Baby It's Still Cold Outside
December 17, 2016 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Often referred to as The Date Rape Song, these singers have renovated Baby It's Cold Outside. Lydia Lisa and Josiah Lemansky's remake of Baby it's Cold Outside. and this: Another couple with a slightly different take on the song.
posted by BoscosMom (73 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
The second one made me smile, but the first is kind of sad. Take the hint, my dude, does she have to flash you?

I see "Baby It's Cold Outside" as a text that's easily misinterpreted, and as a writer and reader of historical fiction, that's really of interest to me. As written, it is about providing a willing woman with a socially acceptable excuse to spend an unchaperoned night with a man, in a time when a lady's reputation was of considerable social and economic importance to her. Today, this isn't necessary, and so we literally interpret the lyrics as creepy strong-arming from a dude.

Still, I don't want to go to the mat for such an old rag of a song from my least favorite period of American songwriting, so I don't mind if it's mothballed.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:13 PM on December 17, 2016 [136 favorites]


I appreciate the explicitly feminist lyrics, but what if there's truly a legitimate reason she shouldn't leave the house? "Baby, There's Mummies Outside"
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:14 PM on December 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


Thank you for saying that Count Elena. You nailed it. Exactly what I was thinking earlier today (but not so succinctly or clearly) when one of my kids started singing it and I was trying to figure out if I should comment on the controversy.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:32 PM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Weird, because I always read concern about social repercussions for her actions as a perfectly valid reason to refuse to spend an unchaperoned night alone with a man, and his haranguing and serving her a stronger drink than she asked for as creepy strong-arming regardless of historical context. Huh.
posted by Krawczak at 5:41 PM on December 17, 2016 [23 favorites]


Although I can see both interpretations as possible, I think the less creepy one is more likely the intent of a mass-market pop song
posted by timdiggerm at 5:50 PM on December 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


I hate this song with a passion, but would happily listen to a reimagined murder ballad where she gets fed up with his shit, kills him, and stuffs his body in a snowbank. "Baby It's Cold Outside" takes on a whole new meaning in this version.
posted by Existential Dread at 5:54 PM on December 17, 2016 [27 favorites]


" As written, it is about providing a willing woman with a socially acceptable excuse to spend an unchaperoned night with a man, in a time when a lady's reputation was of considerable social and economic importance to her."

It was also written and performed (at private parties for their guests' amusement) by a married couple in 1944, performed by acclaim at parties for several years, and only a few years later sold to MGM for movie use and general publication. So it wasn't written for public performance (like, say, "Blurred Lines"), but more as an inside joke that an already-married couple was sharing with their friends that eventually became a public song. It was so amusing they got invited to all the best Hollywood parties to perform it, back in the era when all guests performed.

That makes it more along the lines of "But if baby, I'm the bottom, you're the top" for me, or "you can go as far as you like with me in my merry Oldsmobile," in that it's pre-war suggestive, but intended as suggestive and amusing, and not creepy or coercive.

(Also his wife was furious when he sold it because it was a parlor-song joke and she thought as a mass-market pop song the "oh, no, no" was not nearly as funny. But in the movie it's in, Neptune's Daughter, the song is played both ways, with both the man and woman as "aggressor", and it replaced a song ((I'd Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China) by the same songwriter, which was rejected by the Hayes Code censors as being too sex-oriented; they accepted "Baby It's Cold Outside" as okay.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:09 PM on December 17, 2016 [90 favorites]


Key & Peele: Just Stay for the Night
posted by Rhaomi at 6:13 PM on December 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


Another song that desperately needs renovation from Paul Davis:

It's gonna be a cool night
Just let me hold you by the firelight
If it don't feel right
YOU CAN GO

posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:17 PM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


As written, it is about providing a willing woman with a socially acceptable excuse to spend an unchaperoned night with a man, in a time when a lady's reputation was of considerable social and economic importance to her.

Along those lines, there's this: In Defense of Baby It's Cold Outside
posted by wildblueyonder at 6:19 PM on December 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


The original is really creepy when listened in todays context, but listening to the new version, I just wanted to tell her "If your parents are that worried, stop talking about it and get in your car and go home!"

(Apologies, but after years of my partner's family and their lengthy, painful goodbyes, with endless mentions of how they really have to go, this song brought it all back)
posted by greenhornet at 6:19 PM on December 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


A thoughtful take on whether this song is problematic or not: Listening While Feminist: In Defense of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:20 PM on December 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm just not convinced by the argument that since the original writers/performers/listeners didn't see anything wrong with the interaction being depicted in the song, it no longer glorifies what we now understand to be rape. Neither does it seem to matter to me whether the "creepier" interpretation was "intended". All those points seem to convey is that sexual coercion of women was even more normalized then than it is now.
In fact, I don't see there being more than one interpretation of the song, or that I am reading the creepier of the two. There is simply a woman being harangued into changing her answer to a proposition. The only point I see as controversial is whether or not we think pressuring a woman to sleep with you after she has said no several times is, or ever has been, ok. That she is conflicted about her choice or that convincing her to change her mind might not be so difficult is beside the point.
posted by Krawczak at 6:20 PM on December 17, 2016 [29 favorites]


