I'm sure you're all wondering why I've gathered you all here today. You have a little internet family named The Holdernesses to thank. And Harvey Weinstein. And, basically, all sexual assaulters and their apologists/enablers.
You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of The Holdernessesseseseseses. If you live in internet-land like I do, you may have come across their adorable videos in which they are clearly enamored with how insanely perfectly adorable and adorably perfect they are. Given their hard-earned success, so are the rest of the interwebs. And good for them for marketing themselves into a vast internet empire, because who doesn’t have a whole damn production company at their disposal to make professional music videos, for goodness sake? I’ve never paid them much attention until now, but theirs is the latest example of how fucking insidious gaslighting and mocking sexual assault victims can be. So, sorry, Holdernesseseseseseseseseseseseseseses. when I saw your send-up of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for the #MeToo era, I decided you get to be my example.
For the uninitiated, the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has been interpreted in recent years to be fairly rapey, if you consider the lyrics in the context of, oh, say, BILL COSBY. No one thinks it was literally, intentionally written as an ode to date rape. Even in the context of the 1940s, though, the lyrics reflect troubling gender dynamics and can be interpreted as problematic and manipulative. (I mean, the original sheet music has the roles named “Mouse” and “Wolf.” Need I say more?) Reframed over the last decade or two, though, its capacity for sinister interpretation has grown exponentially.
I have no strong feelings about the song either way, though if I had to choose, I’d fall into the “Yeah, it’s pretty rapey” camp. But I have no issues with people who love the song and see it as a flirty give-and-take. I have issues with those in the “flirty” camp insisting the people in the “rapey” camp are overreacting and infringing on their rights by objecting to the song.
I won’t go into great detail about each side’s argument. Snopes does an exhaustive and exceptional analysis of the controversy and history here. Basically, some feel it’s super-rapey, and has more than outlived its appeal. They think in today’s society, it only serves to reinforce the acceptability of pressuring and manipulating a person into having sex with you over their objections. Others dismiss that interpretation with disgust and condescension, insisting the first group is incapable of considering context, and refusing to allow people to even flirt anymore, for god’s sake.
Many who object to the song’s message and lyrics have been calling upon radio stations to stop playing the song at all. One radio station in Cleveland actually obliged. In response, a radio station in Kentucky (of course, Kentucky) played the song on repeat for TWO HOURS STRAIGHT. Their Director of Programming opined, with enlightenment and generosity, that he’s “not sure why it’s controversial.” With infinite wisdom and deep, complex reasoning, (end sarcasm font) he went on, “We’ve played this song for years, you know, this song is older than WAKY is. It’s almost 70 years old.” The station’s Facebook page bragged, “We like it, and we’re not afraid to play it!”
And therein lies the problem, Kentucky radio station. The Cleveland radio station wasn’t pulling the song because it was afraid to play it. It pulled the song because the management agreed it sends a horrible message in today’s times. It pulled the song because it considered the feelings of its listeners who had been victimized (and who are currently being victimized) by one of the people glorified in that song, in that very way. Why, exactly, is that a bad thing for the Cleveland radio station to do? Why should they (and the listeners they’re considering) be mocked? Suffice it to say, I believe those at the Kentucky radio station are gigantic assholes.
“But,” the other side insists, “what about OUR feelings?”
Well, let’s dig into those a bit, shall we? What exactly ARE their feelings about it? That too much is being read into song lyrics from the 1940s? I can give you many examples of forms of entertainment or popular culture that were popular last century (ouch, that hurt…I’m old) that have moved into the unacceptable range now because we know how insulting and damaging they are. (Unless you are Prada, in which case you still think it’s okay to sell racist blackface monkey trinkets in your stores in December 2018.) You might just have to accept that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has slid into that category. Are you gonna be okay?
“But,” the other side cries, “what about our CONCERNS?”
What exactly ARE those concerns? That you WON’T hear “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” on your radio station? Well, golly, I cannot begin to imagine a way to mitigate those genuinely tragic circumstances! I mean, it isn’t as if there are OTHER avenues through which you might listen to your favorite Christmas season song…I just cannot think of one single way you can listen to that song other than on the radio, just hoping your favorite not-at-all-automated D.J. will spin that vinyl round disc with the grooves in it and the needle set atop in just the right place. I can see how that will be really super-tough for you.
