Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The Date-Rape Christmas Carol?

"For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts..." (2Tim3:16)

Ever since I first paid attention to it, I've been gently ragging on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" as "the date-rape Christmas carol." I got into yet another argument about this with kukla_tko42 at a party Friday night, so I figured I'd write up my case for it. Mind you, I still rather like the song. It's one of the best jazz duets ever composed and arranged. And it's really more of a parody of seduction and date rape than a celebration of it. To take it too seriously is to fall into the kind of trap where you'd label "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" as a pro-drunk-driving Christmas carol. That being said, let's take a look at the lyrics. But first, I have to label the parts. The alto (?) part is labeled, in Frank Loesser's original arrangement, "The Mouse," and the baritone part, "The Wolf." The Mouse leads off, and is interrupted near the end of each of her lines by The Wolf. So following the usual convention for displaying this song, I'll put The Wolf's part in parentheses. And I've taken the liberty of numbering the lines.
  1. I really can't stay. (Baby, it's cold outside.)
  2. I've got to go 'way. (But baby, it's cold outside.)
  3. This evening has been ... (Been hoping that you'd drop in.)
  4. So very nice. (I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice.)

  5. My mother will start to worry. (Beautiful, what's your hurry?)
  6. And father will be pacing the floor. (Listen to that fireplace roar.)
  7. So really I'd better scurry. (Beautiful, please don't hurry.)
  8. Well, maybe just a half a drink more. (Put some records on while I pour.)

  9. The neighbors might think ... (Baby, it's bad out there.)
  10. Say, what's in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there)
  11. I wish I knew how ... (Your eyes are like starlight now.)
  12. To break the spell. (I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell.)

  13. I ought to say no, no, no sir. (Mind if I move in closer?)
  14. At least I'm gonna say that I tried. (What's the sense of hurtin' my pride?)
  15. I really can't stay ... (Baby, don't hold out.)
  16. Ah, but it's cold outside.

  17. I simply must go. (But baby it's cold outside.)
  18. The answer is no! (I say that it's cold outside.)
  19. The welcome has been ... (How lucky that you dropped in.)
  20. So nice and warm. (Look out the window at that storm!)

  21. My sister will be suspicious. (Gosh, your lips look delicious ...)
  22. My brother will be there at the door. (Like waves upon a tropical shore.)
  23. My maiden aunt's mind is vicious. (Gosh, your lips sure are delicious.)
  24. Well, maybe just a cigarette more. (Never such a blizzard before.)

  25. I've got to go home. (Baby, you'll freeze out there.)
  26. Say, lend me your comb. (It's up to your knees out there.)
  27. You've really been grand ... (I thrill when you touch my hand.)
  28. But don't you see? (How can you do this thing to me?)

  29. There's bound to be talk tomorrow. (Think of my lifelong sorrow ...)
  30. At least there will be plenty implied. (If you caught pneumonia and died.)
  31. I really can't stay ... (Get over that hold-out.)
  32. Duet: Oh but it's cold ... out ... side!

Now, one of the oldest complaints that I've heard about this song is, "Why in the heck is this considered a Christmas song?" After all, it made its film debut, if not its recording debut, in a movie that had absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. It won the Oscar for best song in a comedy or musical for 1949's Neptune's Daughter, an Esther Williams film starring a very young Ricardo Montalban. But it pretty much has to be a Christmas song, because it's the only plausible explanation for what The Mouse is doing in The Wolf's bachelor apartment. He's in the city, living alone: he pretty much has to be a married man who's staying in his bachelor apartment for the night because either the late hour made him miss his train or the blizzard has stopped it. And for an unmarried woman, one still living at home (lines 5-6,21-23) to be inside a bachelor apartment at any time at all is scandal enough to cost any guy who has a bachelor apartment his job. Any time, that is to say, other than Christmas, where visiting people to convey holiday greetings and to drop off cards or presents for the family is a tradition that's older than Christmas itself.

