Tuesday 11 December 2012

say, what's in this drink?

(I really can't stay) But baby it's cold outside
(Got to go away) But baby it's cold outside

Oh come on, sing along.  I'm sure you know it.  Pick your own favourite version and sing along! It's a festive classic.  Isn't it?

(This evening has been) Been hoping you'd drop in
(So very nice) I'll hold your hands they're just like ice

Well, I thought so.... but apparently some people think it's offensive.  Jenni posted a link yesterday to an article on Salon.com that posed the question, "Is 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' a date-rape anthem?"

(My mother will start to worry) Beautiful watch you're wearing
(My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar

This isn't a new debate, for sure.... but it's all a bit tiresome, isn't it?

(So really I'd better scurry) Beautiful please don't hurry
(Well maybe just half a drink) Put some records on while I pour

Morals are not absolute, and surely only an idiot or a simpleton would think that they are.  Not only do they shift across time, but they also change from person to person.  In fact, I don't even think they're fixed within any individual: a soldier may think it's generally unacceptable to kill people, but within a certain context they might do it without a second thought.

(The neighbors might think) Baby it's bad out there
(Say what's in this drink) No cabs to be had out there

Yeah.  Morality is pretty hard to judge.  Who writes the guidelines?  Who decides what is acceptable and what is not? Do we reach a collective understanding at any given point in time?  Well it varies, doesn't it: from place to place as well as from person to person.  Most people in western democracies think that it's a bit extreme to cut the hands off thieves, but at the same time, the death penalty is a fact of life in many US states and considered unacceptable by most people in the UK.  Go figure.

(I wish I knew how) Your eyes are like starlight now
(To break this spell) I'll take your hat your hair looks swell

If morality is hard to pin down now, then imagine how much harder it is to make that judgement across time.  Things change: after all, it's really not so very long ago that sex before marriage was considered unacceptable and a woman's role was considered to be in the home.  Ha!  Imagine that.

(I ought to say no no) Mind if I move in closer
(At least I'm going to say I tried) What's the sense of hurting my pride

This song was written in 1949.  That's a long time ago.  63 years.  A lot has changed in the world since then.   If we take the same step back in time again from 1949, we're in 1886.  Think of how much changed between 1886 and 1949.  World War One; the Holocaust; cars; the atomic bomb.... Do you think that the people of 1949 had the same attitudes as the people of 1886?  How could they?  So, it would be daft to expect the values of 1949 to be the same as those in 2012, right?

(I really can't stay) Baby don't hold out
(Both) Baby it's cold outside

When the song was written, the two parts were labelled as "mouse" and "wolf".  Aha!  So someone is predator and someone is prey!  Um, well... yes.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that someone is drugging someone else's drink, does it?  Besides, is there really enough evidence in the song for you to get your pitchfork out and form a mob to lynch the wolf?  Hardly.

(I simply must go) Baby it's cold outside
(The answer is no) Baby it's cold outside

Sexual mores have changed a lot since 1949.  That was a more innocent time. Mind you, in the week that I was born, there was a song in the chart by the (then) 34-year old Ringo Starr called "You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful and You're Mine".  I don't think you'd get away with that in the post-Jimmy Savile world, but it was apparently absolutely fine then (although, to be clear, a different set of social attitudes towards sixteen year olds is not an excuse or explanation for pedophilia, but it does set a historical context).

(The welcome has been) How lucky that you dropped in
(So nice and warm) Look out the window at the storm

Two decades on from that, in 1994, that sort of thing was apparently still okay with Britain as a nation: a national newspaper ran a countdown over a number of months to the occasion of Linsey Dawn McKenzie's sixteenth birthday.  On the big day itself, they ran topless pictures of the birthday girl.  Is that acceptable now?  I don't think it is.  What's changed?

(My sister will be suspicious) Gosh your lips look delicious
(My brother will be there at the door) Waves upon a tropical shore

So should we really be getting upset about this song?  Written in 1949, only a few years after the almost unimaginable horrors of the Second World War, this was surely only intended as an innocent bit of fun.  So why are we trying to read a modern agenda into the song now?  Putting all moral relativism aside, I don't honestly see anything wrong with this song.  It's just playful, isn't it?  There's a bit of flirting going on, sure... but if you read anything else into it, then that's up to you.

(My maiden aunt's mind is vicious) Gosh your lips are delicious
(But maybe just a cigarette) Never such a blizzard before

There have been many, many versions of this song, and I'd be the first to agree with you that Tom Jones is a bit creepy at the best of times.... but most of the others are fine.  My favourite version is the Dean Martin and Doris Day duet, where the joust sounds beautifully playful: the wolf is definitely after something and is perhaps not being entirely sincere in his concern, but the mouse sounds like she knows what she really wants to do.   It's charming.  Isn't it?  Reading a date-rape agenda into this, I think, says far more about you than it does about the song.

(I got to get home) But baby you'd freeze out there
(Say lend me a comb) It's up to your knees out there

You know what the very worst thing about that Salon.com article is?  Its this:
"If we have to hear the Mouse make the same mistake every year, even when it’s not all that cold outside, here’s a humble suggestion: Switch the parts. Have the woman play the Wolf and the man play the Mouse. Or have two men or two women sing the song. Play around with the gender roles and sexual orientations".

(You've really been grand) I thrill when you touch my hand
(But don't you see) How can you do this to me

Wait, so let me get this straight: you'd be happy with this apparently toxic song about date-rape if the gender roles were reversed?  So it's okay as long as it's the woman doing the raping?  What kind of sense does that make?  Even if you had a point before, doesn't that completely explode it?

(There's bound to be talk tomorrow) Think of my life long sorrow
(At least they'll be plenty implied) If you caught pneumonia and died

Besides, if you want to hear a version with the genders reversed, then allow me to point you at the version that Zooey Deschanel did last year on the She & Him Christmas album.  It's not my favourite version of the song, by any means, but the gender reversal at least adds a twist to a much covered standard.

(I really can't stay) Get over that old doubt
(Both) Baby it's cold
(Both) Baby it's cold outside

There are plenty of things in this world worth getting upset about.  I'm saying that this song isn't one of them.  Relax and enjoy it.

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