Again, I don’t mind the song that much – I agree it’s a catchy tune, and has clever rhymes, which I appreciate as a word person. I don’t get particularly outraged or upset when I hear it on the radio or in a store — even though I was myself was date-raped. I even enjoy that scene in Elf when Buddy joins in with Jovie while she’s singing it in the shower, and you don’t get much more CREEPER than that scene, if you consider it on paper. In the movie, though, it’s adorable. And before you come at me, I even know that in the movie, Neptune’s Daughter, where it first appeared, the song is repeated by a second couple in which the roles are reversed and a woman is coercing a man to stay when he wants to leave. (psssst…that’s wrong, too.)
Here’s the thing. I empathize with people who have, in real life, suffered at the hands of abusive partners who pulled that crap to get their way sexually. I understand why they’d be bothered — triggered — when they hear it. I even respect those who would really, truly prefer their kids, for example, not hear it playing in stores while they shop, because the subconscious and subliminal is some powerful shit. Because while I’m certainly not the Messiah, I am also not a garbage human being, and I have a sense of perspective.
I have the capacity to recognize that no longer hearing a song I might like on the radio is absolutely NOTHING compared to a sexual assault victim’s hearing their rapist’s behavior glorified. What more confirmation would they need of their suspicions that they do not matter? Just shut up and stop complaining, amirite? It’s just a SONG.
Which brings me back to the Holderness version of this song. Ha. You’d thought I’d forgotten about them, hadn’t you? No such luck.
Listen, I’ll be straight with you. These are clearly attractive and talented folks. Good for them for whatever benefits whiteness and excellent genetics have blessed them with. I even know some people on Facebook who have met them personally and vouch for their niceness, smartness, and down-to-earthness. All of those things can be true, and I hope they are, because that means if they happen to find this blog in front of their faces, they might read with an open mind. (One can hope, right?) But onto the analysis.
The video has the camera trained on Papa Holderness, looking very dapper in a Christmas blazer, while his wife (I assume — she’s usually the one who accompanies him in the videos) is off camera singing the Woman/”Mouse” part of the song. He responds by singing the Man/”Wolf” part of the song into an old-timey microphone, but his lyrics are changed to reflect an allegedly “enlightened” man in the #MeToo era.
Woman: I really can’t stay…
Papa H: Okay, you’re free to go.
Woman: I’ve got to go away.
Papa H: Understood, “No” means “No.”
Woman: This evening has been…
Papa H: Super appropriate.
Woman: So very nice.
Papa H: But I do understand consent.
You get the idea. Nothing super objectionable…in fact, nothing in the whole song is super objectionable. But as the song goes on, it gets ridiculous, like he’s terrified to touch her, in a “please don’t accuse me of anything, damn it’s hard to be a man in this day and age…” kind of way.
Woman: I ought to say “No, no, no.”
Papa H: I hear you loud and clear.
Woman: At least I’m gonna say that I tried.
Papa H: I am trying super hard.
Finally, it ends with him basically pushing her out the door into her Uber.
Woman: I really must go.
Papa H: Uber is right outside.
Woman: The answer is no.
Papa H: Seriously, right outside.
The refrain consists of her singing, “Baby, it’s cold outside.,” while he is singing, “Please, just go outside.”
This is just…I don’t know, it just lands wrong. It’s being shared all over as hilarious, news stations are covering it as brilliant. I see it and think, “That’s just wrong.”
Maybe because it feels like it IS low-key making fun of people who are triggered by the original.
Maybe because it is making the woman out to be the one who is clueless and not taking the hint.
Maybe because the vibe is “Heck, I’m trying super hard to be a gentleman, but, you keep forcing yourself on me…”
Maybe it’s the wink at the end. What is that wink about?
Maybe it’s because the insidious message of the whole thing is, “See what #MeToo has done to men? We’re not even allowed to respond to flirting anymore! Life is so unjust for us men…Can you believe this woman? How am I supposed to keep it in my pants if she won’t leave? Look at how good I’m being! Give me a cookie! Or a blowjob! Or how about a cookie AND a blowjob?”
If you are so concerned about not being accused of sexual assault, it is simple. Don’t sexually assault anyone. If there is confusion, or uncertainty, c-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-e with the person you’re with. It really is that straightforward. But don’t make fun of people who, under grave and dangerous circumstances, have just begun to come forward to tell their own stories. (I see you, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.) Don’t dismiss people demanding a change in dynamics of the workplace and the social sphere. Don’t punch down. Don’t whine about how suddenly you have to consider someone else’s feelings too much because UGH that is so much WORK!
And whatever you do, don’t wink.
This is a cross-post originally published on Aliza's blog, The Worthington Post.