Call For Comments: But Baby is it really cold outside? Is it really?

From Mav: It’s the winter holiday season… that means lots of thing for pop culture: It means Christmas movies (which we already have a Call For Comments up for). It means endless consumerism, it means FoxNew turning to discussions on the War On Christmas. It means pumpkin spice everything. And it means Christmas carols… lots and lots of Christmas carols.  And since we’re in the 21st century (and the #metoo era on top of that) we’re now in the 5th or 6th straight year of mass internet debating the rapiness of the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” My friend Barb posted about this recently on her Facebook page saying that she had invented a new game she calls the Cold Comfort game:

Go as long as possible in the holiday season without reading or contributing to a discussion about the merits or problems of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
(i’ve already lost this one twice)

Well, she’s going to hate this show. Because, honestly… debating this shit to death is sort of what we do on this show. But before we get there… I should point out that she’s not at all alone. I saw a meme going around recently that offered several of the most common arguments about the song — one of those gimmicks where your brain is larger and more enlightened the more nuanced your opinion… and then ending with “but it’s just a crappy song.” Cute I guess, but I kinda disagree there. I really like the song! So we could move down a level on the brain enlightenment chart and the final question is “maybe we shouldn’t be continuously re-recording a song that has such a complex and easily misconstrued message.” I disagree there a lot… because as much as I like the song, I also really like the discussion.

One of the great things about the internet today is that people actually DO think about these issues… they analyze them… or at least sort of. I actually LIKE that people no longer just listen to a song and say “yep, that was a song alright” and move on. What I don’t like is that they don’t really discuss them. Not really. Mostly people have their opinion… often either “woke” or “old skool” and they rant about everyone who doesn’t agree being dumb and “part of the problem” and no one really pays attention to each other… and then why are we talking about the thing int he first place? This isn’t that show… as you know, we aren’t looking to resolve anything.  But we do talk about it… and hopefully try to figure out WHY we are talking about it.

Anyway, as Barb suggested, there are a lot of people talking about the song — as there have been for the past couple years. And there’s probably going to be more this year, because of recent reports that some radio stations are banning the song from the air in the wake of the #MeToo movement. And there’s the obvious reasons for that… as the graphic in the brainy image says, the song DOES sound kind of rapey to the modern ear. Friend of the show Natalie Sheppard addressed this on Facebook when she reposted the report of radio stations banning it. I’ll just copy her words here.

From Natalie: I was just saying that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to defend this song! “Baby, it’s cold outside” is a feminist anthem, fight me.

[MAVNOTE: at this point some people did argue with Nat a bit.]

I’m just saying – EVERY YEAR some asshole cries “date rape song!” without understanding a thing about irony and context. Christmas needs way MORE songs about women engaging in pre-marital sex, not less.

[MAVNOTE: at this point she got a little more pushback, including saying that the song was just liked “Blurred Lines” and that we don’t need to keep rehashing these problematic artifacts… much like the brain explodey graphic.]

First of all I would argue that we absolutely do have conversations about problematic views of consent and historical context every damn year, almost ad nauseum. Every time it’s played on the radio, the host cracks a joke about dubious consent. I think the fact that it got banned on a radio station is telling and evidence that we are conscious of this song’s potential message. I mean, I made this status because my defending this song is something of a Christmas tradition at this point.

But I would also say even if we just take the song at face value it can’t be put in the same category as “Blurred Lines” because the primary vocalist in this duet is almost always the woman. She’s certainly the first voice we hear, and none of her objections are about her not wanting to stay. They’re all about other people. In fact, every time she talks about herself it’s about how much she does really want to stay, but shouldn’t. The song ends with her implied consent, not with her passed out on the couch because of whatever he might have put in that drink.

Also unlike “Blurred Lines,” the male singer isn’t saying “I know you want to stay” or, worse, “you can’t leave.” He’s just providing her with excuses if she does want to stay. None of them are prohibitive, he’s not assuming anything on her part and “hey it’s really cold outside” is fairly low stakes, even silly, compared with her reasons for wanting to leave. He never says “stay, have another drink! Have a cigarette!” she’s the one who volunteers that activity as another way to put off leaving. He actually does ask “Mind if I move in closer?” and later says “I thrill when YOU touch my hand.” He’s asking permission and letting her take the lead, a thing we encourage.

Look, OF COURSE there are some problematic aspects of this song (I roll my eyes every time he says “what’s the sense in hurting my pride?”), but I still think the good this song advocates and the productive conversation it generates every year outweighs the simplistic date-rape reading.

From Mav: Which, is what I kind of want to do with this show. Do I care if you like the song or not? No. Not really. I like it, and I’m not going to stop liking it. And in fact, maybe my favorite version of it is the Idina Menzel/Michael Buble version where they did the video with little kids lip syncing… and they knew exactly what the fuck they were doing when they recorded it. I recognize why people find it problematic… they did too. And they did it anyway.

So that’s where I’d like to take this discussion. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has met me, listened to the show, or even just gotten this far in this post, that my interpretation of what’s going on in the song is pretty close to Nat’s here… and yeah, I recognize why other people don’t see it. And I want to have a little bit of a discussion about what the song means and whether or not it is a “feminist anthem” as she says.