On a completely unrelated note, my town is going to see temps drop like 40 degrees in 20 minutes tonight. I'm gonna stay up and go outside and watch/feel that like it was a meteor shower!
posted by Burhanistan at 6:32 PM on December 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Although I can see both interpretations as possible, I think the less creepy one is more likely the intent of a mass-market pop song

You say that, but "every breath you take" and "funky cold medina", about stalking and date-rape drugs respectively, were very successful singles.
posted by mhoye at 6:34 PM on December 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


Shakespeare wrote about incest and murder. The interpretation of popular music lyrics (and the question of whether singing about something that really happens -- stalking, drive by shooting, rape -- "celebrates" that action differently than, say, a movie or a novel) is not a simple or decidable point. Why is "Taxi Driver" great art but "every breath you take" is creepy exploitation?

I'm not defending any interpretation of "Baby, It's Cold." Both interpretations on display reflect censorious times. Neither can be true or false.
posted by spitbull at 6:41 PM on December 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, on Facebook some people were talking about this and someone piped up that it was written for a more innocent and serene era, not like the cynical world of today.

I don't think she was amused by my following that comment with Christmas card messages superimposed over pictures of the Battle of the Bulge.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:43 PM on December 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


In the minority here I guess, but I absolutely love this song! Thanks for the neat history Eyebrows!
posted by lalex at 6:55 PM on December 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Christmas card messages superimposed over pictures of the Battle of the Bulge.

Nuts! It's cold outside!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:01 PM on December 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Aw, man! Yesterday I was just commenting to my wife that this is one of my favorite winter holiday songs. Because of the back-and-forth, the melodies, the warm and cozy feelings. My interpretation is right in line with the link that snorkmaiden provided.

It's no fun to have bits of culture that I find meaningful to be misinterpreted and maligned. No fun, no fun at all.

Just last month, I was preparing a lecture where, as an aside, I was planning to mention how the story of the Tar Baby, which was a favorite of mine as small kid, has stuck with me and been a helpful principle guiding my choice of scientific research projects. But I wanted to re-read the story, so I went to the internet and -- oh no! -- it is now much maligned as a racist slur. Dammit! I treasure evocative and meaningful metaphors, and this one has been a powerful one in my mind. How sad that it's been muddied.
posted by brambleboy at 7:08 PM on December 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


As written, it is about providing a willing woman with a socially acceptable excuse to spend an unchaperoned night with a man

that is exactly the understanding of date rape that existed in that era and for a long time after, lasting even into the era when that was a phrase that existed. You force a woman to do anything from drink another drink to sleep with you, because you understand that she needs a socially acceptable excuse to give in. (Giving in is what you were supposed to do instead of consenting.) This is the entire thesis of sometimes no really means yes: she can't say yes, so you, the dude, decide when "I have to go" means "convince me" and when it means "force me" and of course you are right, because we all know what women can and can't say and what it really means, so it's fine.

then as now, women usually say "I can't stay" or "I have to go" when what they actually secretly mean is "I don't want to." but then, as now, "because I don't want to" is the true taboo, more unspeakable than an unvarnished "yes" ever was in the worst of times.

as mentioned above, this isn't an alternate interpretation, it's the same interpretation.

(also the most pro-feminist new lyrics in the world can't fix a shitty song. christ it's terrible)
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:12 PM on December 17, 2016 [38 favorites]


I never really cared for the song until I heard this Ray Charles & Betty Carter version recently.

"Your eyes are like starlight now..."

It's just beautiful.
posted by downtohisturtles at 7:22 PM on December 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


I grew up hearing this song at Christmas (and I'm a millennial) so it's not like it's some ancient text that's been rediscovered or even a dusty vinyl. It is played and covered today and to new (young) listeners all the time. And yes its origins are in a time and a place where women were expected to be the moral backbone of sexual relationships, fending off all advances and denying their feelings unless they had socially acceptable cover. And men where expected to be the dogged pursuers of sex, always prodding and pushing at the boundaries. Unfortunately, for many people that's actually still the era we are in.





I really liked the versions with the new lyrics.
posted by CMcG at 7:46 PM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think this pretty much covers how I feel about the song these days: On The Baby It’s Cold Outside Discourse
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 7:55 PM on December 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


The date rape song? There are so many more to choose from!

There's this "romantic" modern classic:
Saying I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It's not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
'Cause I'd already know
What would you do if my heart was torn in two
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away
Then you couldn't make things new
Just by saying I love you

More than words

Now that I've tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands and touch me
Hold me close don't ever let me go
More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
'Cause I'd already know

What would you do if my heart was torn in two
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away
Then you couldn't make things new
Just by saying I love you

More than words
And this older chestnut:
It's now or never,
Come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling,
Be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
It's now or never
My love won't wait.

