Reflections on attempts to ban “Baby, It’s Outside”

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(CNN) Star 102, WDOK-FM, calls itself “Cleveland’s Christmas station.” But its listeners are discovering that one holiday chestnut has been kicked to the curb.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the duet in which a man tries to dissuade a woman from leaving a party despite her repeated protestations, has been pulled from the station’s Christmas playlist amid concerns about its predatory nature.

Penned by “Guys and Dolls” writer Frank Loesser in 1944, the Christmas song is perceived by some as unworthy for the most wonderful time of the year — particularly in the age of #MeToo.

“People might say, ‘Oh, enough with that #MeToo,’ but if you really put that aside and read the lyrics, it’s not something that I would want my daughter to be in that kind of situation,” midday host Desiray told CNN affiliate WJW-TV.

“The tune might be catchy, but let’s maybe not promote that sort of an idea.”

(Source: https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/01/us/baby-its-cold-outside-cleveland-radio-trnd/index.html)

When I first read this on Facebook, I thought it was either a hoax/gag or a publicity stunt on the part of the radio station to draw attention to itself.

But no, it’s on the level.

Apparently, some people including listeners of Star 102, think that this old holiday chestnut offends modern #MeToo sensitivities and is not appropriate for this day and age.

Other more vociferous detractors have labelled it a “Date-Rape Anthem.”

“Date-Rape Anthem?”

Seriously?

Just look at the lyrics they say.

Okay, let’s look at them:

I really can’t stay (Baby it’s cold outside)

I gotta go away (Baby it’s cold outside)

This evening has been (Been hoping that you’d dropped 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 (I’ll 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) (Why thank you)

I ought to say no, no, no sir (Mind if move in closer?)

At least I’m gonna say that I tried (What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?)

I really can’t stay (Baby don’t hold out)

Baby it’s cold outside

Ah, you’re very pushy you know?

I like to think of it as opportunistic

I simply must go (Baby it’s cold outside)

The answer is no (But baby it’s cold outside)

The welcome has been (How lucky that you dropped in)

So nice and warm (Look out the window at that storm)

My sister will be suspicious (Gosh your lips look delicious!)

My brother will be there at the door (Waves upon a tropical shore)

My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious (Gosh your lips are delicious!)

Well maybe just a cigarette more (Never such a blizzard before) (And I don’t even smoke)

I’ve got to get home (Baby you’ll freeze out there)

Say lend me a coat? (It’s up to your knees out there!)

You’ve really been grand, (I feel when I touch your hand)

But 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 old out)

Baby it’s cold

Baby it’s cold outside

Okay fine, just another drink then

That took a lot of convincing!

According to its detractors, some of the troublesome lyrics spoken by the female include: “My mother will start to worry,” “My father will be pacing the floor,” “Say, what’s in this drink?” and “I ought to say no, no, no, sir.”

Her male counterpart responds with: “Mind if I move a little closer?” “What’s the sense in hurting my pride?” and “Baby, don’t hold out.”

A little historical context here, if you please.

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The song first appeared in the 1948 movie, Neptune’s Daughter, and it was sung by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán in the traditional call and response format, and later in the film by Betty Garrett and Red Skelton in a reversal of gender roles with Garrett being the caller. It was perceived as playful, flirtatious and a bit naughty by audiences at the time, which is certainly the spirit in which it was written by composer Frank Loesser. Its popularity won its composer an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1949.

(Watch the original rendition of the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRGZULIkfwE)

However, by the 2000s, some people began suggesting that what they were listening to sounded a little too much like sexual coercion and date-rape on the part of male caller.

With the viral spread of the #MeToo movement in 2017, criticism of the song’s lyrics renewed with claims that the man may have spiked the woman’s drink and wouldn’t take no for answer when the female didn’t immediately acquiesce to staying.

One social media post even likened the song’s lyrics to some of the things said by Hollywood producer and accused sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein in an audiotape made public by one of his accusers.

Let’s take pause here.

I guess if one approaches “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with a predetermined, jaundiced eye, the lyrics could possibly be dissected and interpreted to imply sexual entrapment.

But, indeed, if that’s the case with this silly old song, just imagine if the same “analytical” lens was turned on songs of the Rock era! That would entail a lot of expunging of the radio airwaves.

But I digress.

What concerns me most in this whole debate is the role played by historical revisionism,  defined here as the call to change, remove or erase personalities, events and objects from our collective past in order to reflect contemporary changes in a community’s values and sensitivities.

Originally intended for Loesser and his wife to perform at private parties, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” evokes a bygone era when gender politics, if they were brought up at all, were considered humorous and provided the material for many stand-up comedy routines like Henny Youngman’s, the American comedian and violinist famous for his best known one-liner “Take my wife … please.”

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With reference to the spiked drink claim, “Say, what’s in this drink?” was a well-known phrase commonly used in movies of the time period and it generally referred to someone saying or doing something they thought they wouldn’t in normal circumstances. It was a nod to the idea that alcohol may make them do something unusual. But the joke was almost always that there is nothing in the drink. The drink is simply the excuse. Today, the question has much darker connotations.

In short, the song is a product of his age.

For close to 70 years “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was considered no more controversial than other old secular holiday chestnuts like “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” Numerous artists, including Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Pearl Bailey and Hot Lips Page, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton, Holly Cole and Ed Robertson (of the Barenaked Ladies), Michael Bublé and Anne Murray, and even Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, have recorded the song over the years.

And numerous generations of listeners have enjoyed it.

Other than different artistic interpretations over the years, the song itself hasn’t changed since it was first penned in 1944. No lyrics have been deleted or revised.

What has changed, however, is how some people interpret the song and a vocal segment of society is now attempting to convince the rest of us that we should perceive “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” the same way it does — as an inappropriate song for this day and age.

Now, I don’t think even the most rabid historical revisionist would argue that the song was written about date-rape. Or at least, I hope not.

And, to be frank, I think it is a bit of a stretch to interpret its lyrics today as a so-called Date-Rape Anthem.

Therefore, in my opinion, all calls for its banning from the radio airwaves and holiday canon are unfounded and should be resisted.

Indeed, nobody and nothing is safe from the type of cultural revisionism that never ends. And, at the risk of sounding too alarmist, it is indicative of a slippery slope to a 1984 Orwellian type of world where he who controls the past controls the present, and he who controls the present controls the future.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to Holly Cole and Ed Roberston perform ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on Cole’s 2001 album.

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December 3, 2018

One thought on “Reflections on attempts to ban “Baby, It’s Outside”

  1. This song has often been played at Christmas. I’ve seen it featured on Christmas variety shows where well known male and female singers coyly croon at each other, often comically. I have never considered it offensive to the “Me Too” movement.but rather a holiday gem that was from a bygone era where clever, onscreen flirting was not an invitation to date rape.

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