Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Foundering Fathers

HBO has made John Adams a lot less lovable than Tony Soprano and, despite all the critical tiptoeing around it, picked a poor time to demythologize the making of the American miracle.

In this week's next-to-last installment, a sour, surly Adams slips out of a half-finished, half-furnished White House to board a crowded jitney and avoid attending the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, a former friend he has come to envy and despise.

This is a typical moment in seven hours of relentless "realism" to offset a century of Hollywood biopics that glorified the Founding Fathers beyond human recognition and now attempts to balance the books by presenting them warts and all but ends up with a visually spectacular exhibition of warts.

It was only in middle age that, as a child of immigrants, I fell deeply in love with the makers of the American Revolution while touring the stately homes of England to view huge tapestries celebrating ancestral slaughter that created a ruling aristocracy who passed along generations of splendor to a few who live at the expense of misery for the many.

Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin fought a war to escape all that and, by some miracle, found a way not to replicate it but create something magnificently new in history that endures to this day.

That they were vain, petty, self-seeking--in a word, human--is not surprising, but a televised tapestry of their faults is no more a cause for self-congratulation than the wall hangings in those palaces built on exploitation.

What the magnificent Laura Linney as Abigail Adams keeps warning about in pillow talk would have been helpful to the producers of the HBO epic. "Ambition," she keeps saying sadly. "Vanity."

1 comment:

GiromiDe said...

I have not watched the series, but the tone of the biography upon which it is based seems largely neutral about his character. He was but a man, yet he happened to be a man who helped found one of the most impressive governments in history, warts and all.