At a recent holiday gathering the talk turned to this year’s Christmas Outrage: the short-lived but wide-spread radio station ban of the 1944 hit “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The song describes a time-worn mating ritual involving the liberal application of alcohol to overcome a woman’s professed desire to leave a man’s living room at the end of an evening. The man engagingly mixes flattery and booze, and the woman’s stated desire to leave slowly crumbles, leading, presumably, to you-know-what.
A few weeks ago, a Cleveland radio station decided the song came too close to celebrating what the #MeToo movement has been working so diligently to end—the “no means yes” approach to dating, where a man can feel free to charmingly but aggressively push for sexual favors after a clear rejection because she actually wants it but can’t say yes because she’ll be considered easy. I guess in the old days this was called healthy fun. Today, it’s sometimes called date rape.
Anyway, the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” ban briefly caught on, and stations across both America and Canada joined in.
However, outrage at the “Baby It’s Cold Out There” outrage was significantly larger than the original outrage, forcing most stations to reverse their ban, leaving listeners free again to hear yet another Christmas song which never actually mentions Christmas.
Score it Common Sense 1, Political Correctness, 0. But underneath is a more complicated issue.
Bear with me.
The world of entertainment contains all kinds of stuff that we would never do in real life. I’ve read and watched any number of murder mysteries, where the audience is titillated by the corpse in chapter one, followed by the slow unraveling of facts to discover who did it. I’ve read both Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle without ever considering murdering anyone. I promise. Not once.
But we all have limits. Your limits are different than mine. For me, it’s stories that focus on non-fantasy individualized violence against children. I won’t go there. I shut the book, or walk away from the screen. Period.
But let’s get back to date rape. It happens—and I’m certain there are women reading this column who have first-hand knowledge about what it is, and the lingering effects it triggers. So when they hear a song like “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” they might find themselves reliving an extraordinarily unpleasant moment in their lives.
They might even be upset enough to call a radio station and ask that the song not be played. Would it do any good? As we’ve seen, it’s not likely.
Why? Because mass media entertainment always works to attract the largest audience possible, and programmers don’t care two cents about your unique opinions. Don’t like it? Turn it off. Simple as that.
Of course, this being America, you can work to enlist others to your cause and turn your minority into a majority. Your chances of success may be small, but give it a try if you feel strongly about it. Just remember there’s a reason that murder mysteries and cheatin’ songs are so popular. Sometimes we enjoy a vicarious walk on the wild side.
It’s not that we’re bad, we all just tend to be interested in stories about people whose experiences and problems are different from our own. But just because you’re not okay with a particular subject doesn’t mean everybody should feel the same. When enough people agree with you, the subject will go away. Until then, baby, it’s gonna be cold outside.
Which brings us back to where we started. There are plenty of people who think that the “no means yes” dating attitude needs to be confronted, and that songs romanticizing intoxication-induced sex are only getting in the way.
I get it. I really do. But anyone hoping for a mass media culture that consistently encourages high moral values will spend a long time hoping. In the end it’s up to each of us to know our own standards, and take responsibility for living up to them. It’s not the media’s job to reinforce my personal morality, or yours. Their only job is to generate profit.