The song's clearly meant as an amusingly rendered seduction. And seduction is controversial enough in and of itself. Up until only about a decade and a half ago, it was still a prosecutable crime in some states. And even shorn of the sexist legal principles aimed at protecting a father's financial interest in his daughter's virginity, there are still people who want seduction to be a prosecutable crime now. You don't hear as much about it the last few years (the war has been a substantial distraction), but you may recall that there are those who would extend the definition of rape to any act of sex where it wasn't both people's idea to start with. There are those who say that it is sufficiently difficult to draw the line between persuasion and coercion that there's no point in doing so, when it comes to sex. So that she says "no" specifically twice in the song (lines 13 & 18) and he keeps leaning on her to persuade her makes it, in no few people's eyes, rape whether she says yes later or not, and especially if she just fails or declines to say no one last time at the end of the song. Why not? Because, the theory goes, if he refuses to take "no" for an answer, how freely is her "yes" given? How certain can she be that a guy who hasn't taken "no" for an answer will draw the line at verbal persuasion? Note that her bargaining position is terrible, too. The song title, and repeated line, suggests that she's in substantial danger if she says no.

But if that doesn't clinch it, take a closer look at lines 8 to 12. To stall for time, or because she's flustered, or to get him off of the couch that is almost certainly the only piece of furniture in the room, she asks for a drink. And not long enough later to have taken more than a sip, she asks suspiciously what's in it. And her next two lines are about being unable to "break this spell," and the line after that says that she's trying to say "no" and can't. Even if the drink's just alcohol, remember that there are places where the law is that a partner who is inebriated cannot legally consent to sex, that sex with an inebriated partner is rape. But how sure are we, in the context of the song, that there wasn't anything in there but booze? If nothing else, it's obviously a whole lot stronger than she's used to being served. How does this color her concession (which, I note, still doesn't include the word "yes") in the last line?

Now, I know where Kukla gets her interpretation from. The first version she heard, and the one that she still considers definitive, is the very popular recording of it with Ray Charles and Betty Carter. And in the Betty Carter version, there's no doubt from the way that she vamps it that she made her mind to have sex with Ray Charles' character before she even came up to the apartment, that she's just trying to preserve her reputation by pretending to put up a fight. There's another classic recording, by Dean Martin and I forget whom, where the (somewhat obscure) female singer vamps her part so much that it's clear that her interpretation is even farther in the same direction than Betty Carter's. She's clearly trying hard to get laid, and sings her lines as nothing less frank than sexual teasing. And it's certainly true that by the standards of when the song was written in 1948, there would absolutely be those who would say that even at Christmas-time, if The Mouse wasn't willing to at least consider having sex with that man, what was she doing in The Wolf's apartment that late?

But it's worth pointing out that the Ray Charles' recording of it is in 1961 and Dean Martin's in 1959. The earliest recording of it was in 1949, by Dinah Shore. And the one that I consider definitive, the one I certainly hear the most often, is one from around 1950 by Bing Crosby and, no I'm not kidding, Doris Day. And while Doris Day clearly had sex at least once in her life (she was married 4 times and had one child), it was certainly the public's impression that only someone truly sick could imagine it. If you're too young to remember Doris Day at all, imagine if Britney Spears had kept her original reputation as sexy but wholesome. All the way to at least the age of 50. That Doris Day. And when Bing Crosby takes off her hat in line 12, right after she's had that drink, there's a seriously frightened gasp on the recording; her character was not expecting to be touched. How consenting is it that she stayed now, do you think?

I know, it's just a silly song. And a very catchy tune. And some truly great jazz. And, as sexy D/s fantasy, very sexy indeed. But if The Wolf found himself in a shoot-out with The Mouse's father on the day after Christmas 1949, or found himself brought up on forcible rape charges by The Mouse on the day after Christmas 2006, in either case his defense would look awfully ragged. Enjoy the song ... but take a word to the wise.



