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Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside

6 January 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

 My greatest hope for 2019 is cultural. It is that the left will rise and do what only it can do—strike a blow against political correctness in the arts and entertainment. All artists are meant to be free and daring. Their job, whether in drama, comedy or music, is to approach the truth—to apprehend it, get their hands on it and hold it up for a moment for everyone to see. That’s a big job, a great one, and you can do it only if you’re brave. Pope John Paul II, in his 1999 Letter to Artists, noted something I have witnessed: The artist faces a constant sense of defeat. You’re working, you’re trying, but it’s never as good as you wanted, as you dreamed. Even your most successful work only comes close. Artists are looking for “the hidden meaning of things.” Their “intuitions” spring from their souls. There is an “unbridgeable gap” between what they produce and “the dazzling perfection” of what they glimpsed in the creative moment. They forge on anyway.

. . . .

At happy gatherings the past two weeks, talk turned to the controversy over Frank Loesser’s 1944 holiday classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” You know the argument. The song should be pulled from playlists and effectively banned because its lyrics, on close inspection, are somewhat rapey. It’s a song about sexual assault; there’s a clear power imbalance. This argument comes from young writers and activists of the #MeToo movement. Actually, the man in the song hopes to seduce, not rape; the song is flirty and humorous, a spoof of the endless drama between men and women.

From every conversation I witnessed liberal opinion is very much against banning the song, as is conservative opinion.

But companies hate controversy. Radio stations don’t want petitions at Christmastime, no one wants trouble. We’ll be hearing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” less as the years go by. It only takes a few highly focused idiots to kill a song.

. . . .

Political correctness is the enemy of art. Self-censorship is a killer of art. Censorship applied from outside, through organized pressure, is an assassination of art.

We have seen the political correctness of the social-justice warriors sweep the universities, hounding out those who would speak from an incorrect perspective, decreeing new rules of language and living. They do not understand that when you tell people, especially Americans, what they can and cannot say, can and cannot think, they don’t stop saying and thinking. They go underground, sometimes to the depths. And it is dark down there.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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31 Comments to “Baby, There’s a Chilling Effect Outside”

  1. If we wait for artists to strike a blow against political correctness, we will wait forever. We don’t need artists to fight our battles.

    • Hear, hear! ALL of us should stand against PC, which threatens to destroy all creativity and free thought.

  2. Not sure where I read this, but the lyrics of the song aren’t meant to be rapey sounding. The lady wants to stay the night with him but society at the time would think very poorly of her so the man is giving her suggestions of reasons or excuses she can use to justify having to stay the night. One could argue that the lyrics are empowering her to get what she wants in a time where she supposedly shouldn’t want it because she’s meant to be a “good” girl.

    Anyway, I kinda liked that explanation and will choose to believe it 🙂

    • I like that explanation, and it fits with how I’ve always heard the lyrics.

      After Christmas, I found a t-shirt that says “Baby, it’s cold outside.” I plan to wear it this summer. 🙂

    • That’s always been my take on the lyrics, Erica. It’s a fun and playful song if you really listen to the lyrics. Not something sinister. But then, I’m not one of the man-hating women that seem to be screaming so loud in our society who think every man is a rapist and thus view everything one does or says through that broken lens.

    • As someone who grew up just after the era this song came out, I must say that’s pretty much what the lyrics are about. Nothing rapey or coercive about it. Of course, the kicker is that all those people who will be upset if she stays the night will be the same people who will have shotguns and a preacher waiting for her and him the next morning.

    • That’s exactly what it’s about. Context is everything. It was 1944 for f**ks sake!

    • Don’t take this the wrong way, but that interpretation is so blindingly obvious to me that I’m mystified by the need to explain it nowadays. This is technically my grandmother’s generation we’re talking about (she was ten years old when this song came out).

      Do younger people really not know that in the past, people had different moral and social standards than they do now? Marilyn mentions shotgun weddings — do younger people just think such things were a random oddity, that there was no belief system underpinning such events?

      And again, my reaction is more “anthropological” than outrage 🙂 It’s just a head scratcher that this song has to be explained — the people from that time period are still alive! From a reader’s standpoint I always got impatient with dsytopians that posit an evil regime successfully pulling off a widescale “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia” tactic, when people could just ask their parents and grandparents if that’s true or not. Or if the characters were the parents/grandparents to start with. Truly, I assumed that almost everyone would know “Eastasia” is a lie, but prudently choose not to say so out loud.

      But from a writer’s standpoint, the reaction to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has made me see how the “Eastasia” tactic could actually work …

      • Thing is, the young people these days (Hi, I’m one of them) have grown up in an extremely sexually permissive society, where being reticent about one’s desires is seen in the same light as being open about one’s desires was seventy years ago.
        The idea that a young woman would start by saying no, in order to clarify that she wasn’t “easy,” before saying yes, is well-nigh incomprehensible.

