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) From “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Frank Loesser in 1944
A few weeks ago I was scanning Facebook and came across a comment from my friend, Mary Jo. She was wondering why the holiday classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was being banned by radio stations across the country. I also wondered why. It turns out that radio disk jockey Glenn Anderson of Cleveland’s WDOK-FM listened to the lyrics of the song and found them, “Manipulative and wrong.”
We now live in a protective bubble world. A place where our interpretation of something trumps its actual meaning or intent. We are supposed to live politically correct lives, at least on the surface.
I can understand how some things that we once thought were acceptable are now considered offensive. When I was growing up, it was common to see a small statue of a black coachman at the entrance of a suburban driveway. As I kid I didn’t think much about this, but I am a white male. Many blacks felt otherwise, and these creepy statues have long disappeared.
This is a world of extremes and absolutes. Concepts that have merit can be neutralized by applying their intent in such a broad way that they become meaningless. #metoo brought to the world’s attention the atrocities of men in power who used that power to abuse both men and women sexually. Bringing these practices to the forefront was both essential and necessary. However, as this hashtag caught fire, it spawned an ever-broadening set of things that offended. Dear reader, there is a big difference between masturbating in front of an unwilling underling to telling someone that you like their outfit. If this common courtesy offends the recipient, I believe that they should say to the commenter that they would prefer not to hear such things. This empowers the individual and clearly lets the complimenter know the rules of the road for that individual.
We need to be respectful of individuals, but we also need to acknowledge that something that offends one person may actually be appreciated by another. I am delighted on the rare occasion when someone tells me that I look nice. I make an effort to tell people (both men and women) when I think that they look nice. Conversely, I have gotten negative feedback when I have failed to notice changes. My kids will often remind me when my wife has gotten a new haircut. Once alerted I do see the difference and I’m happy to let my wife know.
I understand that there are readers out there who will be offended by my opinion. They may cite instances where someone’s outfit comments were clearly out-of-line. I once heard a female speaker at a conference refer to her tall leather boots as, “Come f**k me boots.” However, it is unlikely that she would appreciate it if I said to her, “Hey, I really dig your come f**k me boots!” Common sense in all things.
It is not just what is said, it is the context in which it is said. We now converse with each other by text message, and individuals who have been raised on this type of communication have less exposure to the nuances of communication. We are no longer listeners, we are readers. How many times have you read someone’s text and wondered, “Are they being funny or serious?”
So is “Baby Its Cold Outside” an innocent flirtatious love song or a date rape anthem? The song was written by Frank Loesser in 1944 as a call and response duet. He wrote it for his wife and himself so they could perform it when then were attending friend’s parties. “Hey honey we don’t need to bring any nacho dip, I decided to write them a hit song instead. Good thing that we can both sing.” (not a real quote) The song was featured in the 1949 movie, “Neptune’s Daughter.” However, the version that seems to be most popular on the radio was recorded by Dean Martin in 1959 (using a chorus for the female part).
In the American culture in the 1940s-1960s, women who were more open about their sexuality were considered tramps or sluts. The ideal woman was called a “good girl.” Chast, pure and absent of any libidinal urges until those feelings were unlocked by that special someone. Romantic communications were more indirect, and part of courting involved gentle persistence and resistance. I’m not endorsing or condemning this style, I’m just stating that was the way it was. If you are 30 or under, you may not believe me. If you are 40 and older, you know that that was the case.
You see these behaviors played out in “Baby Its Cold Outside.” The suitor continues to suggest that his date stays longer (likely for the night). Her main reason for not staying is not that she doesn’t want to, she is concerned what other people will think of her if she does, “My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious… So really I’d better scurry.” She is representing the popular concept of a good girl. In that role, she is offering gentle resistance to his pleas. She tells him how she is expected to act, while she also tells him what she is really thinking. “I ought to say no, no no, sir. At least I can say I tried.” She delays leaving a number of times in the song with lines like, “But maybe just a cigarette more,” and “But maybe just a half a drink more.”
Good girls were supposed to be sexy and sexless at the same time. When they acted outside of this contradictory set of rules, it was expected of them to blame external influences or events. We see those mores played out in lines like, “I wish I knew how to break this spell,” and “Say what’s in this drink?” The song ends with both parties singing in unison, “But, baby it’s cold outside!” After persuasion and resistance have played out, they are now allowed to do what they intended to do, reputations intact.
“Baby it’s cold outside.” is a fluffy little love song that was correctly understood by the audience that it was intended for. To make it into something else shows how limited we have become in our critical thinking skills. Sadly, this lack of critical thinking extends to broader and more important issues in our lives and the world around us. It is important to understand things not only from our viewpoint and frame of reference but also from the perspective of others. Unfortunately, the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes has gone from commonplace to exotic.
The video below has two version of this song. The first one is from the movie, “Neptune’s Daughter.” The second is the comedic Red Skeleton version. Both give you an idea of Mr. Loesser’s intent. However, the comic Red Skeleton version gives you an even clearer view of what the song was really saying by reversing gender expected roles. Give the video a watch.