Tuesday 18 December 2018

Baby, it's cold outside. What's all the hubbub?

There's been quite a controversy as of late over this 1949 song. Some people have interpreted the lyrics as promoting rape. Some radio stations have dropped the song from their playlist. But is that, in fact, true? Or have those people not understood the historical meaning of the words and situations? Think about it. The Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer releases Neptune's Daughter, a 1949 Technicolor musical romantic comedy film starring Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalbán, Betty Garrett, Keenan Wynn, Xavier Cugat and Mel Blanc. Would anyone involved possibly have done this while promoting rape? Really?

Is this an example of political correctness running out of control? While the #MeToo movement has been a long time coming, and that's very much a good thing, is there a danger of pendulum swinging too far on the other side? Do we become hypersensitive to the issue and start seeing bad everywhere, even when bad is not the intent?

Published on Dec 24, 2011 by mrdaft
YouTube: Baby it's cold outside
The original from Neptune's Daughter Neptune's Daughter is a 1949 musical romantic comedy film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer starring Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalbán, Betty Garrett, Keenan Wynn, Xavier Cugat and Mel Blanc. It was directed by Edward Buzzell, and features the Academy Award winning song Baby, It's Cold Outside by Frank Loesser.

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?
Father will be pacing the floor - Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I'd better scurry - Beautiful, please don't hurry
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 - Mind if I move in 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
Ah, but it's cold outside

I've got to get home - Oh, baby, you'll freeze out there
Say, lend me your coat - It's up to your knees out there
You've really been grand - Thrill when you touch my hand
Why don't you see - How can you do this thing to me?

There's bound to be talk tomorrow - Think of my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied - If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can't stay - Get over that hold out
Ah, but it's cold outside
Oh, baby, it's cold outside
Oh, baby, it's cold outside

The following comes from a Tumblr blog "teachingwithcoffee", an interesting interpretation with a historical perspective. (For some reason, the original blog has deleted the posting. I can't link to it.)

teachingwithcoffee - an interpretation:
It’s time to bring an end to the Rape Anthem Masquerading As Christmas Carol

Hi there! Former English nerd/teacher here. Also a big fan of jazz of the 30s and 40s.

So. Here’s the thing. Given a cursory glance and applying today’s worldview to the song, yes, you’re right, it absolutely *sounds* like a rape anthem.

BUT! Let’s look closer!

“Hey what’s in this drink” was a stock joke at the time, and the punchline was invariably that there’s actually pretty much nothing in the drink, not even a significant amount of alcohol.

See, this woman is staying late, unchaperoned, at a dude’s house. In the 1940’s, that’s the kind of thing Good Girls aren’t supposed to do — and she wants people to think she’s a good girl. The woman in the song says outright, multiple times, that what other people will think of her staying is what she’s really concerned about: “the neighbors might think,” “my maiden aunt’s mind is vicious,” “there’s bound to be talk tomorrow.” But she’s having a really good time, and she wants to stay, and so she is excusing her uncharacteristically bold behavior (either to the guy or to herself) by blaming it on the drink — unaware that the drink is actually really weak, maybe not even alcoholic at all. That’s the joke. That is the standard joke that’s going on when a woman in media from the early-to-mid 20th century says “hey, what’s in this drink?” It is not a joke about how she’s drunk and about to be raped. It’s a joke about how she’s perfectly sober and about to have awesome consensual sex and use the drink for plausible deniability because she’s living in a society where women aren’t supposed to have sexual agency.

Basically, the song only makes sense in the context of a society in which women are expected to reject men’s advances whether they actually want to or not, and therefore it’s normal and expected for a lady’s gentleman companion to pressure her despite her protests, because he knows she would have to say that whether or not she meant it, and if she really wants to stay she won’t be able to justify doing so unless he offers her an excuse other than “I’m staying because I want to.” (That’s the main theme of the man’s lines in the song, suggesting excuses she can use when people ask later why she spent the night at his house: it was so cold out, there were no cabs available, he simply insisted because he was concerned about my safety in such awful weather, it was perfectly innocent and definitely not about sex at all!) In this particular case, he’s pretty clearly right, because the woman has a voice, and she’s using it to give all the culturally-understood signals that she actually does want to stay but can’t say so. She states explicitly that she’s resisting because she’s supposed to, not because she wants to: “I ought to say no no no…” She states explicitly that she’s just putting up a token resistance so she’ll be able to claim later that she did what’s expected of a decent woman in this situation: “at least I’m gonna say that I tried.” And at the end of the song they’re singing together, in harmony, because they’re both on the same page and they have been all along.

So it’s not actually a song about rape - in fact it’s a song about a woman finding a way to exercise sexual agency in a patriarchal society designed to stop her from doing so. But it’s also, at the same time, one of the best illustrations of rape culture that pop culture has ever produced. It’s a song about a society where women aren’t allowed to say yes…which happens to mean it’s also a society where women don’t have a clear and unambiguous way to say no.

Frank Loesser and Lynn Garland

History of the song
During the 1940s, whenever Hollywood celebrities attended parties, they were expected to perform. In 1944, Loesser wrote "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to sing with his wife, Lynn Garland, at their housewarming party in New York City at the Navarro Hotel. They sang the song to indicate to guests that it was time to leave.

Garland has written that after the first performance, "We became instant parlor room stars. We got invited to all the best parties for years on the basis of 'Baby.' It was our ticket to caviar and truffles. Parties were built around our being the closing act." In 1948, after years of performing the song, Loesser sold it to MGM for the 1949 romantic comedy Neptune's Daughter. Garland was furious: "I felt as betrayed as if I'd caught him in bed with another woman."

