Once I composed myself – this took a couple of weeks – I re-examined the experience. “Sons,” about the birth of the American Revolution, is well acted and directed. The cinematography is first rate, the production values are high. It's a fine bit of entertainment.
My main, and growing, problem with this HISTORY Channel show is the emphasis on entertainment rather than history. They should have called it “Super Sam Adams and a Few Buddies Create a Nation,” or “Sons of Taking Liberties.”
Ben Barnes plays Samuel Adams, the focal character. Barnes is a handsome, fit (chiseled, for you ladies) 30-ish actor. The real Samuel Adams was nearing 50 at the time of the Revolution, paunchy (beer gut?), double chinned... What would be the direct opposite of “glamorous?” That would be Sam Adams. Look at this portrait of him, done in 1770, the time of the Revolution. Compare it with this one of Barnes. The miscast Barnes makes Adams – who seems to be everywhere, running everything, all at once – come off more like a morose frat boy run amok than a leader of a revolt.
And yet, the truth might fall somewhere between Adonis and Double Chin. We may never know for sure. The events dramatized took place nearly 250 years ago. The lapse of time isn't the issue, though. Marketing is.
Shelby Foote, author, historian and contributer to Ken Burns' “The Civil War,” made an interesting comment in the documentary. Americans, he said, love elevating our historical figures into legends. We believe our generals are the greatest generals of all time, and that we fought the greatest battles of all time, whether true or not.
We've always over-hyped our heroes, especially in our popular culture. Take John Wayne's film, “The Alamo.” He got his source material from respected historians. Then he exercised artistic license, re-writing the script until the historians demanded their names be removed from the credits as “advisors.” And Custer, at Little Big Horn? Modern battlefield forensics strongly suggest a story quite different from the one his widow championed for the rest of her life – the relentlessly heroic one the movies always depict. Mrs. Custer lived to market her scalped hubby's image. Hollywood bought in, and so did the audiences.
Shelby Foote said this hero hyping is “very American.” He was right, but not entirely. The play and film “Amadeus” is pure speculation about Wolfgang Mozart, one of the greatest composers of all time. Written by an Englishman, about an Austrian, it's wonderful entertainment, but don't take it too seriously – it's heavily fictionalized.
Don't get me wrong. I love movies, always have. Entertainment interests the masses more than enlightenment. Filmmakers, playwrights, actors and artists are no different in that regard than their audiences.
What's the big deal?
Entertainment is not a means for learning the truth. If we believe everything that claims to be “historical” on cable TV, movies, and the internet, we leave ourselves at the mercy of the folks who provide the content. The History Channel, seriously? How long will it be before our ability to recognize truth is killed by artistic license? Satan, the father of all lies, would love that. Truth tainted with a lie is no longer truth.
Go ahead, market fiction as such. I write fiction myself. No problem – I never try to pass it off as historical truth. But to me, lies masquerading as truth are not entertaining at all.