When I first saw you
With your smile so tender
My heart was captured,
My soul surrendered
I'd spend a lifetime
Waiting for the right time
Now that your near
The time is here at last.

It's now or never,
Come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling,
Be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
It's now or never
My love won't wait.

Just like a willow,
We would cry an ocean
If we lost true love
And sweet devotion
Your lips excite me,
Let your arms invite me
For who knows when
We'll meet again this way

It's now or never,
Come hold me tight
Kiss me my darling,
Be mine tonight
Tomorrow will be too late,
It's now or never
My love won't wait.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:58 PM on December 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


The excellent link from Proofs and Refutations has a link to a version with Miss Piggy (!) entreating shirtless Rudolf Nureyev to stay in a steam room with her. Hachi machi, that is creepy. Miss Piggy was never very good at boundaries or consent.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:24 PM on December 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


serving her a stronger drink than she asked for

Part of the argument is that this was not likely meant to be taken literally, in the original. But I don't think it's possible or desirable to un-creepify the song now it's just something inextricably tied to another time.
posted by atoxyl at 9:16 PM on December 17, 2016


Pomegranate LaCroix!
posted by nicebookrack at 11:31 PM on December 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Women being coy about saying yes is very much part of rape culture, in that it reinforces the idea that good girls are not allowed to say yes to sex and so men shouldn't take "No" for an answer.

I found the first linked song annoying because it seemed like He's said goodbye, why do you keep talking?, but I think that actually plays up an interesting aspect of the above -- if affirmative consent matters, then women who are playing coy and hinting at "Maaaaaaybe I should stay, but I should probably go..." should be told to go, no matter how much they're hinting. If she wants to stay, she should say so. If she doesn't say so, he should keep telling her to go. I'm not sure that's the dynamic the singers intended, but I like that they illustrated it.
posted by lazuli at 11:33 PM on December 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


I will somewhat reluctantly refrain from arguing about context here, not because I don't think it's important, but because I do and I get rather worked up about it as a cultural history buff.

I will instead just suggest that in cases where a song is readily detached from a singular performer or performance, such as we more commonly see today in our era of singer/songwriters, lyrics act much as a playwright's words act to a play. Which is to say they provide an underpinning for interpretation that can be taken in different direction depending on the performers involved.

For this song, that matters since, as a duet, the performers' choice of interpretation should be seen as shaping the meaning of the song. To deny that is to deny the voice of those relating the events and providing the emotional setting for the lyrics, which is as much a part of the song as the lyrics themselves.

This song, like most others, can be interpreted by the performers in many different ways, from mutual flirtation, to ambiguous seduction, to outright aggression and more depending on the choices being made. To deny that is to deny the agency of the performers who enact the voices of the song, and to deny that enacting is to privilege one position, ours, as defining and denying those actually speaking an alternative point of view. There are a number of versions of this song where the women singing are not suggesting force or coercion, but knowing flirtation, while other versions lean more towards negotiation or more doubt in the face of aggressive pressuring. The song can hold all of those possibilities because the lyrics are only a frame for performance, not the entirety of the heard version of a song. (or a read one as even any chosen perspective must remain open to other choices as a consequence of choice being a necessary part of interpretation.)

I don't particularly care that much one way or the other about this song, I've heard versions I've mildly enjoyed and some I've disliked rather intensely. I do find the infamy this song has received in recent years to be another ridiculous byproduct of the internet, where someone "discovers" some wacky piece of info, it gets shared beyond reason until it comes to dominate the perspective on the subject with little more thought than there was when people paid no heed to the thing. Sooner or later, I suppose, someone will "discover" and publicize all those not so pleasant associations with misogyny in the work of our newest Nobel Prize winning songwriter, and we can all be shocked and dismayed to find Like a Rolling Stone might not be all that nice a song either and so it goes.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:46 PM on December 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Listeners get to have valid reactions, too, regardless of author/performer intent.
posted by lazuli at 12:00 AM on December 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


I sort of think this is a case where you can say your fave is problematic and still have it be your fave (or just something you like a lot).

As others have pointed out, it IS a case of the female singer protesting too much because the strictures of society won't let her say yes outright, AND that is just as much a symptom of rape culture as many people think his entreaties are. But it's ALSO a cute pop song with a fun back and forth between the two singers, and a sort of air of innocent mischief that's appealing, and it's a nice melody.

I like the idea of these new versions, but I found them both just too ... earnest. They needed more humor. With the first one, they could have made it more clear that she's into him and trying to get him to convince her, or something like that. As it was, they kept the melody and many of the lines, but stripped away all the fun and banter. And as a feminist who enjoys both fun and banter, that kind of bums me out.
posted by lunasol at 12:08 AM on December 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


(Apologies, but after years of my partner's family and their lengthy, painful goodbyes, with endless mentions of how they really have to go, this song brought it all back)
I can envisage a modern re-working along the lines of "no I'll pay for the meal; (your money's no good here)" - probably somewhat longer but with year round appeal and the possibility of extending from a duet to a round.
posted by rongorongo at 12:18 AM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


As others have pointed out, it IS a case of the female singer protesting too much because the strictures of society won't let her say yes outright, AND that is just as much a symptom of rape culture as many people think his entreaties are.

