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When Was "Baby It's Cold Outside" Ever a Holiday Song?

by John Aquino on 12/07/18

A California radio station has banned Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from its Christmas/holiday programming because its lyrics are inappropriate in light of the #MeToo movement. Some, including CBS Morning News anchor Gayle King, have supported the song as did a recent radio poll. One local D.C. anchor said, "Keep your hands off our Christmas songs!"

I actually support removing it from Christmas/holiday playlists, first, because it's not a Christmas/holiday song. 

It never was. Loesser wrote the song in 1944 for him and his wife to sing at parties. It's about a woman in a man's apartment and the man who tries to stop her from leaving by telling her it's cold outside. M-G-M bought the song and placed it in its 1949 Esther Williams musical Neptune's Daughter. The musical was released in June, not December, and the lyrics have nothing to do with the holidays, or goodwill, or peace, or even love. The only reasons for considering it a Christmas song is the man telling the woman that the it's cold outside and that the snow is "up to your knees out there." (The movie was set in South America and filmed in California and Florida, but M-G-M just wanted the song in the movie, ignored the inconsistency between the lyrics and the setting, and the studio was rewarded with an Academy Award for best song.) Even other weather songs that are sung at Christmas--"Let It Snow" and "Winter Wonderland"--are at least about love, which is not what "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is all about.

The situation reminds me of a Judy Garland Christmas album my wife and I bought some time ago. Garland didn't really make a lot of recordings. Her records are mostly the soundtracks for her films and tapings of her stage shows. She did sing one of the most famous of all Christmas songs--"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"--in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis. And so, in assembling this Christmas album, in addition to including "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the assemblers picked from songs she had sung on radio shows. They gathered up some weather-related holiday songs such as "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" and then had to really stretch to include the very sad "After the Holidays" ("Please stay with me/ Till after the holidays, That's when I need you so"), and such inspirational, non-holiday songs as Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone," and the Spiritual songs "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" to fill out the album. I always feel that, when trying to create a Christmas/holiday playlist, programmers grab any song they can find, including those that just mention cold weather, like "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

The other reason for not including "Baby, It's Cold Outside" on Christmas/holiday playlists is that its lyrics really are inappropriate for the holidays. It's about lust for an unwilling woman. It's about a man on the make. Loesser made this clear himself. When he and his wife sang the song at parties in the 1940s, he would say before singing the male part that he was "the evil one of the Loessers." The lyrics do raise all the flags for inappropriate behavior by a man against a woman. She says up front, "The answer is no," and he responds by telling her, "Baby, it's cold outside." She wonders if he put something in her drink. When she keeps saying she has to leave, he finally shows that his male pride is at stake when he says, "How can you do this thing to me!"

There's no denying that it's a catchy song, and Loesser's lyrics, as always, are clever and yet colloquial. When it's on the radio, I sing along. Some who have argued for keeping it on Christmas/holiday playlists have said that it is necessary to consider the context of the song and take into account that it was written 70 years ago. Absolutely! I'm not saying to ban it from being performed, not that I would ever urge prohibiting free speech. I'm just saying don't include it on Christmas/holiday playlists because the text doesn't reflect the holidays. Songs on those playlists are played over and over in stores or on the radio, and people have little choice but to hear them. 

And when the song is performed apart from the Christmas/holiday season, those who hear it can react in the same way that those who watch old movies do when Al Jolson, a white man, performs in blackface; when characters refer to "women's intuition" and say that women are meant be housewives; when a police officer tells a concerned neighbor that when a man beats his wife "that is his right," and when characters say other things that treat people as property and/or as inferior. They can accept the film as a period piece and try and disregard old- and bad-fashioned language and ideas, or they can not watch it. 

Copyright 2018 by John T. Aquino

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