Fun Fact: Baby It’s Cold Outside is about both rape and sexual freedom.

Beauty and disgrace are in the eyes of the beholders, and both views are valid.

Stills from Neptune’s Daughter — Top row is of Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams playing the song straight, and the bottom row shows Betty Garrett and Red Skeleton in their sort of gender reversal rendition.

Every year, there’s a new cycle of Christmas outrage about people daring to feel differently about Christmas than Fox does to contend with. When I was a kid, I remember people being mad that there were Christmas cards that dared not say the word Christmas (oh no! there’s people who don’t celebrate Christmas but might still want to send a card? how dare!), a few years ago it was Starbucks cups daring to shake things up (oh no! they did something different! how dare!), and, this year, a couple radio stations said they didn’t feel comfortable playing Baby It’s Cold Outside (originally written in 1944 so the celebrity hosts could have a fun way to tell their party guests to leave, but popularized for the common folk in 1949’s Neptune’s Daughter) anymore.

Shock and horror!

It really doesn’t help that the news has been very loose with using the word ‘banned’ in relation to the song (almost as loose as they are with the word outrage), when it hasn’t been banned anywhere. A ban implies a mandate from a higher power dictating that listeners can’t listen to a song. In this case, human beings and organizations have chosen not to play it on their radio stations. Other stations are still playing it, and listeners that miss the song can still go find it and play it for themselves. As such, its not a ban, its a choice. A choice that people living in a country that purports freedom of speech to be an important part of our constitution are allowed to make. But then, the media does love its manufactured outrage culture, doesn’t it? Getting people mad about things does drum up those ratings.

Since I find the whole War on Christmas rage machine to be mind-numbingly idiotic, I wasn’t going to write about this beyond the usual Twitter musings. I was going to do what I always do and just roll my eyes and shrug my shoulders. But then an interesting thing happened — I posted a Tweet saying its ok if radio stations do or don’t play the song if they do or don’t feel like it, since, after all, even the people in the 40s knew how this song sounded, and someone felt it was appropriate to tell me to stop breathing.

Twitter didn’t find the comment appropriate any more than I did and locked the account until the person deleted it. The person then, of course, went on to complain that their free speech had been violated, making the same mistake of assuming a company isn’t allowed to have policies regarding their own services because of a Constitutional amendment that says the government isn’t allowed to dictate free speech. The whole situation got me thinking (again, for what seems like the 8 millionth time this year) —

The media is very good at creating narrow views of the things they’re reporting on. That’s not surprising, they’ve been doing it since people started printing the news. What keeps somehow surprising me is that, for some reason, people are still taking the bait. It seems that a lot of people (or, perhaps, just the ones that are most likely to make sure they are heard) struggle to fathom that 1. the media always blows things out of proportion (for ratings) and 2. opinions aren’t facts, and we’re all allowed to have them, and share them, and choose to ignore when other people have them and share them.

Your opinion of a thing might not be the same as someone else’s opinion of the same thing, and that doesn’t make you or that other person any more right or wrong than the other. That’s just not how the world works. Everything that happens, every story that’s written, every tale that’s told has multiple ways that they can be understood. If the world were that simple, then there would be one branch of Christianity instead of hundreds. Viewpoints are opinions, and opinions can’t be wrong or right because they aren’t facts. You can disagree with an opinion, definitely. But someone isn’t wrong because they hear gross undertones in a song you like, and you aren’t wrong because you didn’t. And certainly no one deserves to be harassed for either of these opinions.

The Viewpoints

There’s actually a lot to unpack with this song. Is there coy aspect? Definitely. Is there the potential to get a strong feminist message from it? Absolutely! After all, grown women are still chastised by society for ‘staying over’ at a boy’s house, and the history of how women are treated for this just gets worst the further back you go in the 1900s. But…it’s cold outside, so that’s why I stayed. Ah yes, it was cold outside. That makes sense. Nothing going on here.

‘It was cold outside’ could easily be some kind of slang for covert wintertime canoodling, even now, and I would never fault anyone for that interpretation.

I also can’t fault anyone for seeing it under the much more uncomfortable rape-y light. There’s more than a few lines that can be interpreted very poorly, ranging from everyone’s favorite ‘what’s in this drink’ date rape line to lines like ‘what’s the sense in hurting my pride’ and ‘how can you do this thing to me?’ which can come off very sleezy to anyone who’s ever had to avoid the advances of an unwanted suitor in an environment (be it an actual location or a socially constructed norm sort of environment) where they can’t just kick them in the shins until they go away. It’s in the ‘remember ladies, we must always be gentle with a man’s feelings, and it’s our fault if he’s upset, so we best do what he wants to keep him happy’ vein of thinking.

Those kinds of coercion tactics are the sorts of things schools warn young ladies about (and rarely anyone else, since we are, of course, stuck in the 50s when it comes to sexual education in public schools).

This is also another issue that we’re still dealing with and that #metoo has been trying to address — it’s the situation where the person in the role of the responder is trying to politely say no, but the person in the role of caller isn’t getting it and is instead taking it as playing cat and mouse or hard to get or even as a ‘if I keep pursuing eventually that no will be yes’ situation. Women in particular are often conditioned to be sweet, polite, and even gracious that a man showed interest in them (cat callers and incels often use this tactic, insisting women should thank them for their unwanted advances).

