Sunday, December 11, 2016

Baby, It's Cold Outside

If you aren't familiar with the song, the lyrics are here.

I've never much liked the song, especially as it gets put into the Christmas rotation on radio just because of coldness.  I am one who never liked Santa songs, nostalgia songs, or winter songs mixing in with actual Christmas Carols, but I have made my peace with that, because I want to share Christmas celebrations with others. But this one is pretty far afield even by Holiday Song standards. It's a seduction song.

Yet I had to find it ridiculous that some couple from Minnesota tried to rewrite the lyrics in a fashion which emphasises consent.  If you sent your children to Christian schools or ever got stuck with bad Sunday-School curricula you've seen this sort of lyric: strained, didactic, prissy. Let's work Jesus into this popular song somewhere. Yeah the kids will think that's the bee's knees, Grandma.* Let's work female empowerment into this song.  Woman, O-o-oh Wo-o-oman.  Have you got FREEDOM on your mind?  (Maybe you have to be a baby boomer to see how lame that was.)

The whole mess did kick off some interesting thoughts for me, though. When people were trying to guess song-titles at the department Christmas party, one of the young women was trying that lyric on the initials to see if they fit.  It was that evening I saw the story about the bowdlerisation, and so forwarded it to her and commented when I brought sample puzzles the next day.  Her office-mate, a nice young woman who has a bit of SJW in her, said "It's a little rapey." Well, yes but no.  Yet even beyond the intrusion into Christmas there is something I didn't like about it.

Terms of endearment are strongly cultural, but I have never liked "baby," and referring to a woman as if Beautiful is her nickname, rather than saying she is beautiful just rubs me wrong. So for reasons that likely go back to mid-20th C class associations I'm already not liking this guy. He's a manipulative jerk.  A snake.  On the other hand, she's getting a lot of chances to just say no, but she's throwing out lame excuses instead. The attitude in my era was "No! means No, but 'No, because...' means Maybe." The more she talked about it, the more she want to be talked out of it. BTW, the reference to "what's in this drink?" in its era could only mean alcohol, not some date-rape drug. (If there were any chance it had meant the latter, it wasn't getting onto "The Ed Sullivan Show."  Trust me on this.) This looks a little different to us now, in an era when full disclosure is expected. But not entirely different.  As with the manipulative statements and weak protests above, the boundaries were fuzzy, but there were boundaries. Blasting a woman with large amounts of disguised alcohol was low, and probably criminal, even though everyone knew that prosecution was going to be difficult. You'd cut a friend off forever for that.  But spiking drinks just a little was not universally regarded as unfair.  Women were taught to be alert for the possibility.  In my own circle, encouraging a woman to have more alcohol was acceptable, but any sort of trickery was not.  It was just out.

It wasn't class in the financial sense, as the guys I knew who regarded treating secret alcohol with women this way tended to be richer, if anything.  Hell, it's Dean Martin singing the song, right? Yet there was some class distinction of "decent men don't do this." So taking one thing with another, rapey isn't the right word, but it's not crazy. 

*Not to say that it can never be done.  "Pharaoh, Pharaoh" is fun. But that's a complete rewrite, not a doctoring of a few words.


Boxty said...

Ha ha. My wife bought a red door mat that says "Baby, it's cold outside" to match the red Christmas wreath she bought for the front door. She hasn't seen any articles about the song's controversy and I don't have the heart to say anything to her.

The version of the song I saw circulated with the controversy is with Ricardo Montalban. Maybe it's sjw projection of their internalized racism towards swarthy foreign invaders?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Ooh, I'll have to be on the lookout for that. It would be a fun thing to push up before an SJW, wouldn't it?

Texan99 said...

The tone goes right back to pre-modern novels. The background in the old culture is an absence of reliable birth control and an absolute social disaster in wait for any woman who gives in outside the protections of marriage. If life were simple, any man who tried to put pressure on her would be an unambiguous villain. In fact, though, it's a safe bet that the audience is every bit as ambivalent as the wavering maiden, and quite sympathetic toward the guy who is pushing a feel-good intuitive impulsive quest for pleasure and fulfillment instead of bloodlessly acting the eunuch saint. Galahad is not a fun date.

Fast-forward to today, when no young woman faces very likely social or medical consequences, and suddenly it's all about rape? This low-key persuasion works only if the woman actually feels pretty safe and is genuinely tempted. This isn't some guy who trapped her in an abandoned building in the middle of the night. The tone is more like someone encouraging her to blow her diet and eat this incredible cheesecake. If she's neither obese nor in danger of dying from diabetes in the next couple of days, why would we want to jump to the conclusion that we're looking at the violence inherent in the system? Maybe she just needs to grow up and little and learn to resolve her conflicts in her own head instead of projecting them onto her companion. Is this a guy who tries to undermine her best instincts for herself? Dump him. Is he a guy who encourages her to lighten up and get in touch with her most fulfilling desires? Maybe that's what she needs. Of course, in sexual relations, there's always that background worry: is he someone who will use her physically and abandon her, or is he fatherhood material?

The Mad Soprano said...

I personally find that song to be exceedingly creepy. The woman is saying she has to leave but the man is trying every trick to get her into bed. Heck, the woman even says at one point, "What's in this drink?", which means the man is probably trying to slip her a drug or something!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Not a drug in that era, see above.

Grim said...

The video version of the song, which was my first encounter with it, made clear that the woman was really wanting to stay and just trying out excuses she felt like she had to get through -- underlined by her joining in the final chorus about how cold outside it was. Sung in that context, it's about a woman being freed of traditional sexual restrictions and liberated to choose for herself whether to stay with a man overnight.

Given the era it came from, I'd have it pegged as a feminist song -- a celebration of freer sexuality and an absence of traditional limits, provided you did only pro-forma things to nod in the direction of the cultural traditions.

But you can sing it a different way, and make it seem very nonconsensual and creepy. It's open to interpretation in a way that many songs are not.

Grim said...

Galahad is not a fun date.

His mother was, though. There's actually a surprisingly parallel story in Malory about how he got conceived through her use of enchantments to fool Lancelot into sleeping with her.