Saturday, May 14, 2011

David Starkey's Mother's ... Um ...

In the U.S., the term don is oftenest associated with la cosa nostra. In the U.K., though, a don is a professor. I have an appreciation for the humor there, but this is just an instructive intro.

The phenomenon of the teledon is not unique to Britain, of course - though we don't really have such a nice name for them, we've got Neal deGrasse Tyson, and it could even be said Carl Sagan pioneered the type for everybody. I seem to just love all of them - James Burke is probably my favorite of all time - but it's not an entirely uncritical liking. Which brings us to David Starkey.

Starkey, for those unfamiliar with him, was once famous as the rudest man in Britain, but that in itself is not a problem for me. By the time I started to run across him much, I was either choosing the wrong venues for his vitriol, or he had mellowed. My issue with Starkey is his grammar-school level historical wisdom. This is a guy, the impression is, who'd teach about Washington's cherry tree as if it were assured knowledge. To be sure, his take on the men of history (Starkey has zero use for women; and his defense against the charge of sexism consists of saying he's written books about women - never mind that lots of people write about the things they don't especially admire nor give credit to - and he doesn't) seems almost Whig-historian-ish in its selective-awareness.

Even so, I consume Starkey TV if only because his historical documentaries do at least hit subject I am interested in - and he isn't 100% "wrong" nor even dismissable.

When I watch him, I'm often struck by the singularness of his mannerism. The emphatic inflection, the bobbing of his head. It makes me think of Sagan, actually, and *that* is what makes a teledon. TeeVee goes for personalities, and a certain type of professorial presence does make its way to the screen.

I like that certain kind of enthusiasm in instructiveness. I recognize it from my dad; a teacher not merely by profession, but deep in his blood. Coming from a family of teachers (and not all of them paid to be so), the fire a real teacher's interest and excitement stokes bears a warmth I feel like few other things. I love a good teacher, I remember them all, I make myself susceptible to the contagion of their infectiousness. It's a wonderful thing, to be imbued with this. It's this energy, actually, I found animating the attractiveness of the doctor I found so attractive last week; good looking to be sure, he only became truly appealing when he began to speak, and his interest informed his testimony.

So it wasn't with a dismissive sort of pooh-pooh-ery I read this interview with Starkey. It's funny, to be sure, and interesting (to a history nerd like me). And, if you're not that great a nerdball, it is also not too long. Enjoy!

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