Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Baby It's Banned Outside...

December 2018 - "Baby It's Cold Outside" is being banned from the radio waves left, right and centre - okay probably not from the right, but left and centre most definitely. Frank Loesser crafted his 1944 call & response song as a fun party piece to perform with his wife who thought the song was a gas to sing and was distraught when Loesser sold its rights to be used in the film Neptune's Daughter. If you've been living under a rock and don't know the plot... a "Wolf" (usually voiced by a male singer), tries to convince a "Mouse" (usually voiced  by a female singer) to stay the night or at the very least get to 1st base and maybe steal 2nd. (See lyrics at the bottom of this post.)

Yeah, when taken in a modern context, a couple of phrases read questionably. "Say what's in this drink?" and the 'aggressor's' continued pushing after she says "The answer is no," take on a whole new flavour in the MeToo era. Thing is? I can almost guarantee that Loesser didn't write this song about slipping the girl a Mickey Finn and wasn't intent on promoting date rape. When you contextualize the song given the time period, it is truly less about a guy strong-arming a girl into putting out, and WAY more about a girl worried about how her reputation will fare if she does. When sung well, (apart from the juxtaposition of those two lines) by a couple who obviously have the hots for one another (either with a man in the so-called 'power' position or with the woman in that role), the song should read as clever and flirtatious.

That said, last night when I watched Ricardo Montalban man-handle Esther Williams in this clip  from Neptune's Daughter, it creeped me the hell out. The pair don't really have any chemistry and I can almost feel the bruises on ol' Esther's arms after the choreography. But keep watching, because seeing Betty Garrett and Red Skelton do the role reversal is incredibly charming and very slap-stick. Double standard? Yep, you betcha.

I would love to say that sexual mores have changed a lot over the past 74 years. They haven't. Women continue to be shamed for proclaiming any sexual inclination, unmarried or otherwise. The song is rife with sexism - but the overtone of persuasive sexual advances is much less offensive to me than the expectations of female behaviour.  Why does she care what her mother, father, sister, brother, maiden aunt and neighbours think? What business is it of theirs if she is having consensual sex with someone?

All the mouse's waffling in the song - and there is soooooo much of it - seems to come from a fear of owning the fact that she wants to stay: "Well maybe just a half a drink more," "I ought to say, no, no, no..." "At least I'm gonna say that I tried," "Well maybe just a cigarette more." When one reads into every nuance of this ditty (and that's what we're supposed to be doing now), it becomes fairly apparent that somewhere between verses 3 and 4 the couple has had sex or at least a near facsimile thereof. She's asking for a comb to fix her state of disarray. I don't know about anyone else, but when I'm truly rumpled, it's from more than 1st base. I might have wrestled a bit before hand, 'cause I get off on that. And maybe this girl does too.

Apart from those two problematic lines, I dig the song.

But maybe I shouldn't. If this 1944 holiday song was filled with allusions to minstrel shows or outdated referrals to northern peoples - we wouldn't be having this discussion. The song would already be banned. But because it's garden variety sexism and sexism continues to cloud the lens through which we view the world, maybe I'm only a slightly more 'woke' version of women the generation before me who say "Aw c'mon - boys will be boys." Should I be more offended? By allowing this duet to play on public radio will it continue a pattern of sexual coercion and shame?

What I want is to have a dance company take multiple versions of the song and choreograph them to show the difference between flirtation and assault. I want a dozen covers showing exactly how charming and how uncomfortable it can be.

They can start with Pearl Bailey and Hot Lips Page's version.  It's just about perfect and Pearl is definitely the driver - in the Mouse role.

I really can't stay (Baby it's cold outside)
I gotta go away (Baby it's cold outside)
This evening has been (Been hoping that you'd dropped in)
So very nice (I'll hold your hands they're just like ice)
My mother will start to worry (Beautiful what's your hurry?)
My father will be pacing the floor (Listen to the fireplace roar)
So really I'd better scurry (Beautiful please don't hurry)
Well maybe just a half a drink more (I'll put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think (Baby it's bad out there)
Say what's in this drink? (No cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how (Your eyes are like starlight now)
To break this spell (I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell) (Why thank you)
I ought to say no, no, no sir (Mind if move in closer?)
At least I'm gonna say that I tried (What's the sense of hurtin' my pride?)
I really can't stay (Baby don't hold out)
Baby it's cold outside
I simply must go (Baby it's cold outside)
The answer is no (But baby it's cold outside)
The welcome has been (How lucky that you dropped in)
So nice and warm (Look out the window at that storm)
My sister will be suspicious (Gosh your lips look delicious!)
My brother will be there at the door (Waves upon a tropical shore)
My maiden aunt's mind is vicious (Gosh your lips are delicious!)
Well maybe just a cigarette more (Never such a blizzard before) (And I don't even smoke)
I've got to get home (Baby you'll freeze out there)
Say lend me a comb? (It's up to your knees out there!)
You've really been grand, (I feel when I touch your hand)
But don't you see? (How can you do this thing to me?)
There's bound to be talk tomorrow (Think of my life long sorrow!)
At least there will be plenty implied (If you caught pneumonia and died!)
I really can't stay (Get over that old out)
Baby it's cold
Baby it's cold outside!


