I recently finished reading David McCullough’s 650-page biography of John Adams. A few days later, I watched the HBO 7-part movie based on this book. I have to say that I am glad that I read the book first because I probably wouldn’t have read it at all if I had seen the movie first. David McCullough received a Pulitzer Prize for John Adams. He deserved it! (And I plan on reading the book again soon.)
McCullough is a gifted writer and a careful scholar of American history. Through reading this biography, I became another admirer of the patriot, John Adams, who was one of the key figures in the formation of our country. It was his vision which shaped and steered the country through its infancy. His wife, and dearest friend, Abigail, was his equal in intelligence as well as in patriot vision.
The Hollywood HBO version of McCullough’s book skewed the “patriot dream” of John Adams into a nightmare. Hollywood wanted us to see Adams’ faults. Of course, Adams had faults. But, after Hollywood was done inventing numerous demeaning scenes, Adams was barely recognizable as the same man depicted in McCullough’s 650-page epic.
In one scene, while John Adams is eating and talking to Thomas Jefferson, the director has Adams lean over and use the table cloth as a napkin for wiping his mouth. The intent of this scene had to be to show us that Adams was an uncultured hick in contrast to the elegant Thomas Jefferson.
In an earlier scene, Adams is teaching his young son about agriculture and the two of them are stirring manure with their bare hands and smelling it appreciatively. Why invent such a scene, if not to create disgust in the viewer and to lower Adams in our estimations?
I’m sure the movie producers justified such scenes as necessary to create or depict “realism.” They harbor the notion that for a potato to be a “real” potato, it must be shown with a great deal of dirt on it. However, according to a wise and insightful writer of the mid-20th century (Robert Frost), a potato doesn’t need the dirt to make it real; and that, furthermore, what "art" does is clean up the potato, rubbing the dirt off so that the real potato (without dirt) can be seen.
In contrast, as I read the book I don’t recall one word of “dirt.” When McCullough talked about Adams’ faults, it was done with judiciousness, understanding, and respect. Adams was never demeaned. (Nor were any of the other characters.) The conviction I received, as I read, was that Heavenly Father had raised up such men as Adams to be the founders of this nation and gave them tremendous strength, courage, and vision. That this experiment in creating a nation based on liberty actually succeeded was indeed a miracle.