But as a consequence of that, to demand interpretation that go against the woman having a choice due to social strictures is to deny her any chance of enacting her wishes at all. She can't say yes or no in that construct, and by extension, no woman could in an era where male privilege was even more dominant than our own. This allows women from that era no voice, which as a comparison you might say, fine, they didn't in the same sense we know it, But that's arrogance of perspective, positing "our" context as defining for all others, something that neither works well in hindsight or is likely to work from a future perspective looking back at our own limitations.

The desire to "correct" history has some sense to it in that kind of comparison if we wish to highlight our own place, but it isn't a great way to understand anyone not in our situation of time and space, and that brings its own limitations to how we see the world.

Artworks can carry multiple frames of perspective and meaning. Requiring a prescriptive frame, one that demands a work fit the world as we want it to be instead of showing perspectives that may not match our own is troubling. This song, could, for example, be sung to highlight a coercive relationship, drawing out a unhealthy relationship or an even worse one. In that, works can be descriptive and still have power and value. Showing what is can be more meaningful than showing what should be. Again, this song isn't one I'm personally going to stand up for as some undying masterpiece of art, but the principle is the same. It needn't be seen as validating our desire for what relationships should be in an ideal sense to be meaningful, and given its openness to interpretation, its hard to even say it is or isn't doing just "one thing" anyway.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:27 AM on December 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: the saddest thing about sexism and racism is that it has made it harder for me to enjoy this piece of media I like
posted by invitapriore at 12:53 AM on December 18, 2016 [24 favorites]


This allows women from that era no voice

good christ, what paternalistic waffling. women alive in 1944 when the song was written didn't all up and expire that same year. they stayed alive and thinking and talking, with their voices, for several decades, into and through several feminist eras. Being a product of that era is what gave many women of that era the seething rage that fueled the feminist theorizing many of us are recapping and reciting in this very thread. We know this shit about the double standard and the double bind because THEY TOLD US. "no voice," what simplistic nonsense. "they didn't know it in the sense we know it' my ass. Old women don't need this kind of grotesque chivalry. old women know what silencing is and elementary school-level basic close reading of dumb lyrics isn't it.

Besides which, it wasn't that you couldn't say either yes or no, even then. You could say yes -- and pay for it with your physical safety and your social reputation and therefore your financial prospects, if you were unlucky. Or you could say no, and maybe he'd take it gracefully and maybe he'd hate you and spread rumors and maybe he'd decline to accept your refusal at all. You could say anything you wanted, the cost was just unpredictable and sometimes very high. Plenty of women knew the price for telling the truth and chose to pay it.

The point that many people still refuse to understand is that "oh, I couldn't, I just couldn't" was a cover for an unspeakable yes, sometimes, but every bit as often, a cover for an unspeakable no. Everyone wants so badly to say that you fall back on social rules because good girls don't, but nobody finds it as scarily, thrillingly sexy to remember that "but what would people think" is the only excuse that works when nobody cares what you think.

this is not a complex multilayered text. for fuck's sake. it's cute and playful and funny if, and only if, it's cute and funny and instantly comprehensible that the natural way for a woman to have sexy seductive consensual sex is to pretend she's being forced. oh golly I'm so tipsy, oh gosh it's too cold to go home. welp guess I've got no choice! tee hee. the idea is that this is therefore super fun because the forcing is A. pretend and B. half the force of circumstance, not all the guy; nature and alcohol collude with him; everyone is against her, so why fight it?

it is not troubling to beat this dead horse of rape culture into the ground one more time. it's tradition at this point. tedious yes, troubling no.

p.s. "under my thumb" is a good catchy song about hating women. this is not. kitsch doesn't develop grand artistic depth just because it's also sexist.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:06 AM on December 18, 2016 [39 favorites]


No voice in that time obviously. That's the how history works. People live in their time. As I said, I don't really care about the song one way or the other, I do care about seeing things in context and I'm not keen on prescriptivism especially that which is expected long after the fact. I think the readings of the song are too narrow for the variety of performances it has undergone, and I don't think this way of approaching cultural history is entirely healthy. It's great to stand up against rape culture. Believe it or not I'm with you on that. I do not, however, hold that history, which cannot be changed is the same thing as working to better our current situation or improve our future.

History is best examined through context, and, yes, that context, as I've already mentioned, included vast male dominance in US society. No disagreement there, that is in fact a necessary component needed to understand the perspectives and meanings of works from that era. It isn't something that can be separated and placed in the context of our time alone and be understood in its actual effect. If anyone here wants to hate the song or otherwise relate it to their personal experience, that's great. I'm all for it.

