A Song Unfit for A Time Such as This

“Baby it’s cold outside” is not simply an appropriate description of Michigan right now but also a song that should be abandoned (and some have attributed it to the Christmas season) in these sexually charged times:

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
My father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Well 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, sir – Mind if I move a little 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
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

Marya Hannum observed two years ago that many had concluded that this was a date-rape song:

It’s that most wonderful time of the year. City storefronts are aglow with snowflakes and fairy lights, stockings have been hung by chimneys with care, and on the Internet debates over the holiday hit, Baby It’s Cold Outside, rage on.

In the past four years, this last seems to have morphed into a holiday tradition in its own right. In true Christmas spirit, The Daily Beast didn’t even wait until Thanksgiving to publish a listicle covering “Everyone’s Favorite Date-Rape Holiday Classic.”

Meanwhile, Urban Dictionary now lists the song under the heading “Christmas Date Rape Song.” Recently, it was given a “feminist makeover” in the clever, if not quite as catchy, YouTube video “Baby, It’s Consent Inside.”

Is all this controversy over a catchy classic really warranted?

Upon first listen, maybe. The tune was penned in the 1940s by Frank Loesser — writer of Guys and Dolls — to be performed as a duet with his wife at Los Angeles parties. Its predatory nature is apparent from the original notes, which label the male’s part as “wolf” and the female’s as “mouse.”

Hannum also explained that some feminists defended the song:

As feminist blog Persephone Magazine noted in 2010, the song’s historical context matters. At the time they were written, an unmarried woman staying the night at her beau’s was cause for scandal. It’s this fear we see reflected in the lyrics, more than any aversion on the part of the woman to staying the night.

She never expresses any personal distaste at the idea,e rather pointing out that her “sister will be suspicious,” her “maiden aunt’s mind is vicious.” Really, then, we are hearing a battle between his entreaties and her reputation.

In this light, the song could be read as an advocacy for women’s sexual liberation rather than a tune about date rape.

How times change.

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18 thoughts on “A Song Unfit for A Time Such as This

  1. I never saw the song as a date-rape song. And in terms of being romantic, I prefer the context described by Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Girl From Impanema. I suspect that some Michigan residents prefer that context at this time year as well.

    But whether you talk about date-rape or the series of sexual misconduct outings, the common theme in all of them is the objectification of people. We should note that sex is not the only way people are considered to be disposable objects of gain. Our economic system as well as our foreign policies consider most of its stakeholders to be disposable objects of gain. So why shouldn’t some also consider other people to be disposable objects of gain?

    Of course it is wrong to objectify people, but objectifying people is like eating Lays Potato Chips, it’s impossible to just objectify one person.

    And for George, one can’t go wrong with Betty Carter and Ray Charles. I saw Betty Carter in concert. I think she split the bill with Dave Brubeck.

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  2. To me this is a fun, playful song. The only suggestion of date-rape is the “what’s in this drink” line, but it doesn’t have to be read that way. Indeed, that’s almost certainly not the original intent of the lyric. This seems nothing more like a man seducing a woman. To quote a more innocent lyric, “tale as old as time.”

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  3. How times change.

    Not bad to be given small foretastes.
    2 Peter 3: 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

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  4. If you want to hear a nice instrumental version of this song get a hold of a copy of “Blues for Brother Ray” featuring Jim Rotondi on the trumpet along with B3 organist Mike LeDonne’s quartet. Very smooth. And you can sing along in accompaniment if you wish. Posi-Tone, 2008 or you can download from iTunes if you have an Apple product.

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  5. The lyric is tongue-in-cheek and is meant to be humorous — it’s more of a parody of the situation it describes than anything. Before about 1970, a lot of songs were “character songs,” where singers would project themselves into a role or a situation. This continued even through the Beatles era. A good example is the song “Getting Better,” where Paul and John pretended to be lower-caste English “blokes” by writing lines like “Me used to be angry young man/Me hiding me head in the sand.” They didn’t really speak like that, obviously.

    The concepts of irony and satire (especially when it comes to semi-satirical things) are lost on Americans a lot of the time. The British have a word they use, “whimsy.” We don’t use that word here. So, liberals and conservatives look at “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” without the idea that the composers were operating with a sense of whimsy. Instead they see black-and-white political concepts. Neither side ever stops to think, “Wait maybe this is a light send-up of courtship rituals. Maybe they were trying to be ridiculous.”

    Americans approach whimsy with po-faced seriousness and it’s like watching a grade school teacher send a kid to the principal’s office for a harmless inside joke. Remember how teachers would read all sorts of things into goofy comments? “What did you mean by THAT???!!!” Well, that’s all of America today.

    All that said, the song isn’t even that good. Sometime in the 1970s, a little known power pop act called Pezband stole the title and used it for a much, much better song. People should listen to Pezband’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” instead.

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  6. D.G.,
    You so easily make these statements about me without proving them. For one thing, in light of our current destruction of the environment, I wouldn’t rank a social science like economics above the physical sciences.

    Second, as usual, you never answered the question: What is it in economics that you want to hide from me?

    Finally, argument by distraction is not logically sound.

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  7. D.G.,
    What forms of Capitalism and socialism are you pitting against each other? And btw, not only have I read econ profs who know that some forms of socialism beat all forms of capitalism, I personally know some too. See it depends on the measurements one uses. And what is apparent about many who believe that Capitalism beats all form so of socialism is that many who believe that have reduced the study of economics to commerce. You should know this knowing the root word from which the word ‘economics’ comes.

    But you should also know from history how today’s free market model came into power. It was first introduced via military coups in South America and introducing the free market to post Soviet Union Russia required then President Yeltsin to order is military to attack Russia’s parliament building. Here, today’s free market model requires an increasing authoritarian overreach by our government regardless of the political that is in control.

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  8. D.G.,
    I never said that about Trump. I have almost as many complaints about the Dems under Obama and also what Clinton proposed in her campaign as I have for Trump. The problem is neoliberal capitalism, not a single person. And the difference between the dems and Repubs on neoliberal capitalism is that the former are like a local train while the latter are like the express train. The problem is that the destination for both trains is the same: self-destruction.

    BUt why give these mocking responses? Are you proving your spirituality by doing so? Or are you priding yourself in imitating people like Mencken? Does looking down on people make you feel superior?

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  9. D.G.,
    I favor hybrid economies that include limited freedom for markets and modified codetermination policies employed by nations like Germany and Denmark. In addition, I also favor changing the structure of our federal and state governments so that one of the legislative branches allows for the representation of people by vocation while the other allows for the representation of people by location.

    The issue for Socialists from the Marxist tradition like myself has always been first about the redistribution of power from private sector financial elites to workers and other low level stakeholders of businesses.

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