At the office holiday party the other night, the newly controversial song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” came up on the playlist. I explained to my publisher that the 1949 Oscar-winning song – which composer Frank Loesser had actually written five years earlier and performed with wife Lynn Garland as a kind of calling card at parties – has come under fresh scrutiny in the #MeToo era for its lyrics and the way they’re performed. For the uninitiated, it’s basically a male-female duet in which the woman demurs about lingering longer at the guy’s place, but he keeps answering with the title refrain or a rhyming response that is designed to get her to stay warm with him on a frigid night. The lyrics include this exchange:
The neighbors might think (Baby, it's bad out there)
Say what's in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there)
It’s hardly the only holiday number – or cultural work, for that matter – to present antiquated gender roles. “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” is a more innocent version of the same theme. And what about “Santa Baby,” in which Santa is basically a sugar daddy? But this year, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been picked up on the political correctness radar. (Oh, the irony: It only wound up in the movie “Neptune’s Daughter,” because the Hays Office that governed Hollywood’s moral production code thought Loesser’s “I’d Like to Get You on a Slow Boat to China” too risqué.)
“There’s nothing wrong with (‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside),’” one of my (male) editors said at the party. But not everyone agrees. Some radio stations have pulled it from the airwaves, while the counterpunchers have made the 1959 Dean Martin cover a hit all over again.
I picked up the thread with another colleague (female), and we decided that the cultural wars, like many phenomena, have a spectrum. On this spectrum, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” does not have the injurious quality of the Confederate monuments, which celebrate a defeated plantation mentality. Yet there is something disturbing about the names of the characters that sing the song – Wolf and Mouse. The suggestion is clearly predatory. Still, how many people know this when they hear the song? How many are paying attention to the lyrics?
What is needed here, my female colleague and I agree, as with the Confederate monuments, is perspective. You can’t read history backward. You can’t pretend you don’t know or haven’t experienced what you do and have.
But you can give it context and understand that what was acceptable once may not be acceptable now.
What is needed is a curated approach to culture and, perhaps, life itself.