Baby, it’s controversial outside

Photo: James Morgan

There’s been a right grinchy mood in Canada lately over a facet of seasonal celebration. I say seasonal because it isn’t necessarily specific to Christmas but is instead a piece of pop culture that is part of the secular culture surrounding the holiday season.

The song Baby It’s Cold Outside has faced criticism in recent years for lyrics which some believe implies non-consensual sexual behavior and date rape. I’m not going to analyze those allegations because it’s already been done extensively, and by people far more qualified than me.

However, the accusations that the song is about those unacceptable behaviors led to the government-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) banning it from airplay on its radio and online networks on December 4. Rogers Media, which owns 52 private radio stations across the country also decided the song would not be played.

Public outcry towards the CBC was swift. There were accusations of censorship, out-of-control-political correctness, and liberal bias.  On December 11, the network announced Baby It’s Cold Outside would return to the airwaves. Rogers, which relies on advertising revenue, and not taxpayer funding, to stay in business, has not relented.

The most prominent Canadian performer of Baby It’s Cold Outside is Michael Bublé in his duet with American actress Idina Menzel.

Similar swirlings of rage have surfaced in recent days over the allegations made by some that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer encourages discrimination and bullying. The CBC has the Canadian broadcasting rights to the classic 1964 stop-motion animated special based on the song, narrated by Burl Ives.

Even though the program was originally produced for NBC, half of the rest of the cast of voices on that special were Toronto-based actors and announcers who were staples of CBC productions in the 1960s.

Aside from the concerns about not-so-appropriate behavior, Baby It’s Cold Outside is unlikable as a Christmas song for another reason.

It has zilch to do with Christmas or the holiday season. It’s about winter weather and a couple at some guy’s home. Change the words around to include references to heat and sun, and the same idea could be used in a song about a hot night in July. Of course, in December, snow and cold temperatures are an exciting and magical thing. By the end of January, any radio station that plays songs that make winter weather sound cute is risking its ratings and a complaint to federal regulators.

Baby It’s Cold Outside was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser and was meant to be a duet he would perform with his wife at their housewarming party in New York. It didn’t gain popularity until 1949 when it was used in the film Neptune’s Daughter, twice. Once as a duet between Ricardo Montalban (later known for pitching the “soft Corinthian leather” of a Chrysler Cordoba) and Esther Williams, and the second time by Betty Garrett (later Archie Bunker’s liberal neighbor Irene Lorenzo) and comic Red Skelton. Ironically, the song got used as a replacement for (I’d Like to Get You on) A Slow Boat to China, another Loesser-penned song that censors thought was inappropriate.

Neptune’s Daughter was not a Christmas film and it took place in California.

A totally un-Christmassy song like Baby It’s Cold Outside is among many others from the 1940s and 1950s that are associated with the holidays but are not much more than happy ditties about winter weather and romance. Winter Wonderland, It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter and Sleigh Ride are other examples. They have a common theme of relationships based on meteorology.

I always thought that secular Christmas music was written to make people happy (and to make songwriters and performers money). Clearly, at least one song is not causing universal holiday happiness.

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1 Comment on “Baby, it’s controversial outside”

  1. Peter Klein says:

    Inappropriate is a very inappropriate word and should be banned from all languages.

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