Cultural works exist beyond our time though and not addressing that starts to become solipsistic, a real problem in that same attitude explains why so damn few people are willing to change their thought and behaviors since we clearly know it all already. That you and I, again, whether you believe or not, agree on the horrible effects of rape culture isn't enough and simply demanding acquiescence to values without first establishing contextual meaning hinders understanding and change, it doesn't help it develop. If you want to say all culture of this and previous eras is rape culture, fine, I won't disagree with you on that either, but to leave it at that just flattens history and removes relative differences in ways I can't sign on to. Nuance and details matter, history requires at least some attempt to see things as they were understood at the time, that, in my view, is how we grow in understanding and can improve.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:42 AM on December 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik discussed the song and its recent controversy on BBC Radio this week. He's wrong about Frank Loesser being Broadway's greatest-ever songwriter (that would be Cole Porter), but right about everything else.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:27 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Broadway's greatest ever songwriter is Dorthy Fields or Sondheim.
posted by PinkMoose at 3:36 AM on December 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Cole Porter is about right, though his lyrics at times falter. He had range. (NB, however, Bob Fosse called Guys and Dolls the best musical ever written, for what it's worth.)

Dorothy Fields was a lyricist of genius, but didn't do music, so, out of the running. Sondheim is a genius of words and lyrics, but to my mind his music has a certain sameness to it, like he can't quite break out of the box. It's a fine box, to be sure, but sometimes you like to see the juggler do a somersault or two. (That said, I do find Forum to be wholly unlike his other works.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:20 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Once again, it's a song, Betty Carter and Ray Charles "Baby It's Cold Outside"
posted by DJZouke at 7:01 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's remarkable how that song, which I like, and which as noted was written as an amusing ditty to be performed among friends, reflects the different sexist cultures of the time.

I contend that the text of the song, the (presumably) woman wants to stay. Look at the chorus -- she ways "I really can't stay, but baby, it's cold outside"; the other character merely joins in in harmony. She also provides her own excuses -- maybe just a half a drink more, maybe just another mug more -- which also indicate that she's staying, willingly, and having a good time, to progress from drinks to coffee. The sexism, as Countess Elena noted, was that it was not socially acceptable for a woman to simply spend the night at a man's residence.

The sad thing is, that while shacking up for the night is no longer much of a scandal, today's culture instead gives us a context in which the "what's in this drink" line can be interpreted as the man slipping her a Mickey Finn, which is way worse.
posted by Gelatin at 7:08 AM on December 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the real tragedy is, as sexist and awful as that world was, our own has its own sexist horrors that seem to have gotten even more widespread and worse. The sexism of that previous period can almost seem quaint against a backdrop in which some seem to view rufenal and psychosocial manipulation as little more than particularly effective tools of seduction. It may be a symptom of how deeply cynical our own contemporary forms of sexism are that we can't help revisiting these older cultural artifacts and reinterpreting them through an even darker lens than the historical reality justifies.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:42 AM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Should I swipe left?
(Aww baby my Iphone died)
Or should I swipe right?
(Goddamit my charger's fried)

Etc
posted by spitbull at 7:47 AM on December 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


"I see "Baby It's Cold Outside" as a text that's easily misinterpreted, and as a writer and reader of historical fiction, that's really of interest to me. As written, it is about providing a willing woman with a socially acceptable excuse to spend an unchaperoned night with a man, in a time when a lady's reputation was of considerable social and economic importance to her. Today, this isn't necessary, and so we literally interpret the lyrics as creepy strong-arming from a dude."
I think you've totally missed why this is still the date rape song, even if its specific context might be one with a weird and extremely delicately negotiated consent.

There is certainly a historical context to this that is harder for us to navigate intellectually having not grown up in it, but what a lot of us are objecting to is the romanticization of exactly that context rather than any misunderstanding of what was meant within it. I think it is important to keep in mind is how profoundly difficult it must be for a couple to pull this of as a duet without just projecting the unadulterated creepy. When done 'properly', neither party is communicating honestly with the other, they each have goals they aren't stating, the male partner is actively disrespecting the expressly stated wishes of the female partner, and is literally drugging her. Even when it is sung in such a way as it is absolutely clear in the subtext that both parties want sex and wanted it from the beginning, the song still trumpets another central pillar of rape culture, that arousal = consent. The male partner is, absent subtext, actively strong-arming the female partner into staying and the sexual activity that entails. To gauge her attitude towards consent he plainly disregards her stated wishes and relies instead on his appraisal of her arousal/inner feelings in order to make up her mind for her. This is all really not at all an OK thing to romanticize, even if it becomes clear-ish from talented subtext that she is actively guiding him through that making up of her mind for her. Its basically just a recipe for a whole lot of rape.

This whole idea of playing hard to get, immortalized by Louis CK in perhaps one of the only funny rape jokes ever written, as part of a seduction ritual was standard, but we now recognize it to be a really really bad thing that we shouldn't do anymore. Are we really meant to believe that our ancestors were emotional übermenschen capable of navigating sexuality so well that they did it just fine even with these hideously fucked up expectations? As endemic as rape still is today, we know it was near ubiquitous not so long ago, and the things that really fucking should strike us as creepy about this song are a lot of why.

