Friday, December 16, 2016

Baby It's Cold Outside: Revisionism, Clickbait, and Bullshit. Any Questions?

Teachable moment here? Maybe? I am really torn about giving this topic ANY attention, however it irritates me on a fundamental, sub-basement, crawl space, bottom of the foundation kind of core level.

I recently heard a blurb on a theory completely foreign to me which may be gaining baffling traction as “news” around the Holiday Season. Put simply, in some social and media circles the song Baby It’s Cold Outside is now considered date rape put to a catchy show tune.

Wait, what? What? WHAT THE HELL?!

I thought I was hearing an Onion piece mistakenly reported as real news but turns out I was wrong. I was stunned! I mean, I had always thought the song was sung from the WOMAN’s view point. SHE held the power over his Jingle Bells and Yule Log. It was HER power and HER choice of staying or going, which was pleasantly surprising given it was written in 1940’s. She clearly wants to stay, however, she wants him to work for it. Put another way she was saying: ‘I know what I want and I know my worth, so convince me you are worth my time by earning it. If you don’t, I’m gone.’ Again, that’s how I always heard the story unfold through my mental filters.

Your Villains

Digging a bit into the song I’ve come to think I wasn’t terribly far off. I view it now more of a dance, with the Woman offering the Man a bit of help as he tries to take the lead. The writer of the song, Frank Losser -who also wrote the musical Guys and Dolls- wrote it as a duet for he and his wife Lynn in 1944 for a housewarming party they threw. They dropped their sick beats at the end of the night as a humorous way to tell their guests it was time to hit the bricks, much like how I use the uplifting, rainbow filled Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. It was received extremely well and became a staple at social events they attended. Frank sold the rights a few years later as word of the song made through entertainment circles paving the way for use in the 1949 movie Neptune’s Daughter. How the song was used in the film is key, in my humble opinion. The first duet had Khan, er, Ricardo Montalban in the role of the instigator toward the lovely Ester Williams. The second had Betty Garret in the driver’s seat attempting to entice the bumbling Red Skelton into staying the night. Pretty ahead of its time considering this was when it was not socially acceptable for a woman to take the sexual instigator role, no matter how badly she wanted The Sex.

What part of this don't you understand?!
But now the song, thanks to our twenty-first century cultural sensibilities, has grown a moldy patina of “rapeyness” in some circles. Urban Dictionary lists it as the Christmas Date Rape Song, for example. No means NO, of course. Consent must precede any physical act. Therefore, is it much of a stretch to argue the man’s repeated insistence and lack of acquiesce to her answers might be taken as his unwillingness to not take “no” for an answer? And why does the woman cryptically ask, “Say what's in this drink?” Might he have spiked it with a date rape drug? I’ve read counterpoints to this stating those drugs are a modern evil. This is absolutely not true. In the Forties and earlier they were generically called a Mickey Finn, named after a Chicago restaurant owner who used knockout drugs to steal from his customers. Two pretty damning suggestions, I have to admit. Perhaps I should re-think my opinion? Maybe not quite yet. Wikipedia suggests the drink reference is actually the woman using alcohol as an excuse to act the way she wants to act. It was a slang phrase of the time, or a type of code word, used to erase blame by pointing the ugly finger of guilt at alcohol. I mean, humans today never blame alcohol for their actions, right? Remember, it was not a time for proper women to act upon their healthy urges.
So who is right? Am I projecting my own values of strength and worth I think woman have onto a no-so-veiled crime scene in progress? Are critics of the song (including those who have re-written and recorded CONSENT ONLY VERSIONS) projecting their own view of the world in which women are mostly victims-in-wait and males are mostly walking rape machines? The Washington Post ran a detailed article in Dec 2014* explaining the song is not about rape at all, only to run a polar opposite piece in Dec. 2015* calling it the “Creepiest Classic of All”. So if two people by chance read the same publication but at different times, they will come away with two completely different views on one topic. And let’s face it, few of us ever actually research the headlines we read to determine if they are actually true.

So why would the WP and other media outlets do this? Why focus on this one song? Why give time to this “story” with all the workings, plans, hopes, dreams, and nightmares of humanity playing out twenty-four hours a day. Indeed, why do media sources pick any topic to spend time on? Arguably, they are merely presenting information for the public to digest and consider. I think that’s part of it. Another part is the Almighty Dollar. Controversy which leads to attention, attention leads to CLICKS and page views and page shares and social media sharing. All of which equals ad $revenue$. You must remember that. Media outlets make money by grabbing your attention. No attention, no clicks, no revenue. And headlines about RAPE IN A CHRISTMAS SONG are going to get your attention. They got mine, right? Media needs your attention, not your approval. As E!’s manager of social media Jeffrey Wisenbaugh succinctly put it in late 2015, “Give us ALL the clicks.”

Hell, I am trying to get your attention to get some ideas out into the ether, but at least I am honest enough to say it.

Sensibilities change with time. You know this. Ideas and norms of one Age are replaced by another. Hopefully for the better, but not always as History so delicately proves. Often we can learn about ourselves by re-examining concepts and values from earlier times. There is value to doing this, no doubt. But keep this in mind: one day not too far down the turnpike, WE will be the past. WE will be the “earlier time” dissected by the scalpel of a future Age who feels they are the climax of enlightenment entitled to all final words of right, wrong, and true meaning. We need to set a good example when we bust out our cutting implements, don’t you think? 

For the record, I stand by my original assessment. The song is not about rape. Period.

* ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ was once an anthem for Progressive women. What happened?  12/19/14

* The creepiest classic of all: What should we do about ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside?’  12/20/15

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