Because it’s Christma…holid…December, it’s time for the year-end tradition of getting your nose out of joint about things that shouldn’t be things. Merry Christmas v. Happy Holidays. Can we have a manger scene? Should that teacher have told those first graders the truth about Santa? Can we watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Can we sing Baby It’s Cold Outside?
The last question is a good one to frame the overall discussion. The song was written by in 1944 a man named Frank Loesser to sing at dinner parties with his wife. In 1944, the world was a different place. Women didn’t spend the night–and you can make the argument that this woman wanted to.
But she clearly says no, and has to ask what’s in the drink?
Both of those things are true, and through 2018 eyes, specifically after the #metoo movement, they’re kind of creepy lines.
But in 1944, what’s in this drink? was it’s own kind of in joke. Often there was nothing in the drink. Or just a normal amount of alcohol. But again, this was a time when a woman couldn’t say I want to jump your friggin bones right here on the living room floor as a warm-up exercise for what comes next? And although she says no, the last line of the song is sung in unison, between the woman and the man, indicating ultimate consent.
And yet, it’s 2018. It’s a time when women have to watch their drinks, when a good father tells his daughter (I told my son, too) that if you set down your drink, consider it gone and get another one.
In other words, does intent matter?
Frank Loesser and his wife didn’t intend to sing about date rape. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t think it was about rape when it was given an Academy Award in 1949. (Ricardo Montalban was one of the people who sang it. I’ll let Star Trek fans dwell on that for a moment.)
But let’s say you got roofied and someone raped you? It wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to feel accutely uncomfortable at the lyrics, in spite of intent.
It’s been 74 years since this song was written. Times change. Norms change. But intent doesn’t change. Frank Loesser’s song is playful and flirtatious. He wasn’t writing about male predatory behavior. To make the song about date rape makes him an apologist for date rape.
Consider that, please, when someone says either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to you. Consider it when thinking about how awful Rudolph’s story is (it’s just a Christmassy version of X-Men, if you think about it).
It’s a lesson we have to keep in mind during each succeeding round of the culture wars.