On the Subject of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

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This blog has long held the opinion that “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” first heard in 1944, is a terrible song, and here’s the receipt from 2012 to prove it. We have officially abominated all versions except for the one by Ray Charles and Betty Carter because it’s Ray Charles, but even that one isn’t good. While we are in favor of sweet winter lovin’ in front of the fireplace, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” comes off as insufferably coy and stupid, and we hated it first for purely aesthetic reasons. Only later did it start coming off as predatory, given the man’s unwillingness to let the woman go home when she says she wants to, and her line, “Say, what’s in this drink?”

Last year at the start of the Christmas season, I e-mailed the program director of my radio station with the suggestion that, in the #MeToo Era, perhaps we should consider dropping the song, although I never followed up to see if he did it. This year, after WDOK in Cleveland got a call complaining about it, they did a listener poll, and based on the result, dropped the song.

This they might have done quietly, but they posted about it on their website early last week. It stayed under the radar until word got out, and over the weekend a good old-fashioned social media shitstorm developed. On one side of said storm are people who are saying basically what I said above: today we believe that when a woman says “no” she means “no,” and the proper response from a man upon hearing “no” is not to slip her a roofie and keep trying to get her shirt off. Further, we should probably move past a time in which that scenario is one of the Christmas decorations. On another side are arguments including “You have to consider the times in which the song was written” and “man up, libtard snowflake.” A detailed defense of the song by comic book artist and writer Howard Chaykin is making the rounds on social media, but it’s an astoundingly weak one, buttressing “you have to consider the times in which the song was written” with the far more specious “Frank Loesser was one of the great songwriting geniuses of the 20th century and those of you criticizing his song are not,” and the incredible nonsequitur “it’s not even a Christmas song.”

Change is hard. We’re wired to dislike it. But it happens as we move through time. During the Pioneer Era of Recording (1880-1920), coon songs were extremely popular. They portrayed black people as cowardly, libidinous, violent, thieving, and stupid, among other stereotypes. (Sample title: “Nigger Love a Watermelon.”) They were frequently performed in dialect by white singers in blackface, to parody the behavior of black people. But the popularity of coon songs began to fade eventually, and today, their content is utterly beyond the boundaries of acceptability. You can still talk that way if you want to, but you shouldn’t expect people to accept it, or to sit idly by while you do it.

There’s a more contemporary example of how time changes boundaries. Dire Straits hit #1 in 1985 with “Money for Nothing,” the full-length version of which contains the following verse:

See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup 
Yeah buddy that’s his own hair 
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot he’s a millionaire

For years, few of us thought much about that verse. In 2011, a Canadian group called for a blanket broadcast ban on “Money for Nothing” based on a single listener complaint that it was “propagating hate.” At the time, I was critical of the ban. Four years later, I heard a radio station blank the word “faggot,” and it occurred to me that my opinion had changed. At that time I wrote, “[P]erhaps, just as greater acceptance of African Americans took ‘nigger’ out of polite discourse, ‘faggot’ has become another word that can no longer be casually thrown around, and for similar reasons.”

We are at precisely the same cultural place today with “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” We can no longer casually throw around the idea that it’s cute for a man to break down a woman’s romantic resistance with drink or drugs, or even that he’s merely being charmingly persistent in the face of a turn-down. By dropping the song, WDOK in Cleveland is on the right side of history, and other radio stations should follow their example.

Or they could just drop it because it sucks. That’d be good too.

(Programming note: there’s a new post at One Day in Your Life today. It was an interesting day.)

11 thoughts on “On the Subject of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

  1. spnetingler

    Per MFN – the character in the song using “faggot” is exactly that: a character, and not one that is being presented in an approving manner, in precisely the same way that Randy Newman does not have a specific bias against short people.

  2. Knopfler said the song was basically written for him. He didn’t take most of it up. He was in an appliance store with his wife & wrote down the conversation the store’s employees were having while the were watching MTV.

