It's Cold Outside But Hot In Here
America’s growing consciousness towards sexual assault and harassment has led to a widespread reevaluation of celebrities and cultural icons that were once widely considered to be routine and harmless. The latest idol in the cross hairs has been “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, a popular holiday song that has been adapted by many artists since its release in the 1940’s to include Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, and Ray Charles. It is considered by many to be whimsical and even romantic but some have picked up on violent undertones and pushed to have it removed from radio circulations. The song portrays a call-and-response dialogue between a male and female lead (suspiciously called “Wolf” and “Mouse” in the original recording according to Wikipedia) and many have found the man to be too pushy and aggressive in pursuing his romantic interests. Some even believe that the song suggests that the man drugs or restrains the woman.
This all makes me wonder how the songs of my youth would hold up to scrutiny. For demonstration, I think back to a particular anthem that was a mainstay at parties during my early college years. While Dean Martin and company reminded folks how cold it was outside, Nelly was letting us know just how hot it was inside with his own call-and-response hook. If I listen back on Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” with my current sensibilities then I have to admit that it has many of the same features for which “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is getting taken to task. I hear an almost-singular focus on the man’s desires (‘Cause I feel like bustin’ loose/And I feel like touchin’ you), a pushiness for women to adhere to those desires (Get up up on the dance floor/Give that man what he askin’ for), and a playful deceptiveness in the man’s pursuit (I gotta friend with a pole in the basement (what?)/I’m just kidding like Jason (oh)/Unless you gon’ do it).
Most importantly, I think of how there was nothing objectionable about the song. The song could be played to a packed room full of sweaty young adults seeking higher education and not one would be asking if the lyrical content was conditioning us to accept men getting their way. To suggest such a thing would surely be met with rebukes to lighten up and reminders that that’s just how men spit game as Nelly himself reminds us in the lyrics. Any serious critique was the domain of over-critical dorks on the internet.
But then again, I may be making a fatal assumption in believing that all were perfectly fine with the song. It might be the case that the lyrics of the song were not lost on some in the room who were uncomfortable targets of heavy-handed advances in a setting where dialogue was not even an option because of music volume and where reaching out and grabbing was more than common. If we choose not to listen to lyrics, then maybe we can at least listen to how the places where we hear those lyrics make people feel.