Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Creepy Christmas Song

It seems that everywhere I turn these days someone is writing about the song, "Baby It's Cold Outside."  The song is a duet sung as a conversation: one party to the exchange is bent on seduction while the other resists. The song was first presented to the public in the 1949 motion picture, Neptune's Daughter. The film actually featured two performances of the song: one by Ricardo Montalb├ín and Esther Williams and the other by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett. It won the Academy Award for best song that year.

The problem is that in this time of date rape and Rohypnol, some question the appropriateness of the song, especially at Christmas time.  After all, the woman protests, "I simply must go", "The answer is no", "I've got to go home", and the guy persists -- exactly the opposite of what they teach you in the workplace harassment seminars.   And he uses every weapon in the arsonal:  appeals to her safety and well-being, flattery and utltimately guilting her ("What's the sense of hurtin' my pride?" "How can you do this thing to me?").  And the "Say, what's in this drink?" line has its own obvious problems. 

Stephen Deusner of Salon doesn't approve. Is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” a date-rape anthem? Alyssa Broda of PolicyMic says This Song is About Sexual Harassment. And Eleanor Barkhorn and Ashley Fetters of The Atlantic want to re-write the lyrics.  How to Redeem 'Baby, It's Cold Outside': Fix the Lyrics.

Well, in spite of it all, it's a pretty clever song -- and you can decide for yourself if it's creepy or not.  Is she putting up a token protest, or does she really want to leave?

First, here are the two versions from Neptune's Daughter:

And a more recent version from Glee:

And, finally, if you just want the lyrics:  


James R said...

Just when we think we have a finger on a past age, we have to throw our hands up and everything slips through those fingers again. The 1940's were plush furniture, a stroll down Main Street, sitting on the dance floor listening to the Wiffenpoofs, and "It's a wonderful Life"; now we learn this. What's this world coming to, I mean, where has it been? Is no female safe in any age?

jana said...

Just happened to read your post after watching Colbert and Audra MacDonald sing the same song. They were delightful,d1
Ricardo Montalban however, is creepy.

James R said...

Bingo! It's not the whatness; it's the whoness.

Big Myk said...

Remember, this same fellow who relentlessly pursues Esther Williams will eventually play Khan Noonien Singh in unquestionably greatest Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan , where he is still in pursuit: "He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I'll chase him round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round Perdition's flames before I give him up! Prepare to alter course!" Yikes!

He was also creepy in a different way as the mysterious Mr. Roarke of "Fantasy Island."

James R said...

It all becomes clear to me now…well, not absolutely clear, but clearer. Thanks to Jana, the words don't carry a whole lot of meaning compared to the people involved. The Colbert/MacDonald rendition shows that. In fact the right people could be saying "blah, blah, blah" and we could tell if the lyrics were clever or creepy. I'm reminded of the "Fantastics" when the hero is offered up a variety of rape packages. Those Republicans were smarter than we think…smarter than they think.

This has far reaching implications—the law, for one. And to come full circle back to Christmas, isn't this exactly the revolutionary idea that Jesus of Nazareth was promoting. And said it a lot clearer than Heidegger.

Big Myk said...

Jim, You've packed an awful lot into your last comment, and my small mind is not making all the connections: "The Fantastics," Republicans, Christmas, revolution, Jesus of Nazareth, Heidegger. I've puzzled and puzzled and still I'm not suire that I get it.

Is it like Bob Woodward telling Carl Bernstein in All the President's Men: "I don’t mind what you did, I mind how you did it."

James R said...

A wise man once wrote, "The purpose of writing is to make one understood. Either that or not to embarrass oneself.", so I failed. Actually, I did read this over today and it took me a second to make the connections so I probably was a bit obscure.

The original question is, are the lyrics creepy. Jana correctly points us in the right direction by implying that it may be creepy with one set of singers but perfectly fine with another. Call to mind our Niels Bohr, Martin Heidegger Methods of Ordering and Surveying Human Experience Game (or, for short, the Dasein Methods of Ordering Game). Also call to mind the last article in the "Hermeneutics of Wishes" where we focus on the whoness not the whatness of the wish.

In the "Fantasticks" we have another song, "It Depends on What You Pay", that is possibly the ultimate example of date rape in lyrics. Yet it is never really considered creepy because the actors love each other and the fathers love their children.

So in all these things the people involved are paramount—often more so than the 'facts' or lyrics.

We, and our society, typically focus on the lyrics. For example the law defines the whatness of the deed. We usually consider the 'facts' or 'truth' of the situation as separate from people themselves. Yet Jana points out there is another completely different way of looking at this, which Heidegger showed us.

Those crazy Republican statements about different types of rape could be considered, in this light, as philosophically and morally astute, but I doubt they themselves went through this thought process. (I doubt they were thinking of "It's Cold Outside", "It Depends on What You Pay", or the "Hermeneutics of Wishes", or the Dasein Methods of Ordering Game, but who knows?

Finally, Christmas celebrates the one who, seemingly, constantly focused on the person not the lyrics. Jesus, at least how I view him, often rebuked the objective law (eating with the unclean). For him an act, such as coming home to your father's household, was defined by the person, not the lyric. And he lived long before Heidegger. Does this wall of text make it any clearer?

James R said...

All fuzziness that remains is my own fuzziness with the ideas, but if I could summarize: The answer lies in not looking at the universe, and as a corollary: song lyrics, in some illusionary objective way, but through the person.

Big Myk said...

I’m still wondering if you are trying to make some of these ideas do too much work, or too little.

Heidegger uses such obscure and idiosyncratic prose that almost anything you say about him is bound to be wrong in some way. But, having said that, one might say that Heidegger equated Being with intelligibility. Thus, “only as long as Dasein [a being to whom Being is intelligible] is, ‘is there’ Being.” So, for example, what existed before the big bang? Since there was no time, we can’t say “before” anything. Since there was no space, we cannot begin to conceive of what conditions were like. Because before-the-big-bang is not intelligible to us, can we say that there was Being at all?

Niels Bohr, perhaps the deepest thinker about science who ever lived, says, “It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how Nature is. Physics concerns what we say about Nature.” Again, for Bohr, there is no truth apart from human understanding.

So, yes, for Heidegger and Bohr, the truth of “Baby, Its Cold Outside” depends on how it is present to and understood by another. Certainly, circumstances are important here.

Jesus, however, was focusding on something else entirely in his great protest against legalism. Here, he was not talking about the truth of things, but ethics. And for him it wasn’t the difference between the ‘whatness’ and the ‘whoness’ of an action but, rather, the difference between the ‘howness’ and the ‘whatness.’ In other words, under the law, the important question is how well did I conform my behavior to the requirements of the law. For the Jesus, the question is: what did I do today?

But I get really worried when you start putting Todd Akin in the same category as Martin Heidegger, Niels Bohr and then – excuse me? – Jesus Christ. Akin is desperately trying to avoid having to admit to any moral ambiguity over abortion by taking on the hardest case – imprisoning a woman because she had an abortion after a rape – and suggesting that it never occurs. A legitimately raped woman cannot get pregnant; ergo, if she gets pregnant, the rape was not legitimate. Of course, his single statement is wrong on two counts: it’s wrong on the science and it’s wrong on the suggestion that the epidemic of violence against women is not real.

Akin is not too far from the comments of Sen. Bill Napoli, a Republican from South Dakota, when describing an instance where an abortion of a rape victim might be OK:

“A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated.”

I must say, I’m still trying to figure out what this all has to do with “Baby It’s Cold Outside."