( 61 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
Dec. 18th, 2006 09:52 am (UTC)
Now I'd like to find a copy of the Ray Charles-Betty Carter version. The only version I have a copy of is a recording of Steven Page (of BNL) and Rita McNeil performing it live, and they don't especially put any acting into it, or vamping (aside from Steven Page's usual vocal style). They just sound like two singers singing a fun song.

Previously the only version I'd ever heard of it was on the Muppet Show, with Rudolf Nureyev singing the Mouse's part and Miss Piggy singing the Wolf's part, together in a steam room at a spa. That of course was totally played for laughs. :}
Dec. 19th, 2006 09:57 am (UTC)
Being curious, I dug up the track, so email me at lux (at) chaosbutterfly (dot) (net) if you want me to send it.
(no subject) - adulttips - Dec. 21st, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kinkyturtle - Dec. 21st, 2006 10:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Re: BNL Rita McNeil - kinkyturtle - Nov. 27th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 18th, 2006 11:51 am (UTC)

for something considerably more clearly dangerous.
Dec. 18th, 2006 05:45 pm (UTC)
Madeira has its own fascinating social history; it was the first of the fortified wines, the Mad-Dog 50/50 of its day. Oddly, the Founding Fathers were mad for the stuff, drank it like it was soda-pop and all day long, judging by the quantities imported and the quantities listed on their shopping lists. But if you weren't used to it, if you were expecting something that was described as wine and that tasted like wine to be no stronger than wine, it was quite capable of unpleasantly surprising you. Or so I've read.
(no subject) - hick0ry - Dec. 18th, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nancylebov - Dec. 18th, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - vampire_kitten - Dec. 24th, 2006 08:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 18th, 2006 01:01 pm (UTC)
And analysis destroys another great song. Nup. Fugeddaboudit. It's a song.

What it isn't, is a song about date-rape. It just isn't.

You know that song by Jeff Buckley, Mojo Pin? That song is about masturbation. No, really. Just read the lyrics.
Dec. 18th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - jahbulon - Dec. 18th, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 18th, 2006 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jahbulon - Dec. 19th, 2006 12:10 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mistressvenera - Dec. 22nd, 2006 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 18th, 2006 01:49 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad I'm not the only person who thought this...

But the Christmas song that REALLY bugs me is "Santa Baby."
Dec. 18th, 2006 02:08 pm (UTC)
Ah, the Extortion Christmas Carol.
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 18th, 2006 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 18th, 2006 02:02 pm (UTC)
I thought this might be what you were building up to. I really, really dislike this song, for many of the reasons you've given here. I didn't know the characters were named Wolf and Mouse; I think that clinches it for me.

Whether it's technically date rape or not is almost an irrelevance to me, because either way, the man's behaviour in continuing to press her after she has said she needs to leave is certainly deeply obnoxious. As for the interpretation where the woman is teasing, I find that morally dubious as well (at least between people who are not already established partners), because it contributes to blurring the line between Yes and No. If we want men to recognise that No Means No, then we have to talk and act as if it does, too, and be prepared to make it stick.
Dec. 18th, 2006 02:22 pm (UTC)
Thus we must ban any song that may seem to have those sorts of connotations!

(no subject) - hakamadare - Dec. 18th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jahbulon - Dec. 18th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jahbulon - Dec. 18th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hakamadare - Dec. 18th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 18th, 2006 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jahbulon - Dec. 18th, 2006 11:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - idonotlikepeas - Dec. 22nd, 2006 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sashajwolf - Dec. 19th, 2006 07:42 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 18th, 2006 02:57 pm (UTC)
I never really liked this song, anyway, so you didn't ruin anything for me.

But what I totally enjoyed was how excited I felt to know what you meant when you said 'Bachelor Apartment'.

Dec. 18th, 2006 03:20 pm (UTC)
This is interesting, particularly from a historical/cultural perspective. Now can you explain the beginning of the 1930s King Kong to me? The starving, single women on the street? The women's soup kitchen? The rather direct dialog between the director and young "actress"? I wondered about it when I saw the film recently.

