liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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John Adams is My Homeboy...

So, I started watching John Adams after hearing all you guys twitter on about it earlier this year as a follow up to my The West Wing-o-thon (courtesy of kurukami lending me his set).

[O! WAIT! Abigail Adams = Abigail Bartlett. I C WAT U DID THERE SORKIN!]

So, with the first two episodes watched — one pass straight through and one pass with the "Facts are Inconvenient Things" feature, aka, Pop-Up History Lesson — I just want to say:

I am enjoying it quite a bit. My favorite bits? When John Adams keeps getting all Unitarian Jihad in the Continental Congress. Yeah, John was seriously Brother Neutron Bomb of Reasoned Debate in those scenes.

(Please note: That crazy Unitarian John Adams was of the opinion that the U.S. was NOT a Christian nation, an opinion he shared with that even crazier Unitarian-lovin' Episcopalian Thomas Jefferson, who thought that the predominant religion in the U.S. would eventually become — ha, ha! — Unitarianism.)

For the most part, history isn't getting mangled too badly, although there were a few important points that did get glossed over in the presentation itself, but were corrected in the "Facts are Inconvenient Things" feature. The one thing I was surprised that they did get right and didn't shy away from too much was that The Sons of Liberty favored the thuggish side of the equation.

The other thing that was properly captured in the miniseries — one that I think most people today don't get — is that a unified "country" with 13 "states" under the umbrella was not something that was even considered in the early days. The Colonies were seen as separate countries that eventually banned together for a specific cause (in this case, Independence). So when you read "these United States of America" in the Declaration of Independence, the concept behind that phrase is utterly alien to anyone living in today's United States of America.

What Jefferson was actually saying: "These separate States (formerly Colonies) are united for this one purpose — to throw you out."

I thought this disconnect between the Revolutionary-era and modern-era concept of the "United States of America" was nicely captured in some of the dialog between the various representatives in the Constitutional Convention. When Ben Franklin reminds John Adams that he is a guest in Pennsylvania, he's reminding John Adams that he is (by Colonial standards) a visitor to a foreign country named Pennsylvania. When Jefferson asks Adams if he's eager to return to "your country," Jefferson means "your country, Massachusetts."

It's also interesting that in the second episode, whenever Adams refers to any kind of post-Independence world, he talks about a Confederacy of independent nations, the nations in question being the 13 states/colonies. (It was an idea that ultimately didn't turn out well, hence the U.S. Constitution and a stronger Federal government as a replacement. The mistake was again repeated by the South during the Civil War, which played a role in the Confederacy's defeat when the war began to go poorly for them.)

The fact is, the people who signed the Declaration of Independence would've been shocked down to their toes if someone from 21st Century America Dr. Who'd their way into the meeting and explained the modern concept of the "United States of America."

I really thought was a nice touch, but I also kind of wonder how many people watching the mini-series completely missed the importance of it.

There were some important bits that were glossed over and corrected in the "Facts are Inconvenient Things" feature: the Boston Tea Party happened because the British cut the price of tea, which meant that privateers like John Hancock could no longer make money smuggling non-East India Company tea into Boston and charging outrageous sums for it.

I have to admit that the miniseries didn't start out all that promising. The opening scenes of John Adams riding into Boston in the middle of a snow storm had me LOL'ing a bit, mostly because of the mountains in the background. Unless he was able to see the lights of Boston from The Berkshires along the New York border (which you most definitely cannot), t'aint no way that John was traveling through the foothills of some big-ass mountains as he rode into Boston. The closest hills we've got is the Blue Hills Reservation immediately to the south, which has a lovely view of Boston. But, I promise you, they're big-ass hills, not big-ass mountains.

The other thing that makes me LOL is that, according to John Adams anyway, New England is constantly blanketed in snow. Or mud. Your pick. If you were to judge New England weather by the HBO miniseries, you'd think Boston had been transported to the same latitude as Juneau.

Okay, okay. I cop to having a mud season in New England. We just call it March and April. But, hand to God, it's not all the months in between having massive amounts of snow dumped on our heads. And no, winter sure as hell does not start in October (when the Boston Massacre Trials actually happened). So you can safely assume we don't have massive blizzards in October, either. *sheesh*

Other distracting hiccups: John Adams seems to suffer from two other annoying things: 1) The amazing telescoping timeline; and 2) "Small state" syndrome.