    As for the song written about here it seems to be more popular than ever. It’s seems it gained popularity when, due to political correctness, recording artists stopped doing a lot of religious Christmas songs.

      1. mackdaddyg

        The point is Knopfler was portraying a character in the song. That doesn’t make the word okay, but it’s being used in a specific context. If Knopfler just flat out called somebody that word in a song without any context, that would be different in my mind.

  3. mackdaddyg

    Previous comments mentioned what I was going to say about the origins of “Money For Nothing” so I’ll leave it at that.

    As for “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” I personally feel like both sides of the argument are choosing a ridiculous hill to die on for their beliefs. Those in favor of a more enlightened world and supportive of the #MeToo movement are picking a very minor problem of a song. I get their point and agree in a way, but the idiots who claim the world is too PC these days could jump all over this as a sign that the end is nigh.

    However, those who aren’t too hip to the movement that are angry for this song getting banned are choosing a stupid place to take a stand. We’re talking one radio station. I haven’t heard of anybody else banning it, and I really doubt that every other station will make it go away.

    That being said, I really don’t care that the song is banned by anybody at all. Nothing that has happened over the past couple of years has made me feel any sort of concern about being male and banning one song in one city on one station will not make me lose any sleep at all.

  4. I appreciate your nuanced take, mackdaddyg. I read a couple of radio-broadcaster-centric Facebook pages, and opinions there are predominantly against banning the song. (I suspect these groups consist largely of old white guys, which maybe explains where they stand.) And if you’re against it, that’s fine. I am disturbed, however, by the utter inability of some of these people to begin to comprehend the other side of the issue. They aren’t interested in considering it for one damn second—they want only to shout it down.

  5. I accompanied a duet a couple of years ago performing “Baby . . .” and I noted as I rehearsed with them how icky the song made me feel. I said nothing, played the song in performance and silently vowed never to play it again. This week, I commented at one of what I assume were multitudes of Facebook threads, and got back the “consider the times” response as well as a commenter telling me “she never said ‘no’.” I quoted the lyrics where, in fact, the woman said no. Having been proven wrong, the counter-commenter sidestepped in a way that kind of said that no didn’t mean no. I gave up, as I had better things to do. Good post.

  6. porky

    Is “I Gotcha” still played on the radio……?

    For a real eye-opener check out the picture sleeve from early ’76 for Grand Funk’s “Take Me.” Quite astonishing that Capitol Records okayed that, even in the tail end of the “free love” era.

  7. George Vreeland Hill

    There is nothing wrong with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, but there is plenty wrong with the #metoo movement and others who think this song should not be played.
    What about Rap?
    They don’t have the guts to stand up to the Rap music industry that puts out songs glorifying rape and calls women vulger names.
    These “insulted” people are phonies and troublemakers.
    A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are now on the list of racist and insulting material.
    We have to stop giving in to idiots.
    Play the song because the vast majority of the people want to listen to it and ignore those “insulted” frauds who are trying to have things their way.
    Anyway …

    George Vreeland Hill

    1. I didn’t respond to Mr. Hill’s comment originally because whatabout-ism is the lowest form of argument, and I don’t really care about the opinion of random dudes who have never commented at this blog before and probably won’t ever come back again except to see who’s responded to their obvious trolling. But on a second look, I’m responding to it now because that all-caps “Merry Christmas” is a massive tell of this guy’s bad faith. Whoever the hell he is, he’s up in arms against the way people he disagrees with are, in his view, weaponizing popular culture, and then he goes ahead and does the same thing. (As if I, or anybody who’s actually a part of this community, would be offended by “Merry Christmas.”) And I might also add that nobody is seriously upset with “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” *Every mention* I have seen of those two in this context has been satirical.

      It occurs to me that I was wrong in the first sentence, and perhaps in the entire aim of my original post. Trying to talk sense to right-wingers is the lowest form of argument.

  8. Pingback: The Place Where It Happened | The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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