Big Apple Blindness

I feel it happening almost as soon as I step outside of the conference. By the time I make my way to the top of Columbus Circle I know it's a goner. It's gotta be the cold air. My thighs have gone cold with the breezy NY air. My left thigh still has some warmth, but my right? Not so much.

My silicone-topped, stay-up stocking is slowly sliding down my thigh. I mince my way along to the benches adjacent to the entrance to Central Park and surreptitiously hike up the right stocking to its original resting place. I give myself a virtual high-five and begin walking to the Plaza where I have arranged to meet my friend Narda.

Five steps into my journey, my thigh and the stocking decide to part ways.  Victim to the unexpected meteorological changes, the stocking's lacy band slowly unfurls before resting delicately at the top of my ankle boot. My steps slow, but they do not stop.

My entire right leg is now visible. My pasty-white leg a beacon for all those walking on 59th Street. Then I start to laugh. I remember a story that my mother told me about a trip she'd taken to see the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa when she was 16. While she was walking on Rideau Street, one of her stockings had come loose from her garter belt, leaving her leg open to the elements.  She and her friends popped into a department store - probably the Bay - and attempted to rectify the situation in the elevator but found it too crowded and had to seek out the bathroom.  Like mother like daughter.

I put my shoulders back, lift my chin and just keep walking.

No problem Heather. This is not a problem. You're just an eccentric lady out for a walk... laughing in fits and starts as you make your way to the Plaza.  No one in NY looks down - there's too much to see around and up. So you just keep on smiling and keep on walking... 

Cheeks hurting from my manic grin - I make my way to the Plaza. And nobody paid attention. Not even the doorman for the Plaza apartments who can't help but see me as I crouch down to shove the lacy stocking top into my boot.

Narda and I meet up and head into Central Park, at which point I make a bee-line to a fence against which I can prop myself to take off my socks and stockings. I stash the defunct lingerie in my conference bag and then put my socks back on before zipping up my ankle boots once more.

"All right, let's move! Gotta walk to keep warm!"

I give Narda a quick and dirty tour of the Southern end of the park before we make our way to Macy's on 34th Street, where Narda purchases fun socks and I purchase some tights.

I of course forget to put the tights on while we're in Macy's proper. It isn't until we're in the vestibule at the main entrance with its LED ceiling and walls bathed in Christmas reds and greens and holidays scenes, when I remember that it is now cold outside and my chiffon dress will not offer much warmth especially now that the sun has gone down.

"We can go back in and find a bathroom," suggests Narda.

"Nah... I'm good here." I scoot off to the side and nonchalantly pull off my boots and socks.

Narda shakes her head.

"I'm telling you - this is NY - nobody notices anything outside their own sphere." I take my new tights out of their packaging. Crowds of people are heading through the vestibule - no one has yet to notice my bare feet.

"Uh-huh..." Narda rolls her eyes at me.

"Seriously." I lean against the wall and bend over, pull on the feet of my new tights and prep for a clandestine tight raise.

"Uh... miss? You probably don't want to be doing that here."

I look to my left, there is a hairy hipster in a plaid jacket looking very disappointed in me.

"That's the entrance panel to the store front windows. People need to get in and out right where you're leaning."

"Oh, I'll be done in just a moment."

Dude looks at me and then pointedly looks at the entrance panel.

"Oh. Right. By someone you actually mean YOU. Oh... YOU'RE doing the windows!  Very cool! Sorry about that."  Tights up to my calves, I bounce out of his way.

Stolen from a Guardian article about tights. 

Narda snorts. "Only you Heather. Only you."

"Not a problem. Window dude is now in there. He won't come out for a while. Nobody is paying attention, you shield me..."

I bend down to grab the waistband of the tights. Instantly, all the LED lights in the vestibule turn brilliant white.  No longer bathed in Christmas reds and greens - there is a blinding white LED light show of a festive snow storm bouncing off every surface in the space. The area around me is glowing - there may as well be a sign with flashing arrow pointing:


Narda and I are almost sick we're laughing so hard. And not a single person noticed.