Now, the amazing telescoping timeline is understandable, in large part because John Adams is historical entertainment as opposed to a documentary, so you've got to go in with the expectation that hardcore historical fact is going to get a bit wobbly at points. What was honestly needed was an additional episode between Episode 1 and 2 to really get a feel for just how long the Massachusetts colony caused all kinds of trouble for not just the British, but some of the other colonies.

While the "Facts are Inconvenient Things" feature on the DVDs did cover this somewhat, if you had no idea that the "Massachusetts Problem" was one that went back to the late 1600s — that's when the first open rebellion for independence happened — let alone that latest spasm of pre-Revolutionary civil unrest depicted in John Adams started in the 1760s, the open hostility of the other Colonies to the Massachusetts delegation in Philadelphia might seem a bit over the top.

Because, seriously, Massachusetts was the King of Causing Trouble for Everyone, so for Fuck's Sake, Sit Down and SHUT UP Before the Full Might of the British Empire Comes Down on Our Asses. And That Goes for You, Too, Other New England Colonies. Stop Backing Your Crazy Buddy.

Which...only goes to show how some things never, ever change.

More annoying was the "small state" syndrome. John Adams rode from Braintree (now present-day Quincy — pronounced by locals as Quinzee) to Concord in a couple of hours?


That's a 33-mile one-way ride, Tonto. And shockingly enough, most of the roads that would get you from point A to point B already existed back in 1775. So unless John borrowed a TARDIS and stole a car, no way was he getting there and back in one day.

Yet, the thing that probably struck most people as unlikely — being able to watch Boston across the Harbor from Braintree/Quincy is actually true. And still is true to this day. Although the "Facts are Inconvenient Things" feature seemed to indicate that this was no longer true. Ummm, I promise you. It still is true. I know that half of Boston is built on landfill, but all that did was make Boston jut out into the Harbor even more. So, yeah...

They also got the Old Statehouse exactly right (Nice job set builders!), which is a good thing because the building still exists and people would kind of howl if that was wrong. There's one sour note here: The Boston waterfront as depicted in the miniseries is actually too far from the Old Statehouse. Back in the day, it would've been only a few blocks away, where the present-day Quincy Market (pronounced by locals as Quinsee) is located. Don't let the solid ground around those long buildings fool you. That's all landfill. Back in the 1700s, those were docks. Anyway, going by the distance between the statehouse and the "shoreline" in the miniseries, it looked like the editing monkeys took the present-day Boston shoreline and superimposed some docs on it, which — NO! Bad editing monkeys!

There were some things that did make me squeeful, though. Mostly tiny things that they did get right, like that Crispus Attucks was one of the first, if not the first person killed in the American Revolution — assuming that you date the "first shot fired" from the Boston Massacre and not Lexington and Concord. Which side you come down on for this question depends on when you think the shit really started to hit the fan in Massachusetts. I come down on the side of the Boston Massacre people, myself.

Okay, sure, all we had was a quick shot of Crispus (he was identified in the "Facts are Inconvenient Things" feature), but at least he hadn't been white-washed (pun intended) out of the story.

Also making me squeeful, they seemed to have captured the character of John and Abigail correctly.

John really was a bit of an annoying hot-head who didn't let go when he thought he was right. And, yeah, he was an elitist snob that wasn't all that hot about the common man (or "mob" as he not-so-affectionately thought of them) getting their grubby paws on the levers of power. Let's just say that the modern U.S. Presidential campaign with the thin veneer of the Electoral College standing in the way of citizens directly electing the president would give him a fucking heart-attack.

And, yes, his marriage to Abigail really was one of equals to the point that it wouldn't look out of place in a 21st Century context. Although in a 21st Century context, ol' Abby probably would've had a JD of her own and she and John would've been the Ultimate Civil Rights Crusading Power Couple.

What? Don't look at me like that.

In all seriousness, though. Abigail was world-famous in my various history classes. She was the very distillation of Awesome. And John was Awesome because he knew she was Awesome, too. In many ways, she was one of the first American Feminists.

And she was right about both women suffrage and slavery. Really, she needs a whole lot more credit for that. She told John, and told John, and told John, "Look, deal with this crap now, or we're gonna be dealing with it later and it's going to be a whole lot worse. Seriously."

The woman was a visionary, really.

Soooo, anyway. That's my initial impressions based on the first two episodes. More as the mood strikes.

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