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Research Christmas 2013: Research

Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor?

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 12 December 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7255

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Re: Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor?

Johnson, Guha and Davies (1) recently published a paper in the BMJ wittily entitled “The Man with the Golden Liver”. Their research quantified and analyzed James Bond’s daily consumption of alcoholic beverages by reviewing Fleming’s Bond books. They reached the conclusion that OO7 “is at considerable risk of developing alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, impotence, and other alcohol related health problems, together with being at serious risk of injury or death because of his drinking”, thereby confirming MI6’s own assessment of Bond in Skyfall as unfit for service.

However eccentric this paper might seem at first, it raises crucial issues such as the influence of literary and cinematographic representations of popular heroes and their drinking habits on people’s alcohol consumption and behaviour.

As far as role model imitation is concerned Jon Ronson (2) shows that Fleming’s best sellers are still a source of inspiration for today’s readers: "I want to take a passage from one of the novels and assiduously match Bond car for car, road for road, meal for meal, drink for drink…" Ronson’s bondian trip reveals that one boozy picnic in the Jura is followed by another boozy dinner in Geneva, soaked in Enzian liquor - "The firewater distilled from Gentian that is responsible for Switzerland's chronic alcoholism." The alcoholism Fleming’s Bond was able to point in other people, he failed to acknowledge for himself, pointing towards the difficult task of self-reflexivity under the influence of alcohol.

When Fleming’s Bond was adapted to the screen and his cocktail recipe was spelt out by Daniel Craig in Casino Royal, Kina Lillet — a small and out of fashion French liquor brand — was not prepared for the huge commercial success it was about to undergo, as it was flooded with orders from all over the world. The epidemiological effect of the representation of alcoholic products in movies, TV series and advertisements is well documented. A recent study including 38 000 adolescents has shown that exposure to portrayals of alcohol is generally linked with effective alcohol consumption (3). McIntosh (4) analyzed the content of top-grossing movies in the USA between 1940 and 1990 and showed that alcohol was present in a vast majority of movies (up to 95%), mainly associated with positive events and generally consumed by individuals who have satisfactory social, romantic or sexual relationships. Children are just as exposed as adults: out of 24 animated pictures released between 1937 and 2000, 275 depicted alcohol consumption, with only 3 sober characters (5).

However promising, this field of research is still relatively new and there is much work to be done before all the psychological and cognitive processes underlining the effects of media exposure to alcohol consumption are clearly identified (10). Part of the answer lies in the research on social cognition. For instance, the effect of alcohol portrayal in movies can be explained by mere exposure effect: the more we are exposed to an object, the more likely we are to appreciate it and have positive feelings toward it, each exposure, leading to more familiarity and appreciation (11). Evaluative conditioning processes could be another explanation for the effects of exposure to positive alcohol depiction in movies on subsequent consumption. In this paradigm, attitudes toward alcohol will change due to repeated pairing between two objects or stimuli, leading to affect transfer between the two (12). In time, repeated pairing between popular figures such as James Bond and alcoholic beverage will lead to 1/ the two being associated in memory and 2/ the alcoholic beverage, such as Vodka Martini or Heineken being more and more appreciated.

Changes in cognition and expectations are thus made by associating objects that are frequently seen together in one’s environment. For example, expectations such as “alcohol facilitates social relationships” or “alcohol makes one more attractive” (13) and implicit attitudes toward the effect of alcohol come incrementally, step- by-step through repeated exposure over time. Viewers might then expect similar outcomes to their alcohol consumption. Moreover, repeated exposure to James Bond-like characters create and reinforce the image of an idealized drinker. This representation becomes more salient over time whereas the perception of the consequences of drinking alcohol diminishes. In a recent study, a substantial sample of adolescents aged 10 to 14 were exposed to randomly selected popular movies released between 1998 and 2002. The authors showed that alcohol consumption and willingness to consume alcohol were associated with movie exposure (14). Over the years, exposure to such messages will induce spectators to think that alcohol drinking is normal or even a mandatory part of any social event.

More interestingly, experimental research has established the causal effect of movie exposure on alcohol-related cognitions and behaviour. In an experimental study lead in a bar-laboratory, 80 male participants were exposed to movies containing few or many alcohol portrayals over a time period of 60 minutes. During the experiment, they had access to various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Results showed that participants who were exposed to movies containing many alcohol-related portrayals were more likely to choose an alcoholic beverage compared to participants who were exposed to fewer alcohol portrayals (15).

Pierce Brosnan used to drink close to twenty Martinis per Bond movie according to The Economist (17). Yet Daniel Craig doesn’t give a damn about his Martinis, shaken or stirred, preferring a bottle of Heineken between his legs, as he lay besides a scantly dressed girl. Is Bond using Heineken "to refresh the parts other beers can’t reach" as the advert puts it? Is Bond’s beer bottle a reward or a substitute for sex? Or could it be a punishment? After all Fleming’s Bond hated beer and Roger More only served champagne to his girls. Whatever the beverage and the interpretation, Bond is forever bound to alcoholic drinks. Yet he evolved from a literary chain-smoker to a cinematographic non-smoker. Should Bond quit drinking in the next opus, we might witness a drop in the consumption of alcohol? But then he wouldn’t be Bond anymore would he?

Thus far from being ludicrous, this article underlines an aspect often overlooked in epidemiological and addiction research, namely how fiction and media impact our cognitions/representations and health-related behaviours.

References :
1- Johnson G, Guha IN & Davies P. Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor? BMJ 2013;347:f7255
2- Ronson J, The Guardian/travel, Saturday 10 May 2008,
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4- McIntosh WD, Smith SM, Bazzini DG, Mills PS. Alcohol in the movies: Characteristics of drinkers and nondrinkers in films from 1940-1989. J App Soc Psych, 1999 29(6): 1191-1199
5- Bleakley A, Romer D, Jamieson PE. Violent Film Characters’ Portrayal of Alcohol, Sex, and Tobacco-Related Behaviors. Pediatrics. 2013.
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14- Bègue L, Bushman BJ, Zerhouni O, Subra B, Ourabah, M. ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder’: People who think they are drunk also think they are attractive. Brit J Psychol. 2013. 104:22-234.
15 - Dal Cin S, Worth K a, Gerrard M, et al. Watching and drinking: expectancies, prototypes, and friends’ alcohol use mediate the effect of exposure to alcohol use in movies on adolescent drinking. Health Psychol. 2009;28(4):473–83.
16- Engels RCME, Hermans R, Van Baaren RB, Hollen- stein T, Bot S. Alcohol portrayal on television affects actual drinking behaviour. Alcohol Alcohol 2009; 44: 244–9.
17- Koordeman R, Anschutz DJ, van Baaren RB, Engels RCME. Effects of alcohol portrayals in movies on actual alcohol consumption: an observational experimental study. Addiction. 2011;106(3):547–54.
18- The Economist. James Bond alcohol consumption over the years. Accessed 17 december 2013.

Competing interests: No competing interests

20 December 2013
PhD student
Laurent Bègue, Luc Shankland
University Pierre Mendès-France
UFR SHS, 1251 avenue Centrale BP 47 38 040 Grenoble Cedex 9