baby, it’s cold outside.

As the festive season draws ever nearer, some of the classic Christmas tunes have begun to resurface. One much-loved song looped in the holiday season is ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’, originally written by Frank Loessner and popularly sung by Dean Martin, and has ironically come under a lot of heat recently. The 1944 song has been banned by a growing number of radio stations in the U.S. amid fears that some of the lyrics contained within the song are unsuitable, in an age where the #MeToo movement is so prevalent in the advancement and platforming of women’s issues. There’s been quite a furore surrounding both the song and the subsequent decision to ban it, and since it’s a Christmas song that I haven’t really inspected lyrically before, I thought I’d delve in and see what kicked up this snow storm.

Some of the lyrics that have raised concern, at first glance, do seem to border on and possibly insinuate the glorification of sexual harassment towards the woman talked about in the song. Reading through the song in a literal sense gave me the impression of a flirtatious back and forth exchange between a gentleman and a lady, with the gentleman maybe persisting with his flirting a little bit more than what may be classed as socially acceptable. I’m all for backing yourself in a romantic situation, providing that you don’t make the recipient of your courtship feel uncomfortable with such advances. Lyrics such as “I ought to say no, no, no, sir (Mind if move in closer?)” and “Say, what’s in this drink?” do also appear to conjure up issues regarding consent and date rape, which are clearly contentious issues that do seem inappropriate to be publicly floated in a mainstream Christmas song, or any song for that matter. That being said, I’ve been a huge advocate for a less festive, but still hugely important C word – context.

Some research into linguistic and historic analysis of the social practices of that particular time period paints the moral standards of sexual desires in a much different light to 2018, which is to be expected. Pre-marital sex was a very taboo practice to engage in and given that this was before the 1960s, there were much greater risks for women who were having sex outside of marriage, considering this was a time when abortion was illegal and birth control was wildly unreliable. Digging a bit further, it seems that one lyric which has caused a lot of controversy may have had a completely different meaning in the 1940s than what has been construed in recent weeks. The phrase, “What’s in this drink?” can be interpreted to have been a classic tongue-in-cheek comment made commonly in that time period. The intention may not have been to interrogate someone of the possibility of the presence of a date rape drug in their beverage, but in fact a quizzical quip suggesting if there’s actually any alcohol in the drink at all, suggesting that it’s a weaker drink than they preferred.

Another quite convincing interpretation of the song that could also reflect the societal expectations of women in the 1940s is when deciphering the intentions of the woman in the song. Many recently have been quick to suggest that the woman is making a series of excuses in order to retreat from the unwarranted advances of a man that could be a sexual predator. This would justify the backlash of those seeing a glaring incompatibility with the #MeToo movement. But the song could actually reflect this woman actually being romantically/sexually interested in pursuing things with the man, but is worried about getting caught and the societal repercussions such actions could have at the time. There is lots of sexual tension evident within the lyrics, which can be attributed from her own inner desire to stay contending with society telling her that she must go. Lyrics such as, “My mother will start to worry,” and “My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious (gosh your lips are delicious)” are indicative of such an interpretation.

And this is the crux of the matter really. It is incredibly important to remember the context of when things were written, because social norms and culture attitudes change constantly, and so it is clearly unbalanced and clouded to judge certain themes of the past in the light of some of today’s progressive attitudes. It just doesn’t work, you can’t compare the social and political attitudes of a human now compared to someone from 1918, 1818, or 1018, the cultures are poles apart. When it comes to art forms such as music, there is so much varied interpretation from person to person which should be taken into consideration when mainstream radio stations are judging what is suitable to be aired. I’d argue that there have been songs released in the 2010s that receive massive amounts of air time despite containing lyrics that are more often than not explicitly derogatory and demeaning towards women, such as Blurred Lines (“I hate these blurred lines, I know you want it) and I Love It (“You’re such a fuckin’ ho, I love it”).

There was still some backlash of course, but notably, no real motion to have the songs banned from being played. There seems to be an inconsistency with the allowance of some lyrics versus others, which leads me to suggest that maybe it’s best to let artists express their creative freedoms and subject them to scrutiny as necessary, but not ban them outright. From a practical perspective, given that we’re living in the age of the expanse of the internet and independent music talents and platforms, banning will not stop it reaching the masses and so is an ineffective way to restrict the message of the song.