PS The basic rule of seduction hasn't changed much... if both parties know what the outcome will be, the seduction can proceed in whatever way works for the parties involved and fits societal norms (whether that be "getting married" / "pressing his suit" or "one night stand" / "bondage fantasy"). It's all a game with no stakes... because you know the eventual outcome.

If one party is uncertain about the outcome, then any seduction is tainted and somewhat dishonest. If BOTH parties are uncertain, then you have backseat fumbling and fooling around and in today's world it hardly counts (I think in the past, chaperonage and more rigid rules were meant to keep that stuff in check).
Dec. 18th, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC)
Agree with you about "the basic rule of seduction," with one big caveat: neurotypicals routinely exaggerate their own ability to mind-read. In the context of this song, if it specifically is a Christmas song then we have a very specific situation here where crossed intentions and ambiguous intent are very possible. He's been trying to bring her up to his room when it wasn't Christmas-time (line 3). When it's Christmas-time, she agrees. Is this because she wanted to be alone with this guy in his bachelor apartment and this was the first non-scandalous time she could get away with it (Betty Clark) or is this the time of year where she feels safe coming up because it's clearly for Christmas observation, not for sex (Doris Day)? Do both of them know for sure which it is?

It has probably been 25 years since the last time I saw King Kong, and I don't remember the beginning of it at all, sorry. But if you go back to yesterday's entry, the split residence solution was an upper middle class thing. And in this song, The Mouse rather clearly lives in the city (she's seriously contemplating walking home). This could mean that she's rich, an interpretation that I admit did not occur to me until today. More likely, it seems to me, she's working class or middle class, that is to say, lives in her family's rented apartment.
(no subject) - thesecondcircle - Dec. 18th, 2006 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bradhicks - Dec. 18th, 2006 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 18th, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC)
what the heck.. maybe I'm just comfortable bein lynched...
Things that ="NO" are "No" or "I dont want to"
things that do NOT = "No"
"I ought to say no"
"my father will be pacing the floor"
etc etc etc... leaving verbal inflection aside she does a fair amount of dithering but assuming she has her own wheels and car keys the failure to get up and go combined with making *excuses* sounds a LOT like "convince me. I want to have my cake (being a good girl) and eat it too (not live like a nun)".

and lest you cast aspersions on my character over this ..it is PRECISELY this behavior that ticks me off because I will NOT play that game.While refusal keeps me DDF and largely drama an insanity free its annoying to see girls and women TALKING one song ("no is always no") and PLAYING a completely different game and rewarding a completely different behavior.
Dec. 18th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
Re: what the heck.. maybe I'm just comfortable bein lynched...
Although I understand what you are trying to say, I would like to point out that at least when the song was first sung, up to quite a while later, a young woman owning, much less having solo access to a vehicle she did *not* own, would be highly unlikely. No, if he did not take her home, she would have to walk, take a cab or such. If'll you'll note line '10'? When she questions the drink and he points out there are no cabs. He points out she is stuck without him, unless she wants to walk in a near blizzard.......
Re: what the heck.. maybe I'm just comfortable bein lynched... - (Anonymous) - Dec. 16th, 2010 01:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 18th, 2006 06:24 pm (UTC)
that girls who partied at my house had to figure out how to preserve their reputation and self-image by some means other than playing hard-to-get and counting on the guy to provide them with an excuse. Not everybody liked it; I know several prominent femfen who staged their own prominent protest of it.

I find this comment rather sad. (To clarify, I do NOT mean sad as in pathetic, just sad about the state of the world.) I think in this day and age, especially among fandom, a woman should not have worry about her reputation. If she wants to have sex, she should be able to admit she wants to have sex instead of feeling like she needs to have an excuse. But I know things aren't always like that.
Dec. 18th, 2006 06:27 pm (UTC)
If you think "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is bad, you should go listen to Nat King Cole sing "Walking My Baby Back Home." Now, THAT's a date-rape song.
Dec. 18th, 2006 09:14 pm (UTC)
If I didn't already have a near-pathological loathing for all christmas music, you would totally have ruined this song for me. :-)
Dec. 18th, 2006 10:46 pm (UTC)
OK, two lyrical thoughts. No means no. and some more about baby.