We now expect boys to listen when girls say no, THIS IS A GOOD THING. Yes, it does put the onus on girls to be more forward and honest about their actual desires, BUT THIS IS ALSO A GOOD THING. This song is representative of dying sexual mores, ones that produce date rape as a direct consequence of their use, we should keep stabbing them.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2016 [14 favorites]


Agreeing with Gelatin and others upthread. My reading of it has always been that the woman wants to stay, but feels like she has to proffer reasons why she can't, due to fear of censure (a different take on that fear: "Wake Up Little Susie").

Barring explicit textual reference, it's treacherous ground to look back at songs written in a different time and context, latch onto a line or a phrase and say, "Ah-HA! Rape/incest/murder!" Is "Night and Day" about a creepily obsessive stalker and potential rapist?

"Whether near to me or far
It's no matter, baby, where you are
I think of you
Night and day
...
Night and day
Under the hide of me
Though such a hungry yearning
Burning inside of me"

We know from The Gay Divorcee that it's intended as a slightly over-the-top profession of attraction from Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers, as a prelude to a romantic dance and as part of his courtship of a woman with whom he's fallen in love. Taken out of that context and put into the whistling mouth of Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang's M, it would certainly carry a different weight.

That these songs reflect the mores of the time in undeniable. That doesn't mean that the language can be correctly extracted and parsed or intent interpreted using the same yardsticks as a song written today. In this particular case, the lyrics' removal from a song written and performed by a married couple (as Eyebrows McGee notes) opens up a range of interpretations unsupported by the original context or intent.
posted by the sobsister at 8:30 AM on December 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Anyone ever watch Don Giovanni? Interestngly, we are starting to see a critique of opera as rape culture in musicology of classical music lately ...
posted by spitbull at 8:32 AM on December 18, 2016


Arguing about this song is a new holiday tradition! Along with Black Friday stampedes and turkey fryer fires.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:34 AM on December 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


What Don Giovanni, an Opera About a Charismatic Rapist, Can Teach Us About Don Trump - musicologist Bonnie Gordon writing in Slate.
posted by spitbull at 8:37 AM on December 18, 2016


Barring explicit textual reference, it's treacherous ground to look back at songs written in a different time and context, latch onto a line or a phrase and say, "Ah-HA! Rape/incest/murder!

This doesn't just apply to culture from other contexts, but definitely there's a greater risk of such confusions through historical distance. But the Manson Family didn't really have a valid or healthy interpretation of "Helter Skelter" either, and that was contemporary with their whole scene. Drugs and mental illness can lead us to some pretty dumb and dangerous conclusions about what songs and stories really mean, too... Not sure there'll ever be an antidote to bad faith or accidental misreadings of texts, but it seems to me we ought to try to do better to understand texts in their context instead of recontextualizing cultural products in ways that are misleading and miss the point by miles.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2016



I can't listen to this song anymore without getting queasy. It's one of those songs that been in the Christmas songs background for my whole life. Just a fun little song which sounds great when done well. Last year at our local community choir concert it was performed. First time I'd heard it live and I'm guessing that this led to me really listening to the lyrics and then it was all wtf and oh shyte...

I get historical and cultural context. I can easily see interpretations through those lenses. I can even appreciate certain aspects of it now. Unfortunately that doesn't stop how the lyrics sound in present day context. If this was a new song it would be controversial for good reasons.

I also understand how it feels to have things once enjoyed or that are meaningful be put in different lights due the process of cultural change and time. Looney tunes anyone? Loved those cartoons as a kid, why aren't they on anymore they're classics? Hey lets find some and watch....oh, yeah, hoooly shite there's some nauseating stuff in there.
"Eeny meeny miny moe catch a Tigger by the toe.... " This is how we chose people all the time as kids. Ugh.
Ever taken a look at original lyrics of songs like Swannee River and Home on Range? I found and old piano songbook at my grandmothers house and wow, those lyrics have had to change. Yowsa. Time and context yeah but there no way in hell I'd ever sing the original versions now.
posted by Jalliah at 8:51 AM on December 18, 2016


The idea that this song cannot be divorced from its historical cultural context falls short when it's getting performed and recorded in our current cultural context.
posted by lazuli at 9:08 AM on December 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Time and context yeah but there no way in hell I'd ever sing the original versions now.

Yeah, this song will probably eventually join all those others that we either don't hear sung as written or that don't get much play anymore, and that is fine. Some cultural artifacts aren't going to transcend eras and be considered relevant forever, while others will stick be require frequent reinterpretation or other changes to find any continued success. Nothing wrong with that. With all the cultural that disappears from view and even memory, this song isn't one that should defy those odds. Enough people dislike it now for it to not be as thoughtlessly used or played, and any increase in effort and scrutiny makes it all the more likely a work won't survive.

