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.)