An updated version of the 1940s Christmas song has the Internet in a tizzy about sexual misconduct and consent.
The arrival of December 1 each year isn’t just the first day I get to open up a door on my DIY Advent calendar, it also marks the start of the Christmas music season. That all too brief period (just 25 days!) when I’m allowed to dream about having a White Christmas with Bing Crosby, and sing along to Santa Baby around the house in my best Eartha Kitt voice. I realize that these tunes are often labeled cheesy and overplayed in department stores, but they have always brought me joy. Christmas songs usher in the holiday season for me in a tangible way, telling my brain that even if there’s no snow on the ground, it’s finally time to be merry and bright again.
As you might guess, my Spotify playlist of Christmas songs is extensive. I’ve got everything on there from Silent Night to Last Christmas by Wham! and even Love Actually’s version of All I Want for Christmas Is You.
But there’s always been one song on my playlist that’s given me pause: Baby It’s Cold Outside.
Because some of the cheerfully sung lyrics composed by Frank Loesser, such as, “Say, what’s in this drink?” and “What’s the sense of hurting my pride? … Baby don’t hold out,” paint a picture that dances from jovial flirtation right into date-rape territory. And, though I haven’t struck it from my Christmas list entirely, it’s always struck me as a little odd.
Just watch this original scene from Neptune’s Daughter, a 1949 musical romantic comedy that includes the song. While you do, consider the lyrics (and their accompanying gestures) for yourself:
Something about seeing actress Esther Williams be escorted back onto the couch yet again, after saying “no, no, no” while actor Ricardo Montalban tries to wrap his arms around her makes me a little uncomfortable. And today, as I looked at my morning newsfeed, I discovered I’m not alone in my unease.
A couple from Minneapolis, Minnesota who were disturbed by the original wording of the song, reworked the classic tune to “emphasize the importance of consent,” giving it new thoughtful, consent-minded responses like, “You reserve the right to say no.” The singers, Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski, are hoping it well promote awareness, and encourage people to volunteer or donate to women’s shelters and clinics.
For many listeners, the result is effective in its mission to highlight the problematic nature of the old song. One self-professed date-rape survivor commented, “This version totally made me cry happy tears. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” For others, the reaction was less positive: some SoundCloud users wrote that the remake was an overly sensitive reaction, or lost the point of the original.
To decide for yourself, you can listen to the updated version here.
Love it or hate it, this musical debate raised a different question for me: While I believe it’s important to be aware of consent issues and sexual misconduct, why focus on a song from the 1940s, when we have so much current music that talks about women and sexuality in similar—if not far more egregious—ways? When I hear lines that refer to women as “bitches” and many that are too profane and sexually aggressive for me to write on this website (I’m looking at you, Kanye), I’m not sure how much progress we’ve really made in the last 60 years. And, while I certainly believe in the freedom of speech/song, why do most of us seem to be passively OK with the way women are talked about inside the top hits list of today? Where are the viral video remakes of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines or Rick Ross’s U.E.N.O. lyrics? (The latter is a song that brags about drugging a woman’s champagne glass and then sings, “I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ‘ain’t even know it.”)
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So whether you dislike the original Baby It’s Cold Outside, or not, I ask you to take a good long listen to those catchy songs and music videos outside of your Christmas playlist. The ones we hear all 12 months out of the year by modern musical artists. Do they sing to your values? Are the words something you’d want youir teenage son or daughter to emulate? Would you want those lyrics said about you (or done to you)? And if not, maybe we have something bigger to talk about right here in 2016.
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