarian, pro-civil liberties vein that runs through the tech companies.’”

“Secret Court Ruling Put Tech Companies in Data Bind,”
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/14/technology/secret-court-ruling-put-tech-companies-in-data-bind.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

A less benign description views the cooperation between government and industry as commercially beneficial to both:

“Silicon Valley has what the spy agency wants: vast amounts of private data and the most sophisticated software available to analyze it. The agency in turn is one of Silicon Valley’s largest customers for what is known as data analytics, one of the valley’s fastest-growing markets. To get their hands on the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, United States intelligence agencies invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, award classified contracts and recruit technology experts like Mr. Kelly.

‘We are all in these Big Data business models,’ said Ray Wang, a technology analyst and chief executive of Constellation Research, based in San Francisco. ‘There are a lot of connections now because the data scientists and the folks who are building these systems have a lot of common interests.’”

“Web’s Reach Binds N.S.A. and Silicon Valley Leaders,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

21. Miller, Toby, Spyscreen: Espionage on Film & TV from the 1930s to the 1960s, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, at page 44.

22. “The 21st century mole demands no payments for his secrets. He sees himself instead as an idealist, a believer in individual sovereignty and freedom from tyranny……Just as antiwar protesters of the Vietnam era argued that peace, not war, was the natural state of man, this new breed of radical technophiles believes that transparency and personal privacy are the foundations of a free society.” “The Geeks Who Leak,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

23. Transcript of a video interview of Edward Snowden by The Guardian,
downloaded on October 15, 2013.

24. One such person who declined to comply is the “Lavabit founder [who] refused [the] FBI order to hand over email encryption keys,”
levison-fbi-encryption-keys snowden?CMP=ema_565&et_cid=51651
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

See also “2 E-Mail Services Shut Down to Protect Customer Data”
downloaded on October 15, 2013.

25. That providers have tracked consumer movements and transactions online is well-known and indeed is the business model for online commerce, namely revenues for targeted, online advertising. Only recently have consumers begun to question those practices and the associated privacy issues. See e.g., “Google Accused of Wiretapping in Gmail Scans,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

Government agencies in some instances then purchase that commercial data. “NSA paying U.S. companies for access to communications networks”

In other instances, however, they have acquired data by decrypting data transmitted through the “pipelines” of the Internet, such as cables. See “Revealed: how US and UK spy agencies defeat internet privacy and security,”

“N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web,”

“Secret Documents Reveal N.S.A. Campaign Against Encryption,”

“Unlocking Private Communications,”
, each downloaded on October 15 2013.   

The presence of cameras has become so prevalent that we largely take their presence for granted.
“Many cameras, little privacy”

Google glasses are a well-publicized extension of that practice, and Google now promotes its eyewear.

Interestingly, perhaps in reaction to the use of cell phones to record public behavior, the police have recently adopted the practice of recording their own activities. “In California, a Champion for Police Cameras”

The expanding presence of cameras would, of course, be exponentially intrusive if and when facial recognition technology becomes feasible. “Facial Scanning Is Making Gains in Surveillance”
, each downloaded on October 15, 2013.

26. The NSA annual “black budget” was only recently disclosed. “U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary” http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

As to Snowden’s
statelessness in Russia and the actions taken against the president of Bolivia, see, respectively the following: “Defiant Russia Grants Snowden Year’s Asylum,” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/02/world/europe/

“Bolivia: Presidential plane forced to land after false rumors of Snowden onboard”
, each downloaded October 15, 2013.

In that context, the silencing of an academic seems an afterthought. “The NSA's next move: silencing university professors?”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

27. One reporter has been ordered to testify at a criminal trial against his source, USA v. Sterling (4th Cir. 2013),

Another has been labeled a co-conspirator in the alleged unlawful disclosure of classified information. “DOJ Calls Fox News Reporter James Rosen 'Co-Conspirator' In Leak Case; Journalists Outraged”

And one of the original reporters to assist Snowden in his disclosures has found as a consequence her life forever changed – and not for the good. “How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets”
?, each downloaded on October 15, 2013.

28. “Jeff Bezos Bought The Washington Post. But So Did Amazon,”
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.

29. “C.I.A. Warning on Snowden in ’09 Said to Slip Through the Cracks”,
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.  

Snowden has disputed the accuracy of that account. "Snowden says he took no secret files to Russia," http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/world/snowden-says-
, downloaded on October 18, 2013.

30. “Hollywood Ponders Movie on Book About Snowden,”  
, downloaded on October 15, 2013.  

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