The 12 Days of Christmas Music in 2015, Day 9: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

This countdown is a family-friendly affair, so for the past few years I’ve wondered if I should even entertain the idea of using what has become known as the date-rape Christmas song. But it first appeared in a film, Neptune’s Daughter (1949), and when I started looking into it, it became an interesting case of cultural norms changing over time.

Lynn Garland and Frank Loesser

The song was originally written by Frank Loesser, who also wrote Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He sang it with his wife, Lynn Garland, as a closer at holiday parties, a way to indicate to the guests that it was time to go. She apparently thought of it as their song and was very upset when he sold the rights to MGM for the film.

Here’s what gets me: MGM wanted “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because another song by Loesser, “(I’d Love to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China,” was deemed inappropriate. The lyrics to that one are below.

I’d love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All to myself alone
Get you and keep you
In my arms ever more
Leave all your lovers
Weepin’ on a far away shore
Out on the briny
With the moon big and shiny
Melting your heart of stone
Honey I’d love to get you
On a slow boat to China
All by myself alone
Another verse could be read as euphemistic and thus a bit more scandalous, but still, somehow or another lyrics such as “I simply must go … The answer is no … Say, what’s in this drink?” from “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” were the more decorous option.
With our 2015 cultural sensibilities of “no means no” and the ever-increasing scrutiny of date rape, especially on college campuses, this old song seems woefully chauvinistic at best and potentially abusive. But here’s the catch: the call and response duet parts weren’t labeled for the man to sing the part entreating to stay and the woman to sing the part protesting to go. They were simply labeled “wolf” and “mouse.” And, as you’ll see in the clip linked above, the film presents the “wolf” part first sung by a man, Ricardo Montalbán, with the “mouse” sung by a woman, Esther Williams, but then presents the inverse with Betty Garrett singing the “wolf” part and Red Skelton singing that of the “mouse.”
Does that make it okay to coerce someone? No, but it does complicate the social dynamics. In fact, the Washington Post ran an article about how the song used to be seen as that of the progressive woman who will make her own choices about her behavior in spite of what the neighbors and her family will think. It would seem that the concern with 1949 societal opinions has since been replaced with concern for honoring a person’s statements of and right to consent, and what sounded progressive then sounds fundamentally regressive now. So what’s the takeaway? Be safe and don’t judge your grandparents too harshly? Don’t mix drunk flirting with Christmas? Was Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé’s overtly innocent version enough last year? They took out the references to a potentially spiked drink and had child dancers for the music video with the girl markedly taller than the boy, perhaps as if to say that he would be unable to force her against her will. Did that smooth it over sufficiently, or should the song be fazed out of Christmas celebrations?

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