Every year a veritable horde of prominent individuals from a wide range of backgrounds are asked to speak at Harvard University. Few have received as much attention as Barbra Streisand did when she took the podium at the Kennedy School of Government on February 3rd.
The speech was covered not only by the college press but also by such national publications as the New York Times. All told, more than 70 members of the media were present during her address. Why all this attention for an individual who is little more than a glorified entertainer? In the aftermath of this event, one must wonder whether Harvard has at last succumbed to that sad affliction of the masses known as celebrity worship.
The great extent to which Harvard has already been afflicted by celebrity worship was made painfully clear during the days and hours leading up to the fabled event. During that time period Ms. Streisand's impending arrival managed to generate a degree of interest and excitement far disproportionate to her stature as an individual. The 700 people lucky enough to get tickets crowded into the auditorium at the Kennedy School of Government to hear her speak. The less fortunate were reduced to watching the speech on television in the Science Center.
Rarely has a speaker received this degree of attention. Other, more distinguished speakers, like Secretary of State Warren Christopher, haven't even come close to achieving the degree of interest that Ms. Streisand elicited in her visit to Harvard.
In the speech itself Ms. Streisand addressed the topic of "The Artist as Citizen." During the course of her address, Streisand toed the typical leftist Hollywood line with its emphasis on freedom of expression. She used her time to call for more public funding of the arts, to defend liberalism and the counter-culture and to attack the Republican Party. In particular, she complained about the Republican Party's stance on many social issues, and its emphasis on traditional values.
The audience ate it up, giving her a standing ovation. This outcome occurred despite the fact that many of her points were based more on rhetoric than on substance. Perhaps the audience simply succumbed to Ms. Streisand's charisma and failed to see the shallowness of her political diatribe.
More likely, they simply chose to ignore the problems in Ms. Streisand's speech in their eagerness to worship slavishly the prominent entertainer.
A brief review of Ms. Streisand's speech reveals several prominent flaws. The first is her contention that freedom of expression is crucial to the future of American democracy. As she states, "To force us to conform to some rigid notion of mainstream American values is to weaken the very foundation of American democracy."
This statement, beyond being rather vague, does not really make any sense upon in-depth evaluation. The foundation of American democracy is the Constitution, a document to which we must all conform.
Moreover, for much of America's history there was some form of censorship, particularly from the Gilded Age through the 1950s. Was American democracy truly undermined by this censorship?
If participation by registered voters is any indication of the strength of American democracy, than it was far stronger in that period than in recent decades. It was also a period in which such great presidents as Theodore Roosevelt class of 1880 and Dwight Eisenhower were elected. Finally, American democracy was strengthened by such reforms as women's suffrage and the direct election of senators. Perhaps Ms. Streisand isn't really interested in the strength of American democracy, but rather the ability of the cultural elite to proselytize their own antitraditional morality.
Ms. Streisand's defense of liberalism was little better in its factual evidence. During her speech she claimed that liberals had "fought slavery, fought for women to have the right to vote...[fought] Stalin..." Yet the groups that did fight these different battles cannot, in any sense, be categorized as a single ideological group. Nor do they bear any resemblance to modern liberals. The Republicans who fought to end slavery also were opponents of big government. The Progressives who enacted women's suffrage were greatly opposed to such programs as Social Security and supported policies like Prohibition. In addition, neither of these groups would subscribe to the sort of anti-traditional way of life modern liberals consider acceptable and even desirable. Finally, which liberals is Ms. Streisand referring to as opponents of Stalin? Certainly not the many communist sympathizers who belonged to the Democratic Party.
Lastly, Ms. Streisand's criticism of the Republican Party and its claim to being the party of family values is unfounded. As she stated, "I deeply resent the notion that one politician or political party owns the franchise on family values, personal responsibility, traditional values and religion." Perhaps Ms. Streisand should actually pay attention to the policies her Democratic Party has been supporting for years.
Her party has contended that single parent families are an acceptable alternative to two parent families. Her party has supported welfare, abortion and lax crime policies that tell people they don't have to take responsibility for their actions. Most of all her party has taken prayer away from students and has embraced anti-traditional values like homosexuality. Is it really any wonder that the Republican Party has the support of the American people on these issues? After all, only the Republican party has opposed them for the last several decades.
In spite of the glaring inconsistencies in her speech, Ms. Streisand concluded to a standing ovation from students and faculty . While individuals should certainly applaud out of courtesy, they should not lower their standards simply because the speaker is a celebrity. The acclaim that Ms. Streisand received for her speech at Harvard is a major indication that this University has fallen under the same spell that has long captivated America.
When we place celebrities on platforms out of all proportion to the extent of their accomplishments, then we will have denigrated the truly great individuals who have changed the world for the better. These false gods of the masses have already hypnotized most of America. Is Harvard about to join the club? Perhaps we can't expect the American people to see through all the hype, but Harvard students should know better than to succumb to celebrity worship.