At the same time, I'd suggest there really isn't a good reason this song is being singled out as offensive over many thousands of other popular or semi-popular cultural works of at least roughly equal offensive potential. I'm not sure what it suggests that people get so caught up about this song every year while being able to coexist without problem with all those other works save that it leads me to believe there is more proof of the power of viral marketing than it is of either a greater cultural understanding or of increased awareness of women's rights issues.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2016


But we know meaning is contextual. People view historical cultural artifacts as just that, knowingly, all the time for educational and historical perspective. Just divorcing art from it's context in our minds as consumers of art seems like a mistake that doesn't produce any benefits. It just confuses us and makes us feel squicky about everything. If art is just a Rorschach test, it's wrong to blame the art from what we take from it. That stuff is in us, in our contemporary world and culture, not the art, from my pov.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's possible both to acknowledge that there are numerous textual cues in the song indicating that the woman is having a good time and wants to stay while also acknowledging that the cultural conditions which required her to talk around the fact that she is having a good time and wants to stay are pretty fucked up and often did not result in happy fun times.
posted by kyrademon at 9:41 AM on December 18, 2016 [14 favorites]


If we are stuck examining text only in the context of the mores and conditions of the time period they were created, then texts only serve as a historical document to understand the past.

Texts that are read/performed today have new life breathed into them as each generation encounters them and add their own interpretation/reading. They can find new avenues to explore through understanding the historical context, but that is not the only valid reading of a text/performance.

I think people (here at least) do understand the historical context of the song & are saying that context is disturbing in and of itself. In addition, it is also disturbing through modern ears.

The repeat comments begging people to use a historical context as their lens to interpret text ignores that this is not the only valid method of interpretation/critique.
posted by CMcG at 9:52 AM on December 18, 2016 [11 favorites]


then texts only serve as a historical document to understand the past.

Contemporary texts are for understanding the present; historical ones help us understand how we got there. Short of just making up whatever we want the art we consume to mean, what's the alternative? I mean, fans and other artists making derivative works and exploring alternate interpretations as a creative act in itself is a different thing. The arts have always done that, but people didn't confuse these acts of reinterpretation with discovering new meaning in the original work. If context doesn't matter in art, what does? What makes it meaningful or anything more than noise. Again, what's the difference between any work of art and a Rorschach test if the meaning of the work isn't understood in a particular context? What's the value in believing creators held different views and attitudes than the historical evidence supports other than to justify dismissing whatever insights and meaning might be found in them that are more closely connected to independent reality? What's the benefit of ignoring the context in which a work of art was produced other than making it easier to market and commodify?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:28 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think people (here at least) do understand the historical context of the song & are saying that context is disturbing in and of itself. In addition, it is also disturbing through modern ears.

If people understand how this song was composed and performed in its time and still find it disturbing per se, then I don't understand their reception of the song.

This isn't a "coon" song of the 1900s, where there's no line in the song that wouldn't require a trigger warning. This was written as a song of flirtatious seduction. It's hard to read the seductee as threatened in any way, unless one really wants to lean on the line "Say what's in this drink?", particularly as it's followed a few lines later by:

"I ought to say, no, no, no sir
At least I'm gonna say that I tried."

The seducer's grasping at reasons for her to stay is part of what makes the song humorous, at least to some. When written, it wasn't intended to read as coercive/abusive/rapey, and not because People Were So Unenlightened Back Then. I've always understood it as a man trying to seduce a woman who is open to being seduced, but on the fence because of how her staying will be perceived

"There's bound to be talk tomorrow
At least there will be plenty implied"

not because she doesn't want to stay or because she's been drugged.

Again, there are songs from the past that wear their misogynistic/racist/homophobic/etc. sentiments on their sleeve. I would only argue that, both in its original setting and carried forward 70+ years, this is not one of them.
posted by the sobsister at 10:35 AM on December 18, 2016


Mrs. Bastard and I, a cis-hetero-married couple (though I am bi,) just karaoke'd the song with genders reversed a couple of nights ago. It's a song we both like, and we like to do duets, and had been wanting to karaoke it for quite awhile. I'd been aware of the consent issues in the song, but hadn't really payed attention to the lyrics until we had them on the screen to practice. Beyond the "what's in that drink" line what I found striking was the references to the paternalistic and "protective" brother and father.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:39 AM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman, here are 9 different approaches to literary criticism: http://www2.sdfi.edu.cn/netclass/jiaoan/englit/criticism.htm

At least 2 out of the 9 (Formalist and Reader-Response) do not rely on historical context to analyze text. They also do not leave us in a sea of relativism or ink blots.
posted by CMcG at 10:52 AM on December 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


As good a time as any to recommend his daughter's biography.
posted by BWA at 1:33 PM on December 18, 2016


saulgoodman, here are 9 different approaches to literary criticism:

Thanks. I studied lit crit in college, and I'm aware of the various critical approaches, I just happen to have a particular position on which is better that isn't current orthodoxy.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:02 PM on December 18, 2016


I am with Ms. E. McGee and Mr. S. Goodman on this one.
posted by y2karl at 8:01 PM on December 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's a bit of historical context: none of the contemporary popular music genres we know would exist in their current form had the American recording industry not developed its practices and structures in the age of Jim Crow.

