Forget super-rich baddies who seek to destroy the world with a death ray. Boring! Money is losing its cachet and even failing to recycle properly leads to accusations of destroying the world, says Clive James.
I hope I'm not stepping on Daniel Craig's toes if I let it slip that I'm being considered to play the starring role in the next James Bond film. It's going to be called Parabola of Solicitude and the script is on my desk in front of me now.
I have no problem with the action sequences. At one point Bond has to run up the side of the Washington monument before punching a fatal hole in a helicopter full of Chinese assassins. The stunt double can handle that, just as he will have to handle the bit on page three where Bond is described as getting up out of an armchair suddenly. I don't do "suddenly" any more but I think the producers know that.
Nor do I have any problem with the sex scenes. Bond has been slower off the mark in that area lately and I know just how he feels. In fact the script seems to contain no sex at all except a mention in the last scene of an old woman who applies for a job cleaning Bond's flat. She turns out to be the granddaughter of a hotel receptionist he knew quite well in Havana during the Spanish-American war in 1898.
No, my problem with Parabola of Solicitude starts with the villain. He's a Russian oligarch called Oleg Garkov and he couldn't be more boring. It's not just that his plan to destroy civilisation is boring. The plans of Bond villains to destroy civilisation have always been boring: the stolen atomic bombs, the microwave satellite. I mean, save us, but don't hurry.
Now that we know that within 10 years there'll be nothing left of the inhabited world except a few hundred thousand windmills sticking out of the ocean, where's the threat in diverting the water supply of South America? Every Sunday night at home, before the bins are collected on Monday morning, I get accused by my assembled family of destroying civilization by not paying enough attention to separating potato peelings from excess plastic packaging. Who isn't threatening to destroy civilization?
Boredom is a yacht
According to the script, Oleg Garkov's plan is to hack into the command console of the world's central recycling centre and un-recycle the whole globe's garbage with a program of advanced software devised by the Graeco-Croat body-building computer genius Spyros Virus, a part which I understand has already been offered to Madonna, who might well be available.
Yachts owners are in an exclusive club
But the boring thing about Oleg Garkov isn't his plan. The boring thing about Oleg Garkov is his character. He's a super-rich Russian, and the whole world has at last realised that nothing could be more boring than that. I don't mean that being Russian is boring, what I mean is that being super-rich is boring.
By excitable journalists, being super-rich could be made to look glamorous until recently. But when the global financial crisis got under way the penny dropped. Or to put it another way, the entire world economy dropped, leaving us all facing the question of how much is enough.
A closely related question is how much is too much, and not even those journalists who were previously fascinated by people with big yachts are any longer quite convinced. It was a wonder they ever were. Nobody with any brains has ever stayed on a yacht an hour longer than necessary. Even the owners of yachts, if they have sufficient money, are careful to purchase yachts big enough to carry helicopters and submarines, accessories with no other purpose but to enable them to get off the yacht as often as possible, leaving their guests imprisoned.
There is nothing to talk about on a yacht except the last meal or the next, and one rule is inflexible: the bigger the yacht, the smaller the library, until you reach the point where the yacht is too big for any harbour but has no books on it at all. Quite often there are paintings of great value, but they are only there so that they can slide upwards for the screening of the latest Bond movie.
Finally the owners of yachts believe that there is level of luxury where the life of the mind becomes irrelevant. But for anyone who values the life of the mind, the life of the senses has its limits, and anyone who believes otherwise will be the worst company in the world. On a yacht, you're stuck with them unless you can book a seat on the helicopter or the submarine.
When we cluck disapprovingly at politicians who are keen to be the guests of people who own yachts the size of battleships, our objection shouldn't be to the possibilities of corruption.
Even heads of state have to share their plane with the press
David Cameron is impressed by Rupert Murdoch's influence and why not? After all, Tony Blair was, and there will always be a reason for a politician to sit down beside a media magnate.