        • It’s really incomprehensible that a woman in the pre-Pill days wouldn’t want to be seen as “easy”? When out-of-wedlock births were seen as indicative of a moral failing? And when homes-for-unwed mothers was actually a thing? I mean, you wouldn’t assume that such phenomena spontaneously generated out of the aether, right? There had to have been a point to them, and a causative attitude underpinning them? At the very least one would bring that knowledge to the song and say, “Oh, that makes sense. I can see why someone in that scenario would do that.” Right?

          It’s the failure to make the connection that is puzzling to me; the change in attitudes is beside the point. To me, it would be incomprehensible if the woman didn’t behave that way, in that time period with the known social rules and consequences for violation of same, particularly coupled with the technology limitations (no Pill). It’s the kind of worldbuilding error I tend to catch when I’m beta reading 🙂 If a writer intends a heroine to seem like a smart and savvy Elizabeth Bennett, I’m going to ask why she’s behaving like a foolish Lydia Bennett, running off with Mr. Wickham before they get married, if they live in a world where “living in sin” is actually a thing. That’s where the disconnect comes in for me 🙂

          • It’s really incomprehensible that a woman in the pre-Pill days wouldn’t want to be seen as “easy”?

            To people who haven’t been taught history, the idea that there were any pre-Pill days is incomprehensible. And history has been pretty much expunged from the curriculum.

            • This.

              In a talk about one of my books I couldn’t get most of the younger group to understand that there ever is/was/will be places without cell phone coverage and calls for help might not be answered for days/weeks.

              A week to get news from one coast to the other? No way when the east coast can warn the west that a movie stinks in time for it to go from blockbuster to dud in two hours time.

              MYMV and those that don’t learn from history have to relive it.

          • If a writer intends a heroine to seem like a smart and savvy Elizabeth Bennett, I’m going to ask why she’s behaving like a foolish Lydia Bennett, running off with Mr. Wickham before they get married…

            Exactly.

            For the longest time I read modern regency romances in hope of finding an author like Georgette Heyer.

            I loathed all I tried, because the modern authors seemed to equate “spunky and spirited” with not being bound by the sexual mores of the time.

            Which meant that I, as a reader, went back and forth between “I just don’t believe this” (thrown out of the story) and “Is she just stupid?” (risking pregnancy and ostracism just to prove how spirited and unconventional she is, or because she couldn’t say no to the promptings of sexual desire).

            It took me too long to realize that the modern regencies were never going to be the smart, witty tales I wanted.

            • Quite a lot of older works are being republished as e-books by the likes of the Endeavour Media and you could try these, plus sweet or clean in the book description (or even the title) is at least code for “no explicit sex” though it does not guarantee against stupid behavior.

              Actually, lack of marital sex can be a problem in marriage of convenience stories as it closes down a line of communication between hero and heroine where one is needed. Heyer’s books mostly stopped before the marriage but a couple were a bit spoiled by this lack of marital communication (not that Heyer avoided non explicit sex, the background to her novels includes plenty of straying husbands and wives, racy widows and morally questionable opera dancers).

            • What you’re saying is why I never even started on modern non-Heyer regencies. I saw enough reviews indicating what you said that I decided to quit while I was ahead.

              It’s a shame, really, because I’m not convinced it has to be rocket science to grok that a regency-era Lydia is foolish. It does make me wonder what is it about that era that attracts the people who don’t understand the implications of behaving like Lydia.

              • I was thinking about this again today, and I concluded that many of the modern regencies are really sexual fantasies in which the writer and the reader explore the lure of forbidden fruit and the experience of breaking taboos. The regency setting is just a convenience, providing the taboos.

                That’s not what I’m wanting at all, plus the historical inaccuracy dumps me out of the story.

                The thing is that none of the regency romances from the 1970s provide what I want either. They tend to be fantasies involving a power differential. The heroine is vulnerable, the hero is powerful. She eventually secures his love and protection.

                That’s not the witty dialog, the clever plot, and the humorous comedy of manners that I seek.

                Heyer stands alone.

      • We’re living with the Eastasia thing regularly and have been for decades as IdiotPoliticians™ routinely demonize their opponents for supporting positions they themselves supported a few short years back. (C.F. The current political hostage “crisis”.)

        And in today’s tribal politics the partisans discretely look away and follow their “leaders” like good little lemmings, pretending it never happened.

        In today’s politics it’s all relative and right and wrong positions only differ by who is supporting them, not on actual merit. And it’s not just in national politics, either; it is happening in all sorts of public spaces: publishing, movie making, and even in the baseball off-season.

        So yes, Orwellian historical revisionism is not only possible but ongoing on a day to day basis. People *will* swallow any narrative they are fed as long as it is spouted by the “right” people.

        • Pondering this, I think part of my disbelief stemmed from the lack of sophistication in the scenarios, where you basically have the wool pulled over everyone’s eyes overnight.