Dec. 18th, 2006 11:21 pm (UTC)
I've never thought about this song in quite this way....
No wonder Michael Smuin has choreographed a ballet to it -- he's obsessed with rape. It's a theme in several of his ballets.
Dec. 19th, 2006 04:43 am (UTC)
So where does this leave 2 Live Crew?

Seriously, I enjoyed the deconstruction of both the "bachelor apartment" and the song.

I thought the song was about heroin also. Shows what little I know.
Dec. 25th, 2006 07:18 am (UTC)
Ambivalent Feelings
I think the analysis of this song is largely in the right direction, and I've always had a creepy feeling about it for the reasons you give. But there's also a lot of deliberate ambiguity in the song: most of the female lines are tentative or evasive (they give reasons why she should leave - "there's bound to be talk tomorrow" - not indications that she is trying to); every firm rejection she offers ("The answer is no") is followed by a more ambiguous implication of willingness ("At least I can say that I tried"); there's an obvious flirtatiousness to the song that makes it plausible as a willing seduction. The song does not describe an assault, or even really a seduction; it is a negotiation.

It is obviously intended as a sophisticated reference to sex within the social constraints of the time. It portrays the flirtation but not the consummation, allowing 1950s audiences to imagine what they couldn't say on radio in those days. (It is a precursor to "Let's Spend The Night Together" - famously censored on the Ed Sullivan show by banning the title line of the song! - and "Norwegian Wood". Both were scandalous at a later date for simply saying that the man and woman did spend the night in the same apartment - in the Beatles' case, with him sleeping in the bathtub! - which "It's Cold Outside" never gets around to saying.)

I don't see the song as implying rape exactly. It was implying sex at a time when you couldn't speak of sex openly, and when people flirting toward a sexual interlude also couldn't speak of it openly. He needs to approach things obliquely without saying that sex is what he wants, and she needs to let herself be "caught" without admitting that sex is what she's agreeing to. He's trying to work her into a position where she can't go home because it's too late and too cold, so she'll "have to" stay with him, and then they'll just "happen to" wind up in bed. She's letting herself be gradually convinced, with the suggestion that she really wants to be seduced but has to find a way to make it look like an accident. So she lets him take her coat, has "just half a drink", and before you know it, whoops, where did the time go?!

The key to the song, I think, is that none of the lines, from either party, are intended seriously. They're both playing a game intended to produce a situation in which they can "just happen" to have sex "without planning to". (There's not really anything in the drink. Her father's not really pacing the floor. The snow's not really up to her knees. He's just offering reasons why she could stay, and she's deciding which line she wants to fall for.) Her being coy allows her to say she never really agreed until she finally got drunk/lost her head/fell into his arms; his being seductive allows her to latch onto any one of his excuses for staying later without acknowledging that she knows what he wants.

At the same time, it's sexist and somewhat coercive. The seduction ploys he uses are overbearing and manipulative, and they depend on an understanding from both parties that "No" does not mean no. They also imply a kind of male presumption ("hurting my pride"), and the whole Wolf/Mouse, pursuer/prey scenario is creepy and a good example of why 50s attitudes to sex are fucked up. But within the 1950s perspective, this was not unusual or offensive. It was not coercion or assault. It was the kind of denial and pretense that "respectable" men and women used - and to some degree had to use - to engage in sex without acknowledging themselves as "that kind of man/girl".

Finally, about Doris Day: her eternal virgin persona was constructed after she had become famous. In her early movies, she was pitched as a sex symbol like most young blond females of that age, then the studio found that she did well in "girl-next-door" roles and created a niche for her. Oscar Levant's famous remark about Doris Day: "I knew her before she was a virgin!" perfectly caught the artificiality of her public pose.
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
( 61 comments — Leave a comment )