Victoria Jelinek


December 19, 2018 VII – Baby It Does Seem Cold Outside

Baby Its Cold Outside cover

“Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist.” Camille Paglia

Something I always stress with my students when we begin studying a book in class is the context in which it was created. The context (time period, locale, gender and socio economic status of the writer, historical and cultural events during the period in which it’s written) informs why and how the text is written. It is the seeming inability or unwillingness for many to consider the context in which songs, films, theater, photography, painting, art in general, is created, that gives me the impetus to write today. Specifically, I address the once-again attempt to ‘ban’ the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is frequently played during the holidays.

In 1944, Frank Loesser wrote “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in order to perform it with his wife at their housewarming party as they said ‘goodnight’ to their guests. It was written by Loesser as a playful call-and-response duet in order to amuse its listeners. A few years later, the song was used for the musical “Neptune’s Daughter,” in which the male and female parts are identified as “The Wolf” and “the Mouse,” respectively. In the musical, the Wolf and the Mouse have been out on a date and after having a nightcap at the Wolf’s house, the Mouse is making her excuses to go home while he’s trying to persuade her to stay. In this back-and-forth between them, “I really can’t stay…” the Mouse sings, “But, baby, it’s cold outside…” those wishing to ban the song argue that he’s trying to ply the female with alcohol against her wishes and then take advantage of her – certainly many of we women have experienced this attempt and it’s what is, essentially, “date rape” the reasoning goes. Is she succumbing to his unflagging persistence against her wishes? Or, does she really want to stay, but is playing hard to get?

I believe she does want to stay but is playing coy because “good girls” in the 1940’s didn’t have sexual desires outside of marriage (or, arguably, within marriage, but that’s another post). At the time in which the song was created, women – or the Mouse in this case – understood that there were distinctly “acceptable” behaviors for women that were in direct contrast with what was deemed “acceptable” behavior for a man. It was beyond the confines of social “acceptability” for a woman to succumb to her sexual desires and stay the night with a man she had just been on a date with. Giving in to one’s desires could invariably prevent a “good girl” from having a “good marriage” later, which was at the time the raison d’etre for women. Realizing the boundaries of social expectations, the Wolf, through his repeated refrain, is offering her the excuses she needs in order to stay the night without any guilt. Moreover, at the time in which the song was written, “What’s in this drink?” was a stock joke because claiming to drink too much could ostensibly be used as an excuse for bowing to one’s ‘hidden’ wishes – behaving as one wouldn’t normally according to the social expectations at the time. Additionally, if one listens to the song, there are no predatory elements in the tone and style of the music. The female singer is not anxious or afraid – she’s playful, sexy, and desires the male. The song is, indeed, suggestive of light, flirtatious banter, just as the author Loesser intended when he wrote it to sing with his wife after their party.

I include the link (below) to a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” performed by Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In this version, the roles have been reversed – Lady Gaga is the “Wolf” and Gordon-Levitt is the “Mouse.” I think it’s a wonderful rendition that captures the essential spirit of the original song.

Advertisements


Polanski Exhibit in Paris

http://www.france24.com/en/20171030-france-roman-polanski-retrospective-sex-assault-allegations-paris-protest-cinema-weinstein

Chinatown_1It makes me frustrated and sad that feminist groups are protesting this retrospective of Roman Polanski’s work at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris. The exhibit is not about the man and allegations of sexual misconduct against him – it is about his filmmaking, and his films are masterpieces.

As an aside, for those interested in hearing details about his 1973 rape conviction in Los Angeles, the then-girl that Polanski raped supported a 2008 documentary that claimed there was judicial misconduct in the case, which may inform one’s opinion of the situation.

I am NOT defending assault or sexual harassment or sexual predators. I worked in Hollywood for ten years, and am not naive to the innuendos and injustices against women behind closed doors AND on the screen. It bothers me tremendously that I have to insert that disclaimer from the ‘get go’ in the hope of being listened to and not judged as a sexist or “traitor” myself. But sexism and misogyny exist in all fields and are insidious elements in every society. What I AM condemning is what seems to be a fevered frenzy at the moment. I AM condemning the lack of judiciousness on the part of the public. Allegations are ‘coming out of the woodwork’ about claims of hands on knees, or “inappropriate suggestions,” or implicit expectations, or “gropes,” from a variety of sources, which, in my opinion, undermines actual rape, assault, and battery and adds to a cacophony that is no longer really listened to, becoming, instead, part of an over-information storm akin to the environment depicted in A Brave New World. Why aren’t people being more critical about the recent barrage of sexual misconduct claims against celebrities and public figures? Why aren’t people considering the details, such as source, context, the current social climate (desire for celebrity status, however short lived, an age of “alternative facts” and moral perceptions entering popular “knowledge” and worse, politics, rising populism in the face of fear and a general sense of powerlessness, etc.).

Why aren’t we looking to the elements that create sexism and misogyny in the first place? I won’t even get into philosophical ruminations on the role of woman as “other” in society, but suggest concrete considerations: perhaps start with inequality in reproductive care, such as easy access to birth control or a safe abortion? Or inadequate financial help for single mothers? Or inequality in pay for the same work between men and women, as well as unequal opportunities to enter certain fields? Or inadequate practical support and protection for victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault? Or inadequate representation of women in politics, which, perhaps, comes down to inequality in campaign financing? Or inadequate protection for women during divorce, especially from powerful or abusive husbands? Why are we, instead, focusing on the language we use, and exhibits of artwork, and ‘crimes’ based on hearsay propagated by social media platforms whose only interest is in identifying and categorizing the parameters of our consumer behavior?
If we protest the work of a great filmmaker based on his personal life – the details of which have not been proven without a doubt in a court of law anywhere in the world (prompting the question as to whether there is real respect for the law), then soon, we’ll be pulling books from male authors that discuss a woman’s body in a sexual light, of which there are many. And films that objectify women, of which there are many. And if we begin going down that road, we must eliminate classic film and literature that perpetuates stereotypes about women, men, Germans, Russians, Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, the French, the Spanish, Arabs, or the Chinese. Why not watch them, read them, study and discuss them? Deconstruct and consider the context they were created in, and by whom, and the opinions and emotions they inspire in us now and ask “why” frequently. If we start censoring art and expression – which is what this is – then we will soon have a dull, moralistic, constrained society with little imagination motivated absolutely by fear and anger and, likely, suppressed violence. And meanwhile, there will be no difference in the real and practical source of inequality for women, which is, in my opinion, economic and representative inequality. We will have undermined it all in a great, drowning, cacophony without clarity of focus.

Personally, I would not want to live in a society such as this. In what I perceive to be a very worrying time politically, socially, and environmentally, I derive strength from film and literature of the past and present – their excellence gives me hope for and in humanity. And, critically speaking, Polanski’s canon of work is an example of the finest filmmaking.