David McCullough was on The Daily Show Monday night. Earlier this year, he wrote, The Wright Brothers. He was a last minute replacement for Ted Cruz who suddenly found out there were some kittens that he needed to drown. And McCullough was certainly better than listening to Ted Cruz spit out a stream of talking points about how Mexicans are destroying America and the Iran deal is the worst foreign policy ever known to man — Neville Chamberlain blah, blah, blah. But that hardly means the segment was good. I wanted to retch.
Stewart started off by noting that we don’t know that much about the Wright brothers — just what we learned on the children’s place mats we got at family restaurants. So here comes McCullough to tell us about the real Wright brothers — to give us just a taste of his 336 pages of wisdom on the subject. The man will dispel the myth and create instead a real story of these men — not the children’s book narrative of the rugged individuals or the Romantic heroes. But that was not to be.
This is how he begins to “enlighten” us on the true nature of the Wright brothers:
And he continues on in the same vein. He finally gets around to telling the story of the Wright’s 82 year old father who goes flying for the first time, “Orville took him up… And the whole time he was sitting beside Orville on this plane — no seat belts or anything… He kept saying, ‘Higher, Orville! Higher!’ That was the spirit of the family.” There’s a word for this: pathetic.
I don’t have a problem with hagiography. People like to make heroes out of humans. I’m fine with that. But don’t give me this garbage about telling the real story of the Wright brothers and then just provide the same old story with ever more hero worship. Back in 1968, The Archie Show produced an episode about the Wright brothers that contained more information about the subject — and a song!
As the voice of so many Ken Burns documentaries, David McCullough sort of speaks to a quaint Americana. But he also presents himself as a serious historian — complaining about the state of education. But the kind of history that he peddles is not what I recognize as history. It is more or less apologetics — the “We’re number one!” argument presented quietly, seriously, eloquently — but with no more cogency.