You can also interpret it to any degree in between the two, as happened twice in Neptune’s Daughter:

Neptune’s Daughter is a romantic comedy where one girl mistakes one of the two leading guys as being the other leading guy and ‘comedy ensues’ from the misunderstandings. The uses of these songs — in both instances — are part of that, since it’s such a confusing mess. The audience is aware of that mess, which is what’s supposed to make it funny. And it is, a bit. I’m not into Romantic Comedies in general, but I do think it’s better than most ‘Rom-Coms’ that came out in the 90s and early 2000s since it’s at least interesting.

A lot of articles I read last time this song took a lap (surprise! the #metoo movement didn’t start this discussion — people have actually been talking about this for decades) said that the first example was a straight ‘she’s trying to come up with excuses to stay’ and the second example was a straight ‘he doesn’t want it and is trying to escape the situation,’ but that’s not really the case. In the first sequence, she actually is conflicted over whether or not she wants to stay because she thinks this man has been dating her sister. She likes him, sure, but she has plenty of reasons to say no. She ‘ought’ to say no, no, no for more reasons than just societal norms. Its not full on predatory, but it’s not just a girl being coy. Its a girl trying to respect and look out for her sister, and a guy who (despite not understanding what’s going on because he isn’t actually dating her sister) isn’t respecting her boundaries.

The later is, well, her sister, with the man that the first girl thinks is the man she sang her duet with, and she doesn’t have any of these hang ups, societal or otherwise. She wants to stay. She is planning on staying. And he doesn’t want her to. He’s uncomfortable with the situation and wants her to go, but feels rude just kicking her out.

The point is, they knew. The writers knew how it sounded, even if they didn’t talk about it. They actively played into that understanding as part of the comedy for this movie. Even in the 40s, despite the definite ‘looking for excuses’ coy foreplay that the song embodies, the song is walking a thin line and can easily be tipped the other way.

Where do we go from here?

I’m not asking you to suddenly hate the song. I just want everyone understand why other people might not like it. They aren’t misunderstanding or overreacting to anything — they’re hearing the other side of that fine line that’s always been there, and for them it’s not something they want to take part in. And that’s ok.

My own feelings vary depending on the context and how well its performed, since there’s some gorgeous and adorable renditions…and also some great comedic renditions that take an in-depth look at the true horror movie potential of this song, which I think I love even more than the adorable ones. But then, you just need to see my feelings on classic Disney princesses to know that I love dissecting our past. It makes us stronger when we we can analyze the past and acknowledge where we fell short. Just because something was ok decades ago or felt different to audiences of years gone by, that doesn’t necessarily mean it still has the same message when viewed by modern audiences. And that’s ok. That’s how time works — future generations are not required to hold the same views of the things that we do. The world is different now.

If a radio station doesn’t want to play a given song, that’s their prerogative. There’s this fun thing in America called Freedom of Speech, meaning the government cannot dictate what people say or how they express themselves. People and even corporations are also free to make their own choices, whether you like them or not. You are free to not listen to that radio station. You are free to play your own CDs or find the song on YouTube or Spotify or Pandora or some other app, you are even free to start up your own radio station and play the song endlessly on a loop for hours if you want to. But other people are free to not like the song, or not listen to the song, or not play the song if they don’t feel comfortable with it anymore. That’s their choice. They’re allowed to do that.

As for me, I’m just bored of most of the overplayed Christmas songs. We need to switch things up in general. Why can’t we get a version of O Christmas Tree where they actually sing the song, anyway? Just listen to how beautiful this is:

And this version is Aretha Franklin, so it can check off the nostalgia boxes, too. There was one I liked more in a video by some of my favorite YouTubers decorating their tree with their three toddlers (seriously, its just the most adorable thing), but I couldn’t find a version of it to share here on its own.

We need to give some of the new songs some air time, and let artists make more new songs instead of covering the same songs over and over and over again. It feels like its been decades since a new song broke into the Christmas set (even though there have been some very nice ones), and some songs I loved when I was younger don’t seem to have gotten much air time at all lately (like Where Are You Christmas), though maybe that will change when my generation becomes the nostalgia monsters. It’s not that there aren’t good songs out there — there are tons of good songs that don’t get attention. We just aren’t giving them any attention.

But then, that has been the way of radio since the rise of Bluetooth. The people more likely to listen to new music have all moved on to apps, as much as their cars allow, and I don’t know anyone that listens to radio stations when they aren’t in their car.

Baby, it’s Cold Outside is definitely from an older time, and if you like that time frame or the feelings you get thinking about the idea of that time period (since the idea and the reality are very different things), then, yeah, you’ll like the song. But not everyone looks back at that point in history fondly, and not everyone feels that it’s as innocent as we like to pretend the past was. And that’s ok.

Remember, if all else fails, you can always change the channel.

I write in the hopes that perhaps I may help others feel not so alone. Join my writing journey on twitter @kate_is_writing

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