America News Analysis

Does the Christmas classic ‘Baby, it’s Cold Outside’ really promote date rape?

A controversy has erupted on American airwaves: Should Frank Loesser’s Christmas classic, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, be banned by radio stations? Those in favour of banning the song claim it promotes date rape, with the male singer refusing to accept a woman’s reasons for wanting to go home. Defenders argue that it’s just a light-hearted, humorous and flirty song from a different era.

According to Fox News, the controversy started after an Ohio radio station pulled it from its playlist after a listener complained about the lyrics.

“It wasn’t really our decision,” the station’s host said. “It’s the decision of our listeners. People might say, ‘Oh, enough with that #MeToo,’ but if you really put that aside and listen to the lyrics, it’s not something I would want my daughter to be in, that kind of situation,” she continued, explaining that “the tune might be catchy, but let’s maybe not promote that sort of an idea”.

Stations in San Francisco and Colorado also banned the song, prompting outcries. After polling its listeners, the Colorado station said the results “showed overwhelmingly that KOSI 101.1 listeners were in favour of the holiday classic returning to the air”.

Ninety-five per cent of respondents favoured keeping the song in the holiday line-up, said the station’s programme director. “While we are sensitive to those who may be upset by some of the lyrics, the majority of our listeners have expressed their interpretation of the song to be non-offensive.”

The Washington Times reported similarly overwhelming results in favour of the song, with about 70 per cent of listeners voting to keep it on the air.

“More than seven out of every 10 listeners who responded said although some lyrics of the song may reflect a different era and a different sensibility than today, still they love the tradition and history of the song, and want to hear it as part of their holiday season,” said the Colorado station’s director.

Indeed, the song remains popular as it sits at number 49 on Billboard’s Top 100 Holiday Song charts. The song also has two prominent defenders: the songwriter’s daughter and Dean Martin’s daughter.

Susan Loesser, daughter of Frank Loesser, had harsh words for the song’s critics. “Bill Cosby ruined it for everybody,” she told NBC News. “Way before #MeToo, I would hear from time to time people call it a date rape song. I would get annoyed because it’s a song my father wrote for him and my mother to sing at parties. But ever since Cosby was accused of drugging women, I hear the date rape thing all the time.”

She added that “It would be good if people looked at the song in the context of the time. It was written in 1944.”

She also commented on one of the main points of the controversy, a line in the song where the female vocalist typically sings “Say, what’s in this drink?”

“People used to say, ‘What’s in this drink?’ as a joke. You know, ‘This drink is going straight to my head, so what’s in this drink?’ Back then it didn’t mean ‘You drugged me’.”

Deana Martin, daughter of Dean (who sang in the most popular version of the tune), told Fox News she would continue performing the song.
She was shocked by the controversy surrounding it.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” said Deana. “It’s just insane. When I heard it, I said, ‘This can’t possibly be.’ You know, it’s a sweet, flirty, fun holiday song that’s been around for 40 years for my Dad. He did it in ’59. But when I saw it, I tweeted, ‘I think this is crazy. What do you think?’ And then all of a sudden, it went viral.

“It’s flirty, it’s sexy, it’s sweet – there’s nothing bad about that song,” she added. “It just breaks my heart.

“I know my Dad would be going insane right now. He would say, ‘What’s the matter with you? Get over it. It’s just a fun song.’ ’Cause he was so sweet anyway … He was a great guy. Fun guy. Nice. And he wouldn’t want to do anything offensive. That wasn’t Dean Martin.”

Deana suggested political correctness is going too far. “This PC is driving me nuts. You gotta sit back and relax. Have a good time. It’s OK. People gotta have a sense of humour about themselves. I understand the #MeToo movement and everything. I’m all for that. But this? We gotta relax and have fun again,” she said.

It appears that Frank Loesser’s Christmas classic is here to stay, but the controversy over the song reveals both the influence and limits of staunch advocates of political correctness. Evidently, most Americans side with tradition, viewing the song as harmlessly flirty and not indicative of sexual assault.

Still, Christmas controversies have a way of sticking. It has also become an annual tradition to debate the merits (or lack thereof) of Wham!’s ubiquitous Last Christmas. Whether the controversy bubbles up again next year remains to be seen.