The song won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Original Song.


Quartzy - Dec 6/2018
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” isn’t about rape—but the song hasn’t aged well by Adam Pasick
In 2015, writer Helen Rosner stripped out the part of the apparent aggressor and concluded that the song as clearly about a “sexually aware woman worried about slut shaming.”

“The first two verses are both: (1) I have to go. (2)I’m having a great time, but (3) I’m scared of my family’s opinions,” Rosner wrote on Twitter. “She clearly wants to stay, is scared of the social ramifications of that choice, and in the end says ‘fuck society’s repressiveness’ & stays.”

“If you think Baby It’s Cold Outside is creepy, you are robbing the woman in that song of her agency,” Rosner concludes. “You are the problem. I’m not kidding.”

Persephone - Dec 6/2010
Listening While Feminist: In Defense of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Slay Belle
This is a song about sex, wanting it, having it, maybe having a long night of it by the fire, but it’s not a song about rape. It’s a song about the desires even good girls have.

Snopes - Dec 18/2017
Is ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ About Date Rape? by Kim LaCapria, David Emery
we asked gender and culture scholar Adrienne Trier-Bieniek to weigh in, starting with the question: Is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” really a song about rape?

“I don’t think it was written as one,” she replied via e-mail. “But it certainly has taken on this feeling as people have progressed in their thinking.” She continued:

I think it can be looked at a couple of ways. The first is the cultural context — when the song was written the “cat and mouse” game between the sexes was just a fun joke. And, that’s an important point to note. But, it’s also a slippery slope when we just rest in “historical context.” Because of course we don’t think about the song the way in the way it was, we think about it in the way it is. With all the coverage of sexual harassment and assault that is happening, it becomes difficult to not strip down parts of our culture in order to figure out where we are supporting this violence. And I’m not sure that is a bad thing. It’s important that we reevaluate what we once thought was right and grow.

She also told us she finds the self-empowerment reading, however reasonable-sounding, a stretch.

It’s hard, from a gendered perspective, to accept that she has the power. Even if we keep it in cultural context, as the author notes a few times, there is no doubt that she is being pursued and, at this point in music history, those types of wink-wink songs, where we accept that boys will be boys, were common. Also, if she’s playing coy because she wants to stay, this puts us back into the mindset that women really want sex, but can’t ask for it. So they have to be persuaded. No means yes.

And that’s the crux of the problem. Even if “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” wasn’t written as a date rape anthem, its lighthearted treatment of a scenario we can’t help but recognize as sexual entrapment helps keep the “boys will be boys,” “no means yes” mindset alive.

Final Word
If there a final word? I can see there is a historical context: Before condemning, we need to understand. I can also see that times have changed, and the way we view things has changed: What was acceptable yesterday, is not acceptable today. But I can see that your own interpretation of the song is very much dependent on how you yourself see the world. If the couples in the video above are strangers, the song has a nefarious tone. If the couples are friends, the song seems playful. I note that the composer originally wrote the song for his wife. To me, that says the original intent was fun, not dark.

I haven't done a survey, but I can't help thinking people would interpret the two scenes differently. When Ricardo Montalbán comes on to Esther Williams, it's nefrarious. But when Betty Garrett comes on to Red Skelton, it's funny. (see my blog: Double Standard: Why is female on male abuse funny? - Aug 17/2012)

I'm reminded of an old saying: "It's not a leer if she's interested." While the #MeToo movement has shone a much needed light on unacceptable behaviour, there is now confusion over what is acceptable and under what circumstances.

Years ago, my brother and his friend took their wives to a Chippendale's Night at a local bar, a ladies night out with male strippers. My brother said it was an eye-opener to see a room full of ladies behaving in an unladylike fashion, whopping and hollering in a manner one would normally associate with a bunch of drunken guys.

At one point, my brother was standing at the bar surveying the scene. A woman, a total stranger, came up to order a drink. As she was waiting, she reached down and grabbed my brother in the crotch. My brother's reaction? He was startled, but he was also amused. However, did he feel threatened? Did he call management? No, he carried on and chalked it up to a funny part of the night. I also note that this was woman on man, not the other way around.

Now don't get me wrong. The other side of the coin represented by Harvey Weinstein and ilk is jaw-droppingly crazy. As a man, I have no idea what is going through these men's minds. But I also recognise these can be confusing times, sorting out sexual coercion from playful fun.

In reading the papers this week (Dec 18/2018), some media outlets, after banning the song, have decided to play it. The initial fuss is dying down, and we can get back to enjoying a seasonal favourite.


Wikipedia: Baby, It's Cold Outside
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is an Academy Award-winning popular song written by Frank Loesser in 1944, which gained wide recognition in 1949 when it was performed in the film Neptune's Daughter.

While the lyrics make no mention of any holiday, it is popularly regarded as a Christmas song owing to its winter theme. The song was released in no fewer than 8 recordings in 1949 and has been covered numerous times since.

Wikipedia: Neptune's Daughter (1949 film)
Neptune's Daughter is a 1949 Technicolor musical romantic comedy film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer starring Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalbán, Betty Garrett, Keenan Wynn, Xavier Cugat and Mel Blanc. It was directed by Edward Buzzell, and features the Academy Award winning song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser.

Uploaded on Aug 8, 2018 by Funny Or Die Too
YouTube: Baby, It's Cold Outside
Soup writers Nic Deleo (Mankini) and Tess Rafferty (The Dancing Maxi Pad) perform in this dark re-imagining of a holiday classic.


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