By now you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the controversy swirling around the banning of a certain holiday tune.
In early December, a number of Canadian broadcasters including Rogers, Bell Media, CBC and Corus Entertainment opted to no longer play the 1940s classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside” after some listeners voiced their concerns that the lyrics contained references to sexual misconduct.
Since then, the CBC has reversed its decision to remove the holiday track from their seasonal playlist, citing audience input they received urging its reinstatement.
The reaction to the banning, however, has been decidedly mixed.
CBS This Morning host Gayle King got so heated in her defence of the song during a discussion about its ban that she actually cursed on air.
“I just think that it’s a light, flirtatious song, and she clearly doesn’t seem to be so upset … keep looking at the whole damn … the whole darn … song before you make your decision,” King said.
So how did a holiday favourite, beloved by so many for decades, suddenly become divisive and subject to various interpretations that directly associate it with something as serious as date rape?
For those offended by the lyrics, I think it boils down to context and the refusal by some people to understand anything outside of their own modern perceptions.
In a modern interpretation of the song, the duet is transformed from a cheeky exchange between a young couple to a predator vs. victim dynamic, where the man makes overt sexual advances toward the woman, despite her verbal objections — to the point where the lyrics suggest he slips something into her drink.
Aside from how un-Christmas-like that reading of the song lyrics is, it ignores the historical context of the song — most of which is clearly illustrated in the lyrics.
Promoting a healthy understanding of consent is a necessary part of the #MeToo movement, but “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is a commentary on an entirely different set of sexual politics that existed in the 1940s.
The song was written by Frank Loesser in 1944 as a fun duet he would perform with his wife at parties. During that time, an unmarried woman staying the night at her beau’s place was cause for scandal, hence the woman’s concern over what “the neighbours might think” and the “talk tomorrow.” In fact, even her so-called refusal to stay the night is veiled in angst over her reputation, as she tells her persistent date that she “ought to say no.”
The neighbors might think (Baby it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (Your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell) (Why thank you)
I ought to say no, no, no sir (Mind if move in closer?)
At least I’m gonna say that I tried (What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can’t stay (Baby don’t hold out)
Baby it’s cold outside
The man’s lyrics centre on providing her with excuses she can use later if she’s asked why she stayed the night. The couple’s final line, “baby it’s cold outside,” sung in unison is a confirmation that the two had the same intentions from the start.
Granted, the woman’s lyric “say, what’s in this drink?” hasn’t aged well, but we can safely assume Loesser wasn’t writing a holiday jingle about slipping something into his wife’s — or any woman’s — drink. According to the National Post the line was common in movies of the era and was used by characters looking to excuse their own behaviour.
Yes, with a modern lens, the lyrics can be a little unsettling, especially in the midst of the #MeToo movement.
But let’s not examine this otherwise innocuous, if outmoded, song with today’s lens. After all, if the lyrics were rewritten today, the female vocalist, unencumbered by 1940s-era societal standards, wouldn’t need any excuses to do exactly what she wanted.