There is a clear responsibility for there to be a restriction of certain music played to the general public and any mainstream radio station, to be fair, has a right to choose what songs would be appropriate to play for their respective listeners. What I am confident in is this example, given that there is more than one interpretation of the lyrics than simply glorifying male predatory behaviour, the song shouldn’t be tarnished for that one interpretation. If you feel uncomfortable with the lyrics, that is perfectly valid and you so don’t listen to the song, which is a viable option given the vast array of other Christmas songs to choose from. But given that there are those who see the song as something wholly innocent through the lens of an alternative meaning, they should be free to listen to it and enjoy the song understanding the specific context of the time that it was written. Frank Loessner may have not intended to portray the man as creepy or predatory at all, and I find it disrespectful to art forms in general to judge a piece based on one interpretation alone, when there is ambiguity surrounding the themes presented. I am not denying the right of some to view the lyrics as uncomfortable and from that viewpoint, of course it could contravene the values of modern attitudes towards sexual harassment and consent. But to understand that the anti-#MeToo viewpoint is not the only valid interpretation allows there to be mutual respect to avoid the censorship of opinions that represent a diversity of views.

This recent uproar has done a good thing in reminding everyone to be more conscious of progressive attitudes in the treatment of women. We can agree that Baby, It’s Cold Outside isn’t the most wholesome Christmas song, much like Santa Baby, which to me conveys an over-sexualised, seedy tone. If you don’t think it’s creepy and can enjoy a favourite flirtatious tune understanding the context of the 1940s vibe, play it to your heart’s content. If you do find it distasteful, you’re perfectly entitled to that and you can object to it if it ever comes on at the work Christmas party. But don’t ban it because it won’t convince the people who interpret it differently to you to see your point of view.

It is the time for coming together and sharing after all.

16 thoughts on “baby, it’s cold outside.”

  1. An alternative viewpoint would be that it normalizes the culture that “when a woman says no that doesn’t mean no.”
    On face value it’s a flirtatious Christmas song. Yet the male side of the song continues to pursue her even after she lets him know, repeatedly, that she needs to leave. Even if she did find him handsome, attractive, whatever her judgement is telling her she really should go and he continues to try to convince her otherwise.

    The song isn’t a big, bad outrage of a song that is saying its okay to rape someone. It does, however, have a soft undertone making a woman’s objection to something only as strong as her ability to continually fend off advances.
    Saying the song is “from another time” is the same as saying Harvey Weinstein grew up “in a different era.” It doesn’t excuse the values of today and what we expect.

    I don’t believe anyone is saying that the master copies of the song should be burned and nobody should ever listen to it again. Simply don’t play it on the radio where it keeps up the idea that when a woman is telling a man no that he should keep pursuing until she says yes. Subtle messages mean something.

    Lovely write up though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, really respect this viewpoint. I understand that there has been a culture of women being pursued by men due to the historic objectification of women as both property and sexual tools, and that that power balance still remains today, and so my analysis was not in any way meant to excuse genuine predatory behaviour that results in women feeling harassed and undermined.

      My take on it was that in any romantic encounter, there is the element on the chase. Much of flirting is cat and mouse. “Does she like me, is he playing hard to get, what did she mean when she said that?” and so I was presenting the case that it very well could have been much more innocent and consensual than the mass media were trying to paint out. My main argument was that the song, much like many art forms, has many different interpretations. If I found zero evidence of an interpretation that suggested that the song was innocent, I’d reasonably come to the conclusion that the song is most likely sexist and demeaning to the individual autonomy of women. But given that I had a bit of a look and uncovered that in that time period with those lyrics, there was an interpretation that the song could be quite reasonable taken as being seductive and flirtatious from both ends, I put it out there that maybe the mass media for the wrong end of the stick. I’d recommend checking out music videos of the song, where the interpretation of the song lyrics seems to have been visually produced in a tasteful, flirtatious way, rather than the creepiness that song suggest the song has.

      When I said it was from “another time”, I was referring to predominantly the language used which in today’s age read literally could seem dodgy, but in the parlance of the 1940s social scene, actually meant something different. Totally get the point about not subverting the values of today, but I feel that Weinstein is on a whole another level, given that he was an hugely influential Hollywood director that definitely used his position to harass aspiring young actresses, and allegedly has sexual assaulted many, which is of course illegal. I think there’s a bit of a difference between this and the everyday man and woman engaging in some back and forth flirting.

      Yeah, I agree with you on the idea that subtle messages mean something and can subconsciously create attitudes we don’t want in society. Totally on board with you on that. But I’d argue that one of the best and most important ways we learn to be progressive as people is by looking back at history when we were less progressive. The true reality of how people were treated in the past and the societal norms that were normal is shameful and an uncomfortable truth, and so they need to be heard, because only once we address uncomfortable topics directly do we not only accept how wrong our behaviour was, but also keep continuing to have meaningful discussions like this, rather than opting out. This little exchange of ours would never have happened if this song was banned, and so we can keep talking about issues that are still prevalent today, rather than sweeping it under the carpet.

