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Baby, It's Hot on the Internet
By Leah Mueller
There is no such thing as bad publicity.
Until this year, I never thought much about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The 1940s song is stupid as hell, but I feel that way about almost all holiday music. At best, December is a cold, dark plunge into the depths of ennui. At worst, it’s a tornado-like vortex of despair that threatens to engulf my entire being.
Christmas carols act like a scouring pad on my brain, scrubbing it of any tidbits of cheer that might cling to its exterior. The inane, syrupy lyrics, peppy tempos, and overall message of merriment are lost on me as I slog through stores for meager, last-minute offerings. Oh look, a flannel shirt. My husband will like that. Organic bubble bath for my daughter. Okay, done.
Suddenly, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a rallying cry for theater majors, music historians, amateur singers, feminists, and many others. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months, like I wish I have, here is a synopsis: A woman and man are together at the man’s place. She thinks she should go home and says as much. Dude won’t take no for an answer. He proudly describes himself as “opportunistic” and asks if he can move in closer. She is coy and semi-insistent about leaving. Her family and neighbors are pacing the floor, wondering where the hell she is. They have nothing better to do.
This bullshit goes on and on for an interminable length of time. The woman demands, “What’s that in my drink?” (apparently, a popular idiom of the time). Though visibly concerned, she stays for another cocktail and a cigarette. When she says, “No no no”, he asks, “Mind if I move in closer?’ This continues until she throws caution to the wolves and decides to stay.
Perhaps both of these people are idiots and deserve each other. Still, a close analysis of the lyrics brings up a certain queasiness. The woman mentions several times that she wants to leave, but the man blathers about her hair, his pride, etc. 1940s audiences may have found this routine charming and sexy, but some 21st century listeners begged to differ. Repelled by the lyrics, they contacted radio stations and complained.
Several stations, including WDOK in Cleveland, determined that the song was too date-rapey by today’s #metoo standards, and made the decision to pull the song from airplay. A few Canadian stations followed suit, and the war was on. Public backlash was fierce and strident. WDOK reinstated “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” a few days later, and justice was restored to the universe.
I had to google the lyrics, since, in my 60 years of existence, I’d never bothered to listen to them. The undercurrent of creepiness bugged me a little. I recalled similar scenarios from my own life, when I made the decision to have sex with a guy because he wouldn’t stop wheedling me. I often felt crappy later, like my body wasn’t really my own. The song struck me as a relic from a time when women weren’t allowed agency over our own sexuality, a pre-birth control era when a slipup could lead to unwanted pregnancy. Would the guy be begging her to stick around then? Fat chance.
I’ve always been an enthusiastic advocate of free speech. A radio station’s decision about whether or not to give a song airplay isn’t really a free speech issue, since the executives make such determinations based upon audience whims. Public tastes do change, as awareness of social issues transforms group consciousness. There was a time when people laughed at Aunt Jemimah, Lil Black Sambo, and the Frito Bandito. Now we find such caricatures appalling.
Still, was banning the song too much? Perhaps the internet could help. I pulled up my Facebook page and posted the following status[S1] :
“Re: The debate about "Baby, It's Cold Outside: I've been reading up about the argument and considering both sides of the debate. Apparently, this is the third holiday season that folks have been arguing about the song. Articles on the subject date back to 2016. The pro/con dichotomy seems to spread across generational lines, with Boomers taking a more tolerant attitude towards the lyrics. Much of the tolerance appears to be based on nostalgia, combined with Boomers' definitions of what constitutes seduction vs coercion. Many of them are scornful of younger adults' aversion to the song, referring to them as "oversensitive snowflakes", etc. Millennials, on the other hand, have less sentimental attachment to the song, and criticize the lyrics, saying that men should never strong-arm women into having sex. It should either be enthusiastically consensual, or no deal. I side with the Millennials on this one, but admittedly my first impulse was to say, "What the hell? I grew up with this song! That's too much!" Thoughts?”
The artillery of commentary was swift and relentless. I expected my cadre of internet pals to be blasé about the song, perhaps even dismissive. Instead, the argument that followed was one of the fiercest I’d instigated in months (with the exception of an earlier duke-fest about veganism on another person’s page).
Some folks were reasonable: “If you don’t like the song, don’t listen to it.” Others were irate to an almost comical degree: “I love this song. If one reads sexual harassment, it’s on them. Fuck this!” I had to unfriend one man, who kept insisting I was stupid for not seeing the song’s brilliance. “You go right ahead and have your ridiculous opinions,” he fumed. “They’re wrong, but you’re free to have them.”
The most amazing thing was the number of people who insisted that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was their favorite Christmas song. They’d loved it for years, and they’d be devastated if it disappeared from the airwaves. Really? Was I missing something? I watched a couple of YouTube videos, but the song’s charms remained elusive. Just more of the old say-no-when-you-mean-yes bullshit that has dogged women for as long as I can remember.
Some of my friends insist that the song is actually an ode to feminism, since the woman finally said yes in defiance of societal norms. They think the whole thing is hot. I can’t agree with this interpretation. She never says, “Oh, to hell with those repressed creeps. Let’s do it!” She just kinda gives in. Other friends maintain that, since the guy didn’t spike the woman’s drink, it was okay for him to get her hammered in an attempt to make her more pliable. He used good old alcohol, not roofies.
One fellow was especially insistent, posting article after article on my thread in an attempt to change my mind. Though I asked him to stop, he paid me no heed. Finally, I wrote, “I've politely asked you to cease and desist with this thread. If you want me to take your comments about respect and consent seriously, please stop commenting.” He sputtered to a halt, and the discussion was over. Not a minute too soon, since I was tempted to go on an extended unfriending rampage.
I finally went to bed and had a vivid dream. My husband and I were watching a movie, a sort of risqué foreign film with a steamy sex scene. The man and the woman were going at it like there was no tomorrow. Both of them were equally hot for each other. I turned to my husband and “Now, THAT’S sexy.”
Though a couple of weeks have passed since my posting, the controversy shows no sign of abating. Like Starbucks cups and the War on Christmas, the song brings up lots of angry holiday sentiment. A Kentucky radio station, amusingly named WAKY, showed their support yesterday by playing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” for two hours straight. Though this strikes me as a form of torture akin to waterboarding, it allowed the station to make an important point about the futility of political correctness. I doubt if anyone listened to the song for the full two hours, but if they did, I hope they dropped acid first.
I’ll be even happier than usual when this Christmas season is over, and the song fades into well-deserved obscurity. The supporters do have a point: during this time of war, famine, declining wages, global warming, Trumpism, and other disasters, “Baby” is small potatoes. Still, I can’t escape a nagging anger about peoples’ continuing refusal to take women seriously. We make less money than men, have a hard time getting abortions in many states, and can’t even walk down the street without being harassed. None of this shows any sign of changing.
Yeah, it’s cold outside, baby. It’s cold everywhere, except on the goddamn internet. But at least we still have bad Christmas music.
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