The "Baby It's Cold Outside" controversy

Some radio stations have banned Frank Loesser's '50's era song of snowy-season seduction. When political correctness makes no distinction between flirtation and coercion, well.... people, honestly!

Why did the station not ban "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", which contains more disturbing phrases than you can shake a peppermint stick at?

"You better watch out, you better not cry"
Better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is comin' to town": 
A threat by an unnamed but apparently omniscient source.

"He's making a list and checking it twice
Where is Santa getting the list? Hacking? 
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice

Dark stuff here: issues of privacy, and what exactly is meant by 'naughty'?

"He sees you when you're sleepin'
He knows when you're awake:

Sleeping children watched in their bedrooms! Surveillance.
"He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake!": hints of paranoia overlaid with bullying.

Contrast this with "Baby, It's Cold Outside". As usually sung, the man's trying to engage the woman in a little more hanky-panky; she's thinking—not very convincingly—about leaving. He asks for consent: "Mind if I move in closer?"; she makes a pretence of wavering: "At least I'm gonna say that I tried".  These two mention their drinking and smoking: they ain't kiddies.

Oh, you want double entendre? Play "Santa Baby", the 1954 Eartha Kitt original. This went completely over my head when Mom and Dad put it on the Victrola, but "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town"  creeped me out by age 10, with its overtones of bribery and coercion.

The priggish "Baby, It's Cold" censors ban a reference to mutual attraction between adults while the anxiety-producing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" gets heavy rotation. This is messed-up merrymaking.

Rage against the sleigh.


Laura J said…
Rage against the sleigh!!! Perfect! Parsing ‘pop’ songs can drive one crazy. Totally with you on Santa coming to town—-
I can't stand the onslaught of tacky "seasonal" tunes, whether or not they are actually offensive. Even though I'm an atheist, I by far prefer the traditional and classical religious music.

At ici musique you can get many playlists from Radio-Canada and CBC2.

Duchesse, you've got spam...
JohnInWI said…
I'm as politically correct as they come, but the "Baby It's Cold Outside" controversy is nutso! I'm with lagatta a montreal on the piped-in holiday music in public. The poor sales clerks! Lucky for you and Duchesse, there are many venues for beautiful, live holiday concerts in Montreal. -Lily (Mom to McGill music major)
LauraH said…
Ridiculous...and devalues the attempts of many women to deal with difficult, unpleasant situations.
Patricia said…
It's one of my favourite Christmas songs, I love the melody, but I think the final nail in the coffin might be the line, "Say what's in this drink?" I'm sure that could definitely be triggering for some.
Love this post! A friend and I were just talking about this on Monday and lamenting the ridiculousness of it all. We have both considered ourselves feminists all our lives but the manufactured controversy over this particular tune just trivializes real issues.
I am happy to report that the two radio stations that I listen to here in Toronto - Classical FM.96.3 and the Zoomer station have both declined to participate in this ridiculous boycott!
Duchesse said…
Patricia: In the '50s few drinks were doctored- the "Mickey Finn" existed but was not in general use. As I said, he asks for permission to lean in closer, she does not sound remotely drugged or threatened, and there seems to be a mutual attraction. Quite unlike much of rap and hip hop, there is a playfulness here. The "damage" she frets about is reputational: a woman coming home late from a man's apartment. Such strictures apply to very few women anymore.

Anyone listening to current rap or hip hop (even pop, e.g., Justin Bieber's "Hold Tight") will encounter explicit sexual content. Especially in rap, coercive sex is presented as a matter of course.

The whole notion of triggers disturbs me; I am not in favour of censoring speech or cultural products to protect persons from stimuli that potentially evoke past distress. I am all for persons turning away from what disturbs them. I love that when some young women are in clubs and the DJ plays a song glorifying sexual violence, misogyny, or racially-related hatred, they quit dancing, shake their heads no at the DJ, and march off the floor.

Margie: I'm glad persons are talking about it, and that stations refuse the boycott. If they accept, as I keep saying, they are going to have to remove all songs with lyrics that contain sexual innuendo (consensual, coercive and unclear). That leaves Christian rock, and there is very little Christian rock that really blows my hair back. Hmm, maybe instrumentals?
Kim said…
Currently reading "The Coddling of the American Mind" - Duchesse, very much in accord with your comment about triggers. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Sam said…
My thoughts 20 years latter everytime I hear Santa Baby...selected by choir director as contribution of 16 year old girls choir to school Christmas concert. I was NOT impressed to see our daughters suggestively "dancing" down the aisles. Happy to report that her successors do a *much* better job of choosing age appropriate music. My favorite selection last spring, my grandson and the only other adolescent boy in the choir were @ surrounded by a circle of girls shaking their fingers and singing "you better shape up".
materfamilias said…
I came across a link to this careful, thoughtful "textual analysis" of the lyrics of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" that convincingly (for me, at least) made the argument that "within the context of the era in which it was written" the song is "actually about a woman trying to exercise sexual agency.<">
It appears that the CBC has now had o back off and reinstate the playing of this song due to the number of protests they received! Hurrah for sanity!
Leah said…
I didn't weigh in initially as I don't have a particular stance on stations boycotting it... then I heard this song playing in the store yesterday and listened more carefully. Turns out my issue is not so much whether it's sexual innuendo, flirtation, etc. but that it models that a soft "no" (stated several times) should be taken as an invitation to be worn down over time. That attitude contributes (in my opinion dangerously) to eroding the concept of consent.

I may be in a different camp here because of generational differences... consent was beginning to be taught as the explicit, all-important buzzword we now know it as just when I started college, so I may have my antennae for it ratcheted up a few degrees higher, as it were...

Anyway, glad to read of different perspectives!
Mardel said…
I think the controversy is crazy, mostly because it, like many similar controversies, seems to compartmentalize the parties (or the sexes) into one dimensional boxes that are so unlike the complexities that are real people.

Anyway I love "rage against the sleigh". Over the last couple of years I have run a "theological reflection" as part of a course I mentor aimed at getting people to deconstruct the various components that make up our beliefs and attitudes, with a goal of reaching a more cogent and coherent understanding of our motivations and the roles we choose for ourselves in life. In the past we have discussed "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Clause is Coming to Town". Both ended up being fairly deep and enlightening discussions and both discussions really reinforced the idea of how things that we take for granted influence us and our attitudes in ways in which we are often completely unaware.

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