Wednesday, July 01, 2009

John Adams & the HBO version...

It's almost Independence Day - do something patriotic and watch the John Adams story. Maybe it will prompt you to think more deeply about what makes our country unique and special. And then maybe it will prompt more of us to vote and work in line with our original core values.

As always, anything that appears on the television is almost automatically not 100% reliable information. There are plenty of sources out there that critique HBO for what they get wrong in their version of David McCullough's story of John Adams. But most of it is helpful information.

Breathtaking is the best word to use when describing the background scenery, the attention to detail of the clothing and mannerisms and diction. The visual effect of the series is a historical experience. And learning - (not for the first time) about the issues that prompted America to rebel against Britain is always an interesting task. Truth is stranger than fiction. And facts are stubborn things.

John Adams is not a well known character, though his name is remembered. According to this series, Adams is principled, just, devoted to his wife, and yet vain, neglectful of his children, and petty towards those who disagree with him. He is brilliant in the right moments, and a blunderer in the wrong moments. He makes important contributions, but then he isn't willing to move aside and let others make theirs.

As a father of young children, I could identify with Adam's struggle to leave his family in order to serve the Continental Congress. And it was painful to watch this father's relationship with his son Charles degenerate into a terrible mess. Charles made wrong choices, but he also grew up without a father whom he needed very much, especially his affection and attention.

Interesting that the series makes no mention whatsoever of John Adam's Christian faith and practices. New England at the time was very religious, so clearly HBO would not have been playing favorites if they showed Adams to be devout. Unfortunately HBO let secular views prevail over purely historical accounts.

The music is great - and the imagery that accompanies the opening scenes of each show is riveting. The image of the snake mystified me - where did that metaphor come from? Well, after some research, I now know. Short version: an American rattlesnake with thirteen rattles became a symbol for the young nations' effort to defend itself against unjust aggressors. Ben Franklin had used a diced up snake (thirteen pieces) with the phrase "Don't Tread on Me" as a political cartoon - stirring up sentiment for the colonies to unite as one under the threat of further British oppression.

Apparently American politics as we know it was just as common then as it is now. The art of compromise, the party politics, the interest of big business, the interests of the mob - all are realities now in this post-modern age, as they were in the beginning. Nothing new under the sun...

My friend Jon Davison has been insisting that I read McCullough's book. I will. Interested to know more about the factors that played into the founding of our country, as well as the role that the eccentric John Adams had in it. Click here for some pics of Adams.

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