Baby, It’s Cold and Rapey Outside
So what did y’all do for Christmas this year? While many of you were nestled up with family in cozy homes keeping you warm from the snow falling all around you, my girlfriend and I, kidless for the first time in forever, headed for the flashy lights and glitzy pizzaz of legendary Las Vegas, Nevada. Ok, Vegas doesn’t usually connote my idealized visions of a traditional Christmas either. In fact, in many ways I can’t think of a place more antithetical to the observance of the birth of the Lord Savior Jesus Christ, but hey, given the secular commercialism Christmas has devolved into anyway, perhaps nothing speaks to the true Christmas spirit better than choking down rum and cokes while chain-smoking Marlboro reds and gambling away your kids’ college funds. In full disclosure, I’ve never gambled in my life, and my drinking in my encroaching middle aged years is seriously curtailed by my customary 10 o’clock bedtime. But I love Vegas for the shows, so with that in mind, Viva Las Vegas, Baby!
For Christmas Day itself, we even went to a Christmas program at the Palazzo entitled This is Christmas. In many ways it evoked memories of my childhood going to see the Rockettes doing their annual Christmas Spectacular at the famed Radio City Music Hall each year with my father and grandmother. True to the celebration of traditional Christmas favorites, one of the couples in the show sang the seminal classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. And that’s where the topic of this week’s TRUTH comes in.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or perhaps just somewhere in rural Alabama, you know that this song has been the subject of some significant controversy as of late. As most of you know, I am no fan of cancel culture, but if you really consider the premise and lyrics of this seemingly harmless little ditty, it definitely leaves you with an uneasy feeling that this song is just plain outdated and a bit date rapey. After all, the whole song centers around a guy trying to convince his female companion to stay and sleep with him, all under the false pretenses that it is cold outside and that she should just stay at his place where it is nice and warm and the alcohol is a flowin’. She protests, (“I really should say, ‘No’. At least I’m going to say that I tried.”), but he refuses to take “no” for an answer, instead plying her with more drinks, hoping that he can take advantage of her compromised decision-making. And if all of this seems perfectly harmless and charming to you, think if this Harvey Weinstein wannabe was macking on your own beloved daughter. Yeah, not so harmless and charming anymore, now is it?
So as the husband and wife duo launched into their own Vegas version of this number, I must admit that I cringed a little bit. I do not believe in cancelling this or any other musical number, but certainly, I thought, the producers of the show must be aware of the stir this song has precipitated over the last serval years. Certainly, they must be cognizant of the entrenched perspectives people bring to this song, and the inherent political polarization this song now evokes. Why would anyone intentionally push that button, knowing that backdrop and given what was sure to be an audience of mixed demographics with folks in both camps ready to pounce on the song’s inclusion. But then something funny happened. The singers had changed the lyrics of the number and thus cleverly sidestepped the entire controversy altogether.
What these performers chose to do was tweak the words to the song so that it was the woman who was urging them to spend the night together, telling him that it was cold outside, while he protested saying that her sister would start to worry. Suddenly, instead of being a leacherous cad, he was magically transformed into the thoughtful, chivalrous boyfriend that every father wants for their cherished daughters. Instead of trying to manipulate her into bad choices with predatory intent, he becomes a man of integrity, a model of decency that represents what we should expect from the men of our society- men who value and respect women enough to empower them to make choices.
And of course on the other side of that dynamic we thus also see a woman who has the autonomy and self-determination to be able to advocate for what she wants to do with her sexuality. In this case, the female singer wants to get herself some and has a voice to be able to articulate that desire. Instead of being cast in the stereotypical role of female passivity, she is able to assert what she wants. The reversal of traditional gender roles here breaks the customary paradigm of sexual power and liberates women to have an equal voice in the sexual contest. And as a feminist by nature, I absolutely loved it.
But even more so, I was impressed by the creative approach to avoiding a pervasive polemic altogether. As both sides of this debate revert back to their pre-established camps, digging in for the inevitable clash of social perspectives, these folks chose an alternative path that did not feed into either of these interpretations. In a world full of enhanced cultural division, where neither side wants to hear what the other has to say, all of us could learn a lesson about letting go of our points of view and instead trying to find the creative common ground that allow us to move forward without falling victim to the inherent dissension. Sure, it won’t attract the attention of Facebook algorithms fueled by vim and rancor, but who gives a damn about Mark Zuckerberg anyway?
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com