The Internet has been blowing up in the last week or so because radio stations are banning the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Apparently, some folks have noticed a few things about the lyrics that they hadn’t noticed before and have decided that the lyrics sound inappropriate.
The internet probably shouldn’t be blowing up over such a small thing, but you know how this goes: someone gets vocal about how inappropriate something seems, and people begin reacting, and then some people start taking action, and then the backlash begins. You get one group of people who get disgusted that everything they used to enjoy is now labeled ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’, so they complain about how sick and tired they are of the whole thing and how political correctness is ruining our country. The other group applies unkind labels to anyone who complains about removing the offensive item, implying that they are insensitive and unwilling to come out of the stone age and fully respect others.
To be honest, each side has a point, but for a moment I’d like to set all that aside and discuss the issue at hand.
For instance, what do you know about the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”?
The song is a duet, sung by a man and a woman. The song was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser for his wife Lynn Garland; Loesser write the song intending that they would sing it at holiday parties they attended. The Wikipedia entry for this song states:
The lyrics in this duet are designed to be heard as a conversation between two people, identified as “Mouse” (usually female) and “Wolf” (usually male) on the printed score; they are at the wolf’s home and the mouse decides it is time to go home, but the wolf flirtatiously invites the mouse to stay as it is late and “it’s cold outside.” The mouse states that he/she has enjoyed the time and agrees at one point to another drink, but the mouse also says “I ought to say no, no, no, sir” and tries to return home, worried what family and neighbors will think. Every line in the song features a statement from the mouse followed by a response from the wolf, which is musically known as a call and response song.
I find it fascinating that Mr. Loesser wrote a song for he and his wife to sing and yet he openly identifies the characters in the song as “Wolf” and “Mouse”. I find that very telling, and also a reflection of American culture in 1944, a time when women were expected to be chaste and coquettish when it came to the issue of sex, and men to expected to pursue and win a woman’s affections, and to consider their female companion as their ‘conquest’. The whole things smacks of women as an object, and I understand how feminists of all genders see the reflection of this attitude in the lyrics of the song and find the whole thing a bit disturbing.
Of course, you should judge things for yourself, so I thought I should include the lyrics of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (the ‘Wolf’s’ lyrics are in italics)
I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice
My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry?
Father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some records on while I pour
The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink? – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no – Mind if I move in closer?
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside
I’ve got to get home – Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there
Say, lend me your coat – It’s up to your knees out there
You’ve really been grand – Thrill when you touch my hand
Why don’t you see – How can you do this thing to me?
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow – Think of my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied – If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can’t stay – Get over that hold out
Ah, but it’s cold outside
Oh, baby, it’s cold outside
Oh, baby, it’s cold outside https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby,_It%27s_Cold_Outside
At first read, you can see what people are upset about, especially with lines like “Say, what’s in this drink?”
And I think that’s what the folks who complain about political correctness just don’t get. You can’t look at these lyrics in light of Bill Cosby’s actions and the number of sexual harassment and assault scandals in the last two or three years and not feel just a little disturbed with lyrics that suggest that a woman’s decision to say ‘no’ injures a man’s pride, or that perhaps the drink has a little more than liquor in it.
Too many women have been experienced unwelcome advances, extreme pressure to be sexual, and outright coercion to have sex when they don’t really want to, and lyrics like these start feeling a bit ‘rape-ish’ when you view them through that lens.
The problem is that we cannot evaluate art created decades and decades ago through the lens of where society is now. It is very unwise and unhealthy to declare huge chunks of old American culture and art “inappropriate” just because they don’t meet current standards of behavior, speech, and thought. And no, I’m not campaigning for free speech at the cost of human decency and respect; there is no tiki torch in my hand as I write this.
Let me make myself clear: I have no problem respecting our diverse and multi-cultural society. Using preferred pronouns when interacting with people who identify as a gender other than the one immediately obvious is a matter of respect. Calling others by their names and not by nicknames like “Sweetie” or “Honey” avoids diminishing their personhood and is a matter of respect. Acknowledging cultural differences and encouraging others to express their diversity without fear is not only a matter of respect and human decency, it is a tacit acknowledgement that every culture, race, and ethnicity has an innate value that should be treasured and protected.
My issue is that censoring art quickly leads to censorship of other kinds.
What makes me think that? Because editing history (including historic art) and declaring it ‘inappropriate’ or ‘undesirable’ is how politicians and the dominant culture have historically erased other cultures, ideas, and modes of expression, that’s why.
Take a look at the history of any country that has come under the rule of a dictator and you will discover that along with suppressing free speech, they also chose to redact and suppress art. Suddenly, historic cultural icons and artists fell out of favor and their art was exempted from what was labeled ‘acceptable’. Redacting the past is an effective way of controlling the narrative in the now. Erasing history is a fantastic way of convincing people that there never has been any other way to think or to be than what the people in power tell you think and be now.
When my eldest daughter was getting her Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, her history classes examined the systematic oppression of art by political leaders as a means of controlling the current narrative of their people. It made total sense to me…and I refuse to contribute to that kind of oppression, even in small ways by taking a Christmas song off the airways.
We can choose to respect and honor others without erasing any history that makes it clear that we weren’t always this honorable and respectful. We can let the history of our nation’s struggles to embrace diversity of race, gender, and sexual expression be visible without continuing to oppress whole groups of people in the name of comfort and conformity.
So play the song if it makes you happy…and if it feels icky and rapey to you, turn it off. And don’t demand that everyone else in the world do what you choose to do…instead, explain your choice so that we can understand and respect you a little more. And if your child hears the song and is disturbed by its lyrics (or you simply hate the idea that your child is listening to it), let it be a teaching moment; educate them about the devaluation of women in our society as well as women’s quest for equality.
And while we’re at it, may your holiday season be blessed with family, friends, joy, and the warmth of knowing that you are loved.