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The answer is no: Why some Christmas classics wouldn't fly today




Scene from
Scene from "Neptune's Daughter" in which "Baby, it's cold outside" is performed.
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It's pretty much everywhere this time of year... the flirtatious call and response Christmas song that really has nothing to do with Christmas:

Baby, it's cold outside 

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" was written way back during World War II. But over the generations, the song has not aged well...and debates over its meaning have continued to intensify.

Then...there's the movie, "Love Actually," which is a lot younger, it came out in 2003 and quickly became a holiday favorite.

Love Actually Trailer

Now, like the song, cracks are appearing in its "holiday tradition" status.

So, how did these two Christmas standards go from being beloved — to condemned? For more on that cultural shift, Libby Denkmann spoke with Emily Crockett. She wrote about this issue for Vox.

The song was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser who would preform it at his dinner parties with his wife. He sold it to MGM and it was premiered in a movie called "Neptune's Daughter" in 1949. Since then, the song has been covered countless times, and no doubt performed at your office party.

"I remember a blog posted in 2010, there were sort of dueling takes at the feminist blog Persephone magazine," Crockett told Denkmann, "And really it's just people started to listen to it and they hear the line where she says 'Say, what's in this drink?'

"The neighbors might think (baby, it's bad out there)
Say what's in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)"

"So the interesting thing about 'what's in this drink' is if you watch old movies from the 30's and 40's you'll see this made as a joke a lot like, 'Say, what's in this drink," explained Crockett, "And usually it's someone who's perfectly sober and knows very well that they're about to do something that's socially unacceptable but they would like to blame their behavior on the alcohol."

While in the 1930's and 1940's, using alcohol as an excuse for socially unacceptable behavior was somewhat the norm. It's problematic in the modern age.

"Very frequently, women's use of alcohol is used against them when they are raped or sexually assaulted, right?," said Crockett,  "And it's like 'oh well you shouldn't have been drinking , there's just a tendency to blame the victim, to blame women and to blame their consumption of alcohol instead of blaming the people who take advantage of them while they may have consumed alcohol."

But the 'drink' line isn't the only line that has critics of the song upset.

"I simply must go (but baby, it's cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it's cold outside)"

"That line is very difficult to contend with. When she says, the answer is no, and he just says 'but baby, it's cold outside,'" explained Crockett, "He just completely ignores her."

In the lines preceding the infamous 'the answer is no' line there are moments where she says things like "I wish I knew how, to break this spell' or 'I ought to say no.' These can be seen as an attempt to qualify it. 

"Throughout the song she's worried about what the neighbors will think, what her parents will think, that people will talk. But she's not saying that she doesn't want it," Crockett went on to explain how this can be interpreted in a different way, "So, there is a feminist interpretation of this song from today's lens which is that...in the 1940's women didn't have a lot of sexual agency they were not really permitted to express desires overtly. And so, when they had them they often had to play hard to get, they had to pretend they were a good girl, they had to even maybe turn down sex that they wanted for fear of social retribution."

If you still feel uneasy about the song's lyrics, but you can't get the melody out of your head? Try this 'PC' version, courtesy of a young couple in Minnesota.

And now, onto another holiday classic: "Love Actually." The British rom-com was released in 2003 and was one of the first of its kind. It featured a star studded cast with overlapping storylines and both sad and happy endings.

Concerns over "Love Actually" became most apparent in 2013, after Lindy West's epic takedown on Jezebel, appropriately titled, "I Rewatched Love Actually and Am Here to Ruin It for All of You."

Critics have trouble with lots of things when it comes to "Love Actually," but some big standouts are: how in most of the love stories the woman was the subordinate, the overall treatment of women and the fat shaming.

Love Actually chubby

Over and over the character, Natalie, is reminded that she is 'chubby' or that her thighs are big. But if you look at the actress, Martine McCutcheon, you will see that she is not chubby at all. Another point West points out in her piece is the troubling trend in the film that sees men pining after their subordinates.

"...there's Hugh Grant and his assistant, he's playing the Prime Minister she's his...I think intern or something. In addition to the fat shaming, there's also that problematic power dynamic," said Crockett, "and Lindy put it so well when she said something like women are not allowed to say more than 27 words. Women are not attractive basically because they are not speaking and once you speak more than 27 words, once you have a semblance of a personality or an inner life then you are doomed to die alone and unloved..."

This is just a sampling of the gripes surrounding "Baby, it's cold outside" and "Love Actually" but where did these shifting attitudes come from? Crockett offered an explanation:

"The feminist blogosphere really exploded starting around 2004 especially around 2008. Women on the internet just started writing about feminism especially during the Bush years when they were really frustrated about how their issues were going and it was a very fresh, new, snarky confrontational style and it was just this very take no prisoners, it's what brought us Jezebel in the first place.

And so, by 2010 you had this sort of pretty well established tradition of being mouthy feminists on the internet and talking about things in culture that bother you, that maybe you've never been able to put words to before and then suddenly people were putting words to it. And once people did it's like...taking the red pill in the matrix...you see how deep the rabbit hole goes."

So, with this new outlook on media, are we being too touchy? Are we ruining classics that everyone should still enjoy for Christmas?

"The fears that you hear about this, 'oh the PC police' 'Oh, they're ruining culture,' I think are completely silly and stupid and overblown. Anytime anyone wants to criticize something it starts being interpreted as censorship..." said Crockett, "It's okay to love something that's problematic most things that we love are problematic in some way because we live in such a deeply sexist and patriarchal culture sometimes in ways that we're not even aware of it's hard to avoid. Hopefully it'll change the art that comes after it and make it better and make it more intelligent and treat women more like human beings."

To hear the full segment, click the blue play button above.