The Bimbo of tides

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Oct 22, 2002, 11:06:55 AM10/22/02
Barbra Streisand was on TV last month. Didja see it? No? Neither did
I. Nor did anybody else. The blowsy diva's farewell concert (savor
that thought for a moment: Streisand is retiring!) tanked the Fox
network's ratings for the February sweeps. By replacing Temptation
Island with Songs from the Doughy Songstress on Feb. 14, Fox blew off
its young viewers and tried to embrace the Murder, She Wrote crowd,
whose demographic value to advertisers is roughly akin to the
intellectual value of Streisand herself to any discussion more complex
than the aesthetic merits of chiffon.

Good riddance to Barbra Streisand. Sadly, her retirement has failed to
eject her from public life (though one might venture to guess that the
reason for this has something to do with what the meaning of the word
"retirement" is these days). Streisand is a sad, old gasbag, an
artless crooner whose once not-unpleasant voice has been, over time,
rendered objectionable; first by her industrial-strength, thick-ankled
emoting; then later by her precious politicking, both natural
outgrowths of her spectacularly inflated ego.
Speaking of ego, how long is your résumé? Mine's a page and a half,
and, let me be honest here, there's an awful lot of white space
involved. Streisand's résumé is nine pages long. Let's pause for a
moment to consider that.
Nine pages. (Don't believe me? Go to her website,, and see for yourself.) Ronald Reagan's résumé
isn't nine pages long, and he ended the Cold War. (Neither is Nikita
Kruschev's, and he started the Cold War.) From her precocious
block-stacking in kindergarten, to her prodigious crayon coloring in
first grade, to her vocabulary recognition award in second grade (I'm
only hitting the high points here), Streisand's life is an unbroken
chain of achievements. We should all be so busy.

There's no room for modesty in Barbra's c.v. At the top of page seven
(of single-spaced, ten-point type) Barb's list of accomplishments
sprouts wings and flies into some of the most garish
self-congratulations since…the bottom of page six. Up pops
novelist Pat Conroy, who, either in a fit of sarcasm or intoxication,
penned this roaring tribute:

"To Barbra Streisand: The Queen of Tides…you are many things,
Barbra, but you're also a great teacher&3133;one of the greatest to
come into my life. I honor the great teachers and they live in my work
and they dance invisibly in the margins of my prose."Uh, right. This
is just the kind of purple prose that a drunken college sophomore boy
in a goth outfit might think suave — and just the kind of crap
certain silly girls scribble away in their diaries (or, in this case,
in their biographies) just after the part about "Momma doesn't
understand" and right next to the pretty picture of the pony.Streisand
is, of course, a political thinker without peer (unless you count
squirrels). She is the Leo Strauss of the benighted class. With a
half-cocked something to say about everything from environmentalism
(it's good) to education (very important), Streisand's drooling
pronouncements make those of Alec Baldwin seem nearly enlightened. And
she is rarely impeded by the distractions — banalities like
accuracy and truth — that temper the arguments of mere
mortals.For instance, La Babs remembers the Reagan-Bush years as
filled with "high inflation" and "high unemployment." Ah, yes. Who
among us cannot recall the 1980s without a tear in his eye, wading
through bleak memories of soup lines, bread shortages, and runs on
banks? Who will ever forget the armies of hobos lined up along the
railroad tracks, laboriously making their way from camp to camp,
rubbing their gloved hands together over an ashcan fire and making
soup from bones? Oh, the horror of it all.

And check out Barbra the Environmentalist. In concert at the Shrine
Auditorium in August of last year to raise money in a way Al Gore is
unaccustomed to — the legal way — Barbra weighed in on
global warming: "[M]any Republican leaders dismiss [it] as a
myth…ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence that there's
a hole in the ozone layer…the ice caps are melting, the summers
are getting hotter, winters more severe, then there's the rains, the
floods, the fires, the hurricanes, the tornadoes, the bugs, the
viruses…." The only things she forgot to blame on global warming
were the difficulties of finding good help these days, and the fact
beluga is more expensive than ever.Of the current president, Mrs.
James Brolin has opined that George W. Bush "is not smart enough,
prepared enough, intellectually curious enough" for his current job.
This from a woman who was "smart enough" to appear in a film wearing a
nightie with a handprint across each breast; who was "prepared enough"
to direct a few eminently forgettable, third-rate weepers; and whose
own "intellectual curiosity" drove her to pursue her education all the
way to the nosebleed heights of "honor student" at Erasmus High School
in Brooklyn, New York.
Not that she isn't entitled to an opinion — or to deliver as her
own what some ghostwriter has put down for her to say. Who can forget
— and who hasn't tried to forget? — the songbird's
shimmering moment in the sexy sunlight of public-policy debate, her
1995 speech at the Kennedy School of Government? Yes, yes, I know what
you're thinking: Who in his right mind would name a school of
government after a Kennedy? Believe me, I've wondered, too. But it's
been done, go figure. Anyway, Bar addressed the gathering under the
rubric "The Artist as Citizen," though most observers with an IQ
greater than paste would assert that her grasp on both artistry and
citizenship is tenuous, at best.Amazingly, the speech makes some
sense. Most sentences include both subject and predicate, and are
packed down with nouns, verbs, and adjectives, often arranged in
coherent associations. It is even chock-a-block with paragraphs, the
sure sign of a thinker. Alas, the thoughts she offers up are still a
little underdone. "Fortunately, there are reasonable Republicans," she
bleats without a hint of sarcasm. Right after that, she quotes Newt
Gingrich — "I fully expect Hollywood to have almost no concept
of either normal American behavior, in terms of healthy families,
healthy structures, religious institutions, conservative politics, the
free enterprise system,"--and then proceeds to disagree with this,
what is perhaps the most obviously unarguable line Gingrich ever
spoke. Moreover, her assertion came in the same year that brought us
the wholesome Hollywood values of To Wong Foo, the story of three drag
queens who teach us hicks in flyover country a thing or two about
tolerance, Priest, which, released in some cities on Good Friday,
recounts the story of a Catholic cleric who spends a lot of hours in
gay bars not proselytizing, and Showgirls, about which the less is
remembered, the better.Barbra Streisand is the most convincing
argument yet for campaign finance reform. With bags of money —
and more time than constructive things to do with it all — this
middle-brow entertainer has forced her way into the sphere of public
influence, weighing in on economics and the culture wars when she is
far better qualified to, say, boss around the pool boy. But she has
bought her way into influence, God help us, and in the process she
even grabbed the ear (and possibly one or two other things) of
President Bill Clinton.Singers should stick to singing — or, in
the case of Barbra Streisand, warbling. She is entitled to vote
(unfortunately), speechify, harangue, and give money to the
baby-killing foundations of her choosing. But it is a shame that
someone of such means is possessed of the wisdom of Mr. George
McGovern and the metaphorical vision of Mr. Magoo. She is anathema not
only to conservatives but also to anyone else who believes that
sentient thought ought to be at least a minor element in the work of
political persuasion.I paraphrase Streisand herself: Her thinking,
like love, is ageless — and ever, ever green.

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