      Through listening to songs with questionable lyrics and offensive content, and other arts forms for that matter, we are able to get perspectives that we may have never gotten in our lives otherwise. These new vantage points cause us to re-evaluate what we believe to be true and why we actually feel that way. It doesn’t always feel great to discover that you’ve been wrong or to learn about the plight of women in this instance, but becoming more informed and open-minded is a beautiful thing. We can’t help make things better if we’re not aware that there are problems.

      That’s just my opinion, cheers for the comment again, made my day 😊

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      1. I have no doubt that the song was meant in good faith from the viewpoint of “he’s just trying to get her to stay and hook up.” I think the point that is missed is simply “no means no.”
        Whether it was a dance and a flirtatious back and forth isn’t really the point. The point is she said no and he continues. The message of the song is saying that if a woman says no its okay to continue pursuing her until you get the response you want. That is the problem proponents of the me too era are struggling with. It’s not that the song is bad and evil and we hate it. Its that its normalizing that culture.
        It doesn’t matter how it was intended, it matters how it was received. If a person tells a racist or sexist joke it doesn’t matter if the person didn’t mean harm by it, it matters how it was received.
        In the past the song was received warmly because it was seen as flirtatious. In the light of a movement where women’s opinions and rights aren’t pushed aside it’s not as accepted.
        As you said, its important to look back at the past to have an idea of the future. That doesn’t mean we keep promoting the ideas and norms of the past. Its why we change it, its not cool anymore.

        And, also, my opinion as well 🙂
        Don’t ban it from life. Just don’t play readily when there are so many other songs you can play.

        Alternatively I am of the opinion that the initial release that “we’re banning this song” was more of an attention grab then anything to do with moral obligation. They could have very easily decided to not play the song and not announce it and gone through the holiday season quietly removing it from their list. The radio station decided to announce they were no longer playing it, in my opinion, for attention because there is no such thing as bad coverage.

        Although I don’t care for the negative connotations of “the media.” There is a massive amount of bad media but there is also good media, such as journalists and news outlets that try and find truth and stay biased. Vilifying “the media” as a whole doesn’t really do justice to the good outlets that are doing diligent work.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Of course, “no means no” is integral in the concept of consent and I completely agree with you on that. However, if you read the lyrics of this song in particular, it is quite clear that there is an exchange where the woman is genuinely debating. She doesn’t say, ‘No, I don’t want to go home with you,’ and proceeds to repeat this to the unwarranted advances of the man. There is lots of examples of where she is torn between staying and going, which is why I highlighted the interpretation that she actually wants to be with him, but society is dictating to her that it would be unacceptable for a woman at the time to do such things. Lyrics of the woman saying,:
        “So really I’d better scurry/But maybe just a half a drink more”
        “My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious/But maybe just a cigarette more”
        “You’ve really been grand/But don’t you see?/There’s bound to be talk tomorrow/At least there will be plenty implied”
        I also agree that the #MeToo movement has been vital in bringing issues of sexual harassment to the forefront. But as I have laid out, it is not actually clear whether there is sexual harassment present in the song. I’d argue that I am unsure of what negative culture is present in the song, given that there are genuinely different interpretations of the lyrics as I have pointed out. If anyone reads these lyrics, written in the 1940s, and justifies that as a way to treat women poorly in 2018, then they’re a moron in the minority. Most reasonable men know how to treat women with the decency and respect that they deserve, and if a song written in a different age manages to convince you to revert into regressive trends, I doubt that person would be fit for many of the social attitudes in the world anyway. I’d also ask you how many women do you think were calling for this song to be restricted/banned before this recent events? I agree with you and feel it was driven by hysteria scratching on the surface of the lyrics and the meaning of the song, and I have attempted to try dig a bit deeper to see if there is any other alternative than the mainstream.
        Now here is where I have to fundamentally disagree with you, with the greatest respect. Intention is the most important thing that matters, without a focus on intention, there is no context. And without context, you lose all meaning of everything. That’s why we have different laws on murder and manslaughter for example, because the intention behind the act makes the distinction between potentially accidental and driven with malice. I would argue there are many clear examples of where something offensive is said, with no intention of harming anyone. Comedians, satirists, even shows like Saturday Night Live for example, have the purpose of being offensive, ironic and satirical for the purposes of humour. Why do people laugh at offensive jokes? It’s not because everyone is racist, sexist, homophobic etc. It’s because these comments are wrapped up in things such as wild stereotypes or uncomfortable truths, which makes is humorous to analysis and look at. I’m sure there are some comments that you would make with your close friends and family, that you might not make with a total stranger. Why is this? It’s because intention matters, the audience you are telling knows what you mean when you say something.
        It’s a very dangerous precedent to rely solely on how someone receives a joke because by definition, anyone can be offended anything. Essentially, offence is taken, and not given. What is acceptable and funny for one person, could be widely inappropriate for someone else. For example, you could make a joke about how beef is better than chicken for dinner. I could be deeply offended by your use of meat being a vegetarian and accuse you of propagating hate speech by talking about eating animals. You have had no intention of harming anyone, but if you rely on how it was received, then you’re in trouble and in the wrong, despite having no intention of hurting anyone. Does that seem fair? Similarly, an atheist saying that they don’t believe in God could be deeply offensive to a Christian. But you and I can both agree that stating your own personal viewpoint is generally not meant to intentionally hurt anyone else, but what you’re suggesting is that we could censor/punish people for this. We live in a world full of things that are offensive, let’s not pretend. You and I could walk into a bookshop and find many books that we find distasteful or are offended by. But should be get rid of those books just because we don’t like them? Having an unpopular idea floating around the world is not the same as promoting it. I don’t for a second believe we should go back to an era full of sexism (more so than today), but we should hold onto the idea that that idea exists so we can endeavour to be better than it. Throughout history, lots of things have been offensive to the majority of people, such as giving women the vote, black people legal rights to be recognised as equal citizens and gay people the right to marry. Many people, who would say they are good people, in history have objected to these notions. What’s offensive changes through history, so to use what is offensive as a standard I feel is inappropriate.
        Yeah I agree with you on this. it seemed very much for the publicity. I did a piece on the recently ‘banned’ Iceland advert that was shedding light on the mass deforestation issue, where a similar thing happened. And I don’t doubt that there are a lot of good, moral, investigative journalists out there who are working for the benefit of society, would have to fully agree with you there.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m not advocating for censorship on ideas that one group of people don’t agree with. What I’m saying is that the song, although designed as a flirtatious back and forth in its day, means something different now.