But what's alarming is that David Cameron seems also to be impressed by Rupert Murdoch's yacht. A politician is in a desperate position if he is attracted by the way the rich live, especially when they decide to live afloat.
If the Russian oligarchs have managed to hold on to some of their money even in current conditions, maybe our politicians can find out how to do the same on behalf of the rest of us.
George Osborne of the Tory party and Lord Mandelson of the Labour Party might have had good strategic reasons to brave the mild Mediterranean waves on the teak deck of a Russian host. But heaven help both of them if they get the urge to live like that.
Not that anybody's asking them, as they lie back in their deck chairs, to reject the idea of a refined life furnished with goods of high quality. After World War II, the best of the Labour politicians knew what the gentry had but wanted the working class to have it too, and they were right. Any state that tries to eliminate the idea of gracious living will eventually impoverish everyone except pirates.
Quality lasts... but may fall out of fashion fast
That's where the Russian oligarchs came from: the ruins of a social structure. Here in the West, in the old order which democratic politics made more just, but sensibly did not destroy, the aristocracy and the middle class shared the belief that the things to own should be well made in order to wear well. That belief survived as a principle: good shoes are expensive, but they last longer, so they cost you less.
It was a principle that could be abused, mainly through snobbery. Julian Fellowes, who wrote the brilliant script for Gosford Park, got the whole attitude into a jam-pot when he gave Maggie Smith, playing a grand guest in a grand house, her snarling drawl of disdain at discovering that the marmalade on her breakfast tray had been bought instead of home-made.
By those standards, which are really an assertion of unearned superiority, belonging is such a hard test that ostentation can seem like an escape from it, a blazing act of defiance. But the trouble with ostentation is that it looks awful. Somebody who wants a gold bathroom suite is probably helping to keep a lot of gold-miners employed, and he might even be enjoying an exalted bathroom experience, but he looks ridiculous, like King Midas with his pants down.
The lap of luxury
Saddam Hussein had gold bathroom suites in all his palaces, most of which he rarely visited, and now the Iraqi government has put his yacht on the market. Apparently it needs to be redecorated, but the gold bathroom fittings are still in place.
Simplicity can be overdone. Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the United States, washes his burgers down with cherry cola. Try not to be there when he belches. But there is such a thing as a reasonable sufficiency, a concept which depends on the realisation that although it's good to be well off, there's more to life than just wanting to be better off than everyone else.
Anyway, you can't win. The Russian oligarchs are nowhere beside the kind of Arab prince who has a Boeing 747 all to himself. One of them has just ordered an Airbus A-380. What's he going to do on that thing, play polo?
Even the President of the United States has to share Air Force One with the press. He, or it might eventually be she, isn't allowed to get rich in office, and presumably wouldn't want to. Whether Democrat or Republican, the next president will serve the people, and we are right to find the upcoming election infinitely more interesting than even the most extravagant display of personal wealth.
It will be a contest between two views of society, but they are not views of two different societies, they are two views of the one society. The Democrats want more distribution and the Republicans think that if there is too much distribution there won't be enough to distribute.
Both parties, I think, are correct, and that's exactly what makes the conflict so fascinating. The election will probably turn on the question of which candidate is thought more likely to restore the US economy, on which so much of the world's material welfare still depends.
A possible 007 villain?
That's why we all behave as if we had a vote. I speak as someone who is comparatively well off, or at least I think I am. Never having had the desire to buy a yacht, I still have some money in the bank. What I'm not absolutely sure of is whether the money is worth anything. That's why I'm considering going back to work.
The best James Bond ever was George Lazenby, and maybe it's time for another Australian in the role. But the script needs a more formidable villain. Couldn't he be a British Labour Peer with a sinister smile and uncanny powers of resurrection? And we need a new title: The Man Who Resigned Twice.
