I must have travelled to another universe because when I awoke, the world had gone mad. Radio stations were pulling a popular, rather over-played, 74-year-old, playful holiday song because some folks thought it was about rape. Sexual assault. Or at least non-consensual sex. The media was full of Chicken Littles screaming that the cultural sky was falling if radio stations continued to play it. The song was subject of weighty opinions on editorial pages.
What is going on in this strange, politically correct and apparently unhinged universe?
Let me back up. Two items appeared simultaneously on my Facebook timeline this week: one was a video of a peacock strutting around, trying to win over a pea hen by flashing his tail at her. The other was news that Baby, It’s Cold Outside was causing such a furor that radio stations were banning it. But these Facebook items are actually two aspects of the same thing.
The song is a duet, a playful banter between a man and a woman about, yes, sex. But not sex as in explicit. Inferred, yes, perhaps implied, but never stated. And never forced. The peacock video is also playful banter, albeit wordless and nothing is forced.
There are a hundred or more shows on Netflix you can watch right now that include graphic nudity, sex and even rape that don’t even try to hide behind innuendo. The abysmally-written mommy-porn novel, Fifty Shades of Grey was graphically explicit – and so popular it sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Sex and seduction are in the Bible – read the Song of Solomon! As far as I know, no one is having these banned or burned.
Is there some strange hypocrisy at work here? CBC writer Jessica Goddard wrote,
…nothing says “happy holidays” like the death of nuance and frantic institutional overreaction…
The accusation that Baby, It’s Cold Outside is about sexual assault is absurd unless you isolate the entire duet down to the lines “Say, what’s in this drink?” and “The answer is no.” That ignores the lyrics that suggest that same character internally wrestling with wanting to stay (“I wish I knew how / To break this spell,” “I ought to say ‘No, no, no sir’ / At least I’m gonna say that I tried”).
Baby, It’s Cold Outside is not pornographic or even bawdy. It’s about seduction and the age-old mating game. You know: the old tail-flashing peacock routine in the video a few tens of thousands shared without anyone being offended. You want bawdy, go listen to some madrigals or early Renaissance love songs.
If people were really kerfuffled about sexually explicit lyrics or misogynistic treatment of women, they’d have banned rap music years ago. No, this is unfathomably different.
Seduction is something that every animal engages in, in its own fashion and style, in order to mate. It’s often done through song and flashy display (consider the codpiece) and play.
Seduction is biology. And even though that upsets some puritanically-minded folks, the female – pea hen or human – isn’t a victim: she gets a choice, whether it’s because she likes the flashy tail or the guy on the sofa with the bottle of wine in his hand. Or, if she chooses, no mate at all. There’s no force, just the timeless game of seduction.
The song isn’t a pro-feminist screed, either. It’s quaintly old fashioned in a sort of lounge lizard way, so don’t read too much into it. It’s not a manifesto for or against your political views. If it must be banned, do it because like far too many seasonal songs it gets played over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over during the few weeks leading to Christmas (some folks take comfort in that repetition, I understand).
Will the same people complain if we switch the genders of the singers as in this Red Skelton/Betty Garrett version from the movie Neptune’s Daughter:
Some apologists argue that the song reflects the attitudes of the bygone era (it was written in 1944) but that misses the point. Since the first Sumerian scraped the wires of a proto-lyre, musicians have written about love, seduction and sex – and still do today. The music of the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley also reflect a bygone era and we still listen to them today, despite their sexism.
The Star published a column with a humorous list of other Christmas songs to ban if you’re offended by Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Is White Christmas about cocaine? Or about white supremacists taking over? Are the lyrics “Don we now our gay apparel” part of a secret LGBTQ agenda? (Relax: it’s a joke…) The point being that if you want to be offended, you can find a suitable platform pretty much everywhere you look.
Maybe if the guy was trying to convince the girl to go with him to some Black Friday sales instead, it could still be played on radio. After all, excessive, self-centred consumerism would please advertisers, and egregious capitalism apparently offends no one (Marx rolls over in his grave…).
Of maybe it’s part of the fake “war on Christmas” invented by Faux News and its commentators to rally the gullible to an alt-right cause. I wouldn’t put it past them to create a fake “outrage” – a canard – over the song so Faux can blast the liberals and score points in the Trump base. They’ve pulled these cons in the past.
And please – PLEASE – don’t start rewriting the lyrics to make it more politically acceptable and bland. Yes, I know, one songwriter has already done that, but to me that’s as dishonest and as offensive as rewriting Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as a Christmas carol (yes, that’s been done too!).
Women deserve better than lazy, intentionally uncharitable readings of half-a-century-old songs for their feminist causes. People, romance and sexuality are complex, so taking a catchy tune and highlighting the portions that sound most suspicious in 2018 is not just a stretch — it’s dishonest.
Personally I think because the song was popular in the past that some of those folks upset by it today are probably more offended by the image of their parents engaging in this mating ritual and – *uck* – having sex than in the actual lyrics.
There are plenty of real things to be upset about in the world – climate change, microplastics, Yemen, hacked elections, soaring food prices, First Nations water woes – that could use serious attention. You don’t need to waste time or energy on this one.