        There is a slippery slope in saying “it was fine for the time so we should just let it be” as there were plenty of things in the past that seemed harmless but history has judged quite harshly as society has evolved.

        There’s a different between not playing something on free radio that has implications of sexual harassment and selling something in a store that you have to purchase to enjoy.

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      4. I agree with that, to some people it could mean something different now. But what interpretation is correct? I tried to analysis the song thoroughly and there is genuinely equal weight for both points of view. So when you say “it means something different now”, that is your interpretation of the song. Many people have seen it as a beautiful Christmas love song, so why should there be more emphasis on one interpretation over another?

        I don’t think we should “let it be”, there should be education about the recent advancements on women’s rights. But I feel that not letting songs like this get played is not an education. In a school for example, not teaching about the plight that women suffered, where they that the same legal rights as property and the fact it was legal for a woman to be raped if it was her husband, is not an education at all. I’m not saying the message is harmless – I’m saying it’s more harmful to attempt to deny people seeing the message and making their own judgements of its acceptability.

        I don’t think there is a difference in your last point. If a song comes on the radio that you don’t like, turn off the radio or switch stations, no one is forced to listen to music they don’t like. In the same way that you can leave the bookstop.

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      5. In the bookshop you can not pick up the book. You can not buy the book. You can not even look at the book. On the radio you can turn it off but then you’re listening to nothing whereas there are plenty of other songs that can be played that everyone can enjoy that don’t have these negative connotations attached to them.

        Nobody is having a debate on the ethics and moral responsibility of women’s rights when a song is played on the radio. Continuing to play the song will not continue the discussion. It will continue to satisfy the people who think some people “take things too seriously” while the other side are seen as “complainers” because they can never be happy. But they can never be happy because their complaints are never taken seriously.

        But it does mean something different now because people are saying it does. This was never a discussion before. 5 years ago not a single person said the song was “bad” because of the way it sounds. Now they do say it.
        It’s the same as other sexist or racist things. They were completely acceptable – until they weren’t.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. The general analogy that I was trying to get across was that if you hear an idea that you disagree with, you can choose to not listen to it anymore. But you can’t stop people from expressing themes that you disagree with. The argument with playing songs that don’t have negative connotations attached is that any person can find something negative. There are plenty of songs with messages I don’t agree with, but who am I to deny someone’s expression and artistic freedom?

        I understand your viewpoint that playing the song may not continue the discussion, but what will 100% not continue the discussion is by reducing exposure to these taboo topics. In fact, like I mentioned earlier, the very fact this song caused this response proves that playing the song actually does continue the discussions.

        I’m not denying anyone’s right not to be happy, but I am firm believer that respect is a two way street. I respect your view that the song has improper social connotations and so I won’t force you to listen to the song. And in return, there should be respect for those who like the song and can contextualise the message whilst enjoying it to be able to listen to the song freely.

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