Below is a selection of your comments:
I have in the past complained when A Point of View has been vacuous so I feel duty bound to say that Clive James' contribution today was what I listen to Radio Four to hear: sane, perceptive, witty, articulate and thought-provoking. Thank you.
Angus Thomson, Thames Ditton UK
Clive, I really think you'd be a great Bond. You look the part. Sexy if a little photo-shopped but I think you'd give them a run for their money. Don't retire again too soon- there was a huge gap left when you went back to Australia, and I heard the appreciation of your radio audience when I was there- those long lonely drives 100km from Brisbane to Toowoomba, so it's good you're back in the fast lane and even better that I am too. Keep it up, stick it out, take it on the chin, it's always a pleasure to hear the unique view of the world you provide with such style.... Sam
Sam Brown, Helsinki, Finland
Welcome back Mr. Bond. Superb opening salvo! Encore, encore, encore. One suggestion though - have you considered defecting? I'm very confident you would be a superb Bond villain!
Chris Jarvis, Nottingham
Spot on! Oligarchs and politicians shouldn't be allowed to mix there's just too much undue influence in play - like petrol and matches or lithium, polonium and uranium, all should be kept well apart. Can we legislate against it - probably not. Should we try - definitely!
What a load of gibberish. And George Lazenby was a complete creep - the worst Bond of all time - and the biggest ego.
Brilliant! Why can't we have Clive James back on TV seeing in the New Year like he did some time ago. They were the only years I stayed up with the BBC.
Judith Barrett, Cardiff
Clive you are a darling! I stopped and lay on the sofa to listen and laughed aloud.
Alexandra Goss, Doncaster
Spot on Clive, welcome back, Sunday is worth getting up for again !!
Jane Coffey, Fordham, Ely, Cambridgeshire
Oh yes! Clive James back, there's a nice slot available on a Friday night, it could be called Friday night with Clive James. Good title I think.
I must admit I preferred you in those carry on films, make another soon, much better than Bond.
Andy Hollis, Bedford
Come back to play at the BBC please Clive, we need you to save us from the zombies. Is a two day week and a 20 million over three years enough ? Our audience with any brain activity will actually think its worth every bit of their licence fees for the first time in years !
John Lee, Birmingham UK
It's clear that many of the super-rich have far too much money and no idea what to spend it all on, but how much is too much and how much is enough? I suppose that if we could answer this question we'd all be a lot more comfortable. My yacht WOULD have an extensive library, by the way.
Mark Hale, London, UK
That made me smile on a dreary Sunday Morning, Thanks :)
Gy Pete, Humberside
Wonderful as ever and I'd pay over the odds to see Clive James as Bond. I wish Barbara Broccoli would hire him to write the next screenplay and script - an erudite and witty Bond would be a real draw, even for those of us who aren't big action adventure fans. By the way, I think your sub-editor or whoever wrote the opening paragraph needs to use dictionary.com more often - there's a difference between cache and cachet.
Ruth , Salwa, Kuwait
Dear Mr. James, I was in total agreement with your, what I thought was a serious article, until the last paragraph where you stated that George Lazenby to be the best Bond ever! Jeez man are you crook, lost a few sheep from the top paddock? The drongo couldn't act his way out of a chocolate commercial. Even Aussies as one eyed as a Collingwood supporter wouldn't say that! It's enough to make a brown dog sick. Otherwise the usual, brilliant, well reasoned, well written article we've come to expect. Thank you.
Alan Wills, Perth, West Australia
I am a bit flummoxed by this article. Surely a look at the uses and views on extravagance could be summed up without the movie references? That said, I think it is interesting to notice that in the current economic and climate crises extravagance is being demonized. While excesses are surely bad, it's no bad thing it sit back and get away from it all. I feel that these days people are putting to much of a negative spin on living well. I am not poor but am not about to go purchase a massive boat. Yes a personal 747 is extravagant but really, what is the point of criticizing it?
Ben, Davis, CA, United States of America