Ain't no innocent art.
posted by spitbull at 5:58 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whether or not he's being coercive, he's sure as hell mansplaining the weather.
posted by condour75 at 7:02 AM on December 19, 2016 [8 favorites]


Ain't no innocent art.

One can imagine the whole of classical Greek literature and mythology subjected to such analysis.
posted by y2karl at 11:25 AM on December 19, 2016


One can imagine the whole of classical Greek literature and mythology subjected to such analysis.

It's been done.
posted by atoxyl at 12:06 PM on December 19, 2016


It'd be much easier to accept that there's different interpretations of this song if the divide didn't become between people suggesting that the song isn't about date rape were all about providing specific context and explanation for how this one song came about, vs. people saying 'but I hear this so it has to be this'.

Or if the FPP (as it has previously) didn't have to mention 'oh some people call this the date rape song', making that a key part of the discussion rather than anything about the different versions or even the actual origins, which Eyebrows McGee (amongst others) helpfully talked about at length.

Or if every defense didn't get required/argued into 'if you like this song you're defending rape culture'. Where half the time users have to explain they're not willing to die on this hill when trying to say the song isn't some paean to coercion, because you might believe that everyone is entitled to their view on the song but there's always some people who insist on having the last word about their negative views being the correct one, and really, mild enjoyment doesn't inspire commenting commitment when up against righteous anger.

Or really if it didn't come down to the truthiness of the song's message. Facts, context, history? No, it sounds like it's bad, so it is bad. A maddeningly common contemporary refrain.

'Your favourite band sucks' is one thing, but 'this song you like is morally indefensible despite any evidence to the contrary' is quite another.
posted by gadge emeritus at 1:14 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


It'd be much easier to accept that there's different interpretations of this song if the divide didn't become between people suggesting that the song isn't about date rape were all about providing specific context and explanation for how this one song came about, vs. people saying 'but I hear this so it has to be this'.

There are several folks upthread who use the text and/or link to people who use the text to make their assertion that this song is describes coercion, at least when played or performed today. Most notably Krawczak, queenofbithynia, Proofs and Refutations. In addition, I understand that you (and others) think that looking at the text (aka what you can hear) is not a valid critique, but that is not an establish objective fact. (Or to borrow from The Dude: That's just your opinion, man)

Or if the FPP (as it has previously) didn't have to mention 'oh some people call this the date rape song', making that a key part of the discussion rather than anything about the different versions or even the actual origins

Except that the new versions posted place active consent at their core, invite the audience to consider whether or not there was an absence of active consent in the original (when performed today).

Or if every defense didn't get required/argued into 'if you like this song you're defending rape culture'. and 'this song you like is morally indefensible despite any evidence to the contrary' is quite another.

I've re-read this thread a couple of times and I don't see anyone making that accusation. I see people saying that this song is about rape culture but I don't see anyone saying "you're defending rape culture" or that anyone is a bad person. We all have guilty pleasures.

there's always some people who insist on having the last word about their negative views being the correct one

Well your damned if you do, damned if you don't right? Either I comment & defend my position and become one of those "people" or I stay silent and it seems like acquiescence.

I'll be honest: I felt lectured about using history and context to analyze a text. To me, what the original post presents us is an opportunity to take two pieces of art and compare them/discuss their differences & what those differences meant to us as readers. I think historical context is one valid way to have this discussion. I just don't think it's the one true way.
posted by CMcG at 3:23 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


In addition, I understand that you (and others) think that looking at the text (aka what you can hear) is not a valid critique, but that is not an establish objective fact.

Looking at only the text, reading something from the past as if it were written today, including misreading slang ('what's in this drink?') and completely ignoring the intended tone from both parties, is what I object to. Most objections are just people's opinions, man.

I've re-read this thread a couple of times and I don't see anyone making that accusation.

Not in any of the linked articles, or in the number of times it's come up on the Blue before?

Either I comment & defend my position and become one of those "people" or I stay silent and it seems like acquiescence.

That's presuming anyone staying silent agrees with what's being said rather than any of a million other options, mainly including didn't even read the post, but also that anyone who doesn't say what's wrong with something every time it gets brought up tacitly agrees with the problems presented. That's a pretty troubling assumption.
Also, there's a lot of difference between commenting and digging in.

You feel lectured about using history and context; others, including myself, feel lectured about the concept of rape culture and what the song 'really means', as if we couldn't know about such things and agree about them, and yet still disagree when it comes to this song.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:44 PM on December 19, 2016


>Ever taken a look at original lyrics of songs like Swannee River

Or perhaps Old Man River...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:07 PM on December 19, 2016


Well, we all certainly can agree that, around here, a little disapproval goes a long way.
It tastes terrible and the portions are so large.

posted by y2karl at 5:50 AM on December 20, 2016


"We need to look at this song in historical context" - that's the part that's rapey, the historical context. The modern celebration of a mode of negotiating consent that is at best ambiguous. Either you're evoking that rapey historical context, or you aren't and then the lyrics have to be taken at actual gave value, and that's sure as shit no better.
posted by Dysk at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


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