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Spies, spoofs, and Johnny English

  • Published at 06:17 pm October 14th, 2018
Technology
Technology isn’t always your friend BIGSTOCK

What a spoof spy movie can teach us about technology

The heading should have been, move over Bond, Johnny English is here. By the way, if some of you do not know what I am talking about, Johnny English is a spoof version of James Bond, played by comedy king Rowan Atkinson. And, currently, the latest JE escapade called Johnny English Strikes Again is on the cinema at the local Cineplex.

With Atkinson playing the bumbling spy who makes monumental mistakes which eventually turn to his favour, spoof spy films seem set to overtake the serious Bond movies. 

Well, the 007 hype is always there to be honest -- Bond is now more like an extended advert of top end fashion products, shirts, suits, sunglasses, cars, locations, and drinks. Add to that, some spicy double entendres -- naturally.  

No matter how hard James Bond tries, he will never be able to lose the “ultra-fantasy” tag which has come to epitomize the public perception. 

However, 007 is the character which spawned countless spy agents following the same template: Exotic locations, sultry women, torrid moments of intimacy, ego-driven world dominating megalomaniacs, and sumptuous actions sequences.

While I was watching the latest Johnny English movie and enjoying every bit of it, some hardcore messages, without any link to the fantastic world of a super spy, crept in.

Yep, while it may be a comedy movie with an espionage theme, topped with delicious decadence, at the core there is a vital premise -- the battle between the digitally obsessed, and the analog lovers. 

Throw away the mobile and use a phone box 

In the movie, English is portrayed as a person who is gravely wary of modern-day technology. Shunning the ultra-sophisticated mobile which has high-tech features, he goes for the phone box. A little annoying though, dropping coins every five seconds to carry on talking, but English has a point: Mobile phones will be tracked by the enemy, who wants to control the world’s economies by taking over their digitally dependent state operating systems. 

The audience laughed heartily, though take a moment to seriously think: Instead of using a device which can give away one’s location, isn’t it better to simply go the old-fashioned way where no big brother is constantly keeping an eye on you?  Of course, phones can be bugged too, but in a world where hardly anyone uses the landline, who will go and put a microphone in a phone box or a telephone set in a house?  To bring Johnny’s fear for mobiles into the real life scenario, mobiles have taken away our peace of mind, because even on holiday, there is the compulsion to check office emails, or take calls from colleagues. 

The relaxed unwinding is gone -- in truth, you cannot just take a holiday and disappear for seven days. The angst hovers overhead in the form of the smart device, relegating the comfort of the sand, sea, mountains, or the beach. 

The downside of digital existence -- the diabolical pull to be connected at all times, to the detriment of unvarnished pleasure. 

Instead of the hybrid car, Johnny takes the fuel guzzling Aston Martin 

Arguably, the best scene of the film is where Johnny is offered a car, from a large collection of hybrid vehicles. Exasperated, he looks around and finds on the corner, a car under a cover. Curious, he takes the cover off, revealing a fire-red 70s Aston Martin Vantage. “Don’t be ridiculous,” shouts the agency boss, warning that the car is a relic, with no special safety or technological features. 

To which, English quips: “Good, then we will be invisible to the digital enemy and he will never see us coming.” 

The audience in the cinema hall relished the sequence, laughed at the line, and got a sense of frisson when English zoomed out in the Aston, oozing panache with a capital P. 

Well, come to hybrid cars, and here’s the reality, at least in Bangladesh: My car mechanic warned me last year, saying “boss, whatever you buy, don’t ever go for a hybrid one, bohut bhejal.” 

But leave technical problems aside -- when someone drives a car, there’s always a desire to stand out, or feel the experience. Obviously, in the real espionage world, no spook would ever drive an Aston, but the message here seems to be: If you can afford it, why go with the flow? 

By the way, I bet the sale of Aston Martins, especially vintage ones, will go up with Johnny English’s endorsement. In the movie, he huffs and puffs in changing the gear, and to control the beast while negotiating steep bends.

But hey, if you want to make a statement, nothing beats the howl of a petrol-guzzling sports car. 

Vanquishing a digital enemy in a knight’s armour 

In the final scenes, shot in remote Scotland, Johnny, dressed as a knight, uses a tablet as a boomerang to defeat the digital enemy. He does it without pressing any buttons, telling us once again, digital modernization may be convenient, but not effective in all situations. 

The movie is a spoof, the aim is to entertain, though the message beyond the delectable comedy is a serious one: Let’s not be overly reliant on digital ways, and try to maintain some traditional basic methods in some of our activities. 

For starters, in a world where hackers are active online, maybe, instead of clicking into bank accounts, we may, from time to time, go to the bank carrying the cheque book with a trusted man as a guard. 

That’s what I do, and still drive the car on full cctane.

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.