          I have a back burner story where invaders who won a civil war have found the planet where the losers fled to. They systematically set about separating the young people from their elders, and get rid of the books, precisely to keep the younger people from knowing how to fight back against them. I had assumed you would have to somehow divorce the younger people from knowledge their elders could directly pass on to them.

          I just didn’t consider that there was a less brute-force way to go about it: if propaganda narrative (via schools and popular media) has it that in Grandma’s generation women were weak and helpless, then you might discount what Grandma says about her courtship days. You wouldn’t assume that she might have had her own sensible strategy for negotiating thornier issues, nor would you assume she could have been strongminded and assertive. Bonus if you assume “strong woman” can only equal martial prowess (the bane of many a modern writer).

          If propaganda narrative says that in Grandma’s day, people were bigoted against Oceanians, then you might discount her claim that no, we really did fight the bastards once and the Eastasia War is new. Something like that long-term narrative building would probably require, hmm, a “long-march” is it? Yeah, so basically dystopian writers need to up their game 😉 I’ll stick to rocks-falling-from space or alien invasions instead.

          • At least tbe good guys/gals have a fighting chance against doomsday rocks and aliens. But as they say…
            …against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.

            Friedrich Schiller via Isaac Asimov. 😉

            (Willful ignorance is even worse than stupidity.)

    • Richard Hershberger

      Yes, it is a seduction song, not a rape song. Both parties are dancing to a mutually satisfying conclusion.

      However, while it is not a rape song, it plays into rape culture. The dance the two are performing is where she says no, which he understands as a step toward that conclusion. But what if she really means “no”? Seduction culture becomes rape culture when there is no way to say “no” that is understood to actually mean “no.” This is how you end up with him thinking that sex was consensual, while for her it was a horror to be endured and survived.

  3. William Shatner pointed out the obvious: the song is from a movie so go watch the movie to see the context for the lyrics. Or at least a clip to see the scene play out to see what the intent was:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MFJ7ie_yGU

    Applying 21st “mores” to previous generations is just an excuse to erase and rewrite the past. The chilling effect is the intent: force people to auto censor so the “offended” point of view dominates.

    • Actually, the song is one that Frank and Lynn Loesser composed in 1944 to perform as a duet at dinner parties (their own and those they attended). It was the closing time song – party’s over, people! Very popular among the NYC “smart set.” It went big time with the movie, though (I could debate whether this was due to the scene you referenced, or the hilarious second use of the song, with Red Skelton as the “reluctant date” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHYqKEAehPU).

  4. If you run into the paywall and want to read the article, simply google it and click the google link. It should bypass the paywall.

    Funny how the most libertine parts of society used to be against all censorship and control. Now they’ve become socially small-c conservative — they’re prudes, in other words, just about conformance. The new puritans, with new rules for their particular militant morality.

    They’re the new Moral Majority–as always, neither moral, nor a majority, and always anti-freedom.

    • No, they’re not small-c conservative. They’re capital-R Radical. A conservative would want people to conform to the old established rules. The postmodern Left wants people to conform to whatever rules they choose to push today. Tomorrow they’ll be demanding conformity to something else again.

      Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, and if you remember otherwise, they will do their best to make you an unperson.

      • Exactly, that’s why I disapprove of the song because The lyrics are about a woman flouting the rules of society in order to sleep with her man.
        Those rules exist for a very good reason, you only have to look at modern society to see why having unrestricted sexual freedom is not such a good idea, and the reason for the institution of marriage.

      • And you have only to be someone who disagrees with some of their opinions to quickly learn how high a value they place on the tolerance they claim is so vital to society, and so important to them as people.

        • Tolerance is a one way street for entrenched orthodoxies.
          The older they get, the deeper they dig in and the stronger the reaction to dissent.

          Easy to imagine a select congressional committee:
          “Are you now entertaining or have you ever entertained libertarian thoughts?”

          Plenty of story fodder for counterprogramming.

  5. First World controversy, sounds Putin-esque to divert attention away from what’s really going on in the country.

  6. When I read about the objections to the song back in December I felt a little bit of despair about the stupidity of modern on-line life. Reading the comments here has cheered me up, as well as reminding me just how different life was back in the 50s and 60s.

    The women I knew then did not hate men but had been well trained by their mothers when it came to dealing with men’s sexual interest and knew better than to get into an awkward situation and always knew how to say no without ambiguity (and were quite prepared to remove any confusion with a quick slap to the face). Of course, as other commentators have implied the spoken no might be for conventions sake and the body language might be saying something else, and less sensitive men sometimes got confused about this.

    As for songs, I suspect that there is a whole list that will get the same treatment. Maybe radio stations are already drawing up blacklists? Of course, there will be a hell of a lot of hypocrisy involved as the misogyny of a lot of rap and hip-hop will be ignored (which is actually a good thing as I don’t want to see it censored).

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