But I also think the discussion needs to be had as to WHY it is so important to keep rehashing these things. And I think it is. I’ve said on the show before, I often teach Tarzan in my literature classes. I know it’s racist. That’s why I teach it. I also really like the book. We often enjoy (and reinterpret) artwork that is outdated… hell, Hannah is a Victorian scholar… literally EVERYTHING she does is a vestige of a more problematic time.

So, Natalie is going to come back to the show and work through these things with us. And if you have the opposite view from hers (and want to argue that the song should be banned due it’s problematic nature) I also welcome you to comment here and maybe come on and “fight her” as she asked… but at least leave a comment here with your thoughts so we can address them. Or if you agree with her, I’d like yo hear from you… or if you haven any opinions in between. But I’d also love to hear people’s thoughts on WHY we should or shouldn’t continue to remake (and replay) this song and others like it.

One Reply to “Call For Comments: But Baby is it really cold outside? Is it really?”

  1. Love this!! I”m excited to get involved in the conversation!

    I should preface my comments with the following: I’m fairly moderate on most things, this included, however I definitely lean towards compassion for others and their experiences. I’ve also been sexually harassed, molested and raped throughout my life by different people on different occasions, and these experiences have informed my thoughts on the song. I also dislike Christmas music in general. The results of working in a CD store with Mariah Carey’s Christmas album on repeat, I suppose… but I digress. So I will say that it already loses a point based on that alone.

    This song is problematic in my eyes because, no matter what context WE, as educated adults, know is implied by the words, children with no understanding of 1940s vernacular and societal expectations will be completely unable to read between the lines. Children WILL hear a man continually pursuing a woman despite her objections, so I will speak for them as I, myself, was confused as a child by the way this song was celebrated despite how uncomfortable the words made me feel. Remember this as we go forward. It’s admittedly very “won’t someone please think of the children!”

    In the amazing era of #MeToo where women’s rights are being taken seriously and are finally making headway, I feel that this muddies the waters. It teaches kids who are still learning what assent and consent mean that women play games. They don’t say what they mean. That their “no” means… well, convince me. That “no” does not always mean “no.” I find this disturbing, and I know that we can do better.

    The question then becomes, “is censorship better?” which is a loaded debate being that censorship is a very slippery slope. Banning a song that was once a feminist anthem (and many would say it still is) whilst songs that repeatedly demean and demonise women play without discussion on the radio would be wrong to do because A: people can find something wrong with everything, B: art should not be subjected to bans because it is a form of free speech, and because C: history matters, and history told through music/film/art is the only way many people consume history. In this particular debate, though, it is a straw man fallacy to bring up current music styles (rock/rap/EDM/etc.) to compare to Christmas tunes. Christmas music is basically easy listening, meant to be played as background music at family gatherings with multiple generations present without offending anybody’s senses whereas I think most music these days would have grandma scowling and grandpa telling someone to turn that crap down. Grandma has no time to listen to this Ariana Grande crap on the radio, much less Eminem or Snoop. As such, they’re not applicable to this discussion as we are having it because very, very few households would be bumping Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” at Christmas dinner, and most of us could agree that that’s not a song for kids.

    This song is about sexual liberation of women in a time where a woman was meant to have no sexual agency of her own until she was married, and even then she had little in the way of independence. Her objections in this song all relate to the opinions of others rather than her own wishes, and as a feminist myself, I proudly egg her on to do what she damn well pleases… but the singer is Esther Williams who died at the age of 91 in 2013. Times have changed between the time she recorded the song in the 1940s and this year. We cannot expect that every time this song is played on the radio that the DJ will preface it with some historical context for any young ears out there. If you look at the lyrics and turn down the volume on the melody, then read it out imagining that you’re using the still-developing understanding of a child’s brain to make sense of the lyrics, it will be likely at least somewhat confusing or upsetting. Is this how we court our partners? She’ll say no, but she means yes. Ahh but she wanted it.

    Why are modern musicians re-making this classic? It’s no longer that era, and kids hear their heroes singing a song that has problematic lyrics without the capability of understanding how to read between the lines. Hell, I hear this song and cringe, and I’m not alone.

    With all of this said, I am neither for nor against the song being banned from a few radio stations. This song is severely triggering for some people, and if those people can tune to a couple of radio stations that guarantee that they will not play that song and dredge up bad memories of being drugged or harassed or whatever, I say good for them. Everybody gets what they want. If you love the song, download and play it on repeat from basically anywhere on the internet if that’s your prerogative.

    I maintain that I’m moderate, with all this said. Banning isn’t right, nor is having to hear this song that is for obvious reasons at least somewhat problematic. Nobody really want to re-live that time some guy wouldn’t take a firm “no” for an answer while they sit at the dinner table with family because of some old song.

    We all will survive one way or the other. One just requires a little compassion for others; something we all could use a little more of.

    I’m extremely tired and just need to post this. No time to re-read. May edit tomorrow. May not. Key points:

    kids don’t understand context, and parents are not always educated themselves on the topic, nor are they always around, nor do they always want to use teachable moments properly.
    kids are already struggling with assent/consent. Why allow this to confuse them at this critical junction in time for kids sex ed?
    kids live in a world where Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” is on TV. They don’t necessarily need much more sexual liberation in their lives these days.

Leave a Reply