There are a lot of possible reasons why Donald Trump will, unimaginably, be the next President of the United States. There’s so much potential blame to go around, in fact, that the Trump victory and all it represents can operate as a kind of Rorschach test, with each person able to see within it exactly what they want to see based on their personal biases. Trump’s ascendency is so infuriating that it’s second nature to want to point to “that thing that’s always been the problem” — whatever grievance or political boogeyman you’ve soapboxed about for months into years — and claim that it’s responsible for this nightmare. Knowing this is what’s stopped me from commenting on the whys and hows of the Trump presidency, other to point to general American stupidity as an excuse.
That said, I have to admit that I really was hopeful the sudden appearance of an existential threat to liberal democracy itself would convince our perpetually aggrieved social justice crusader friends to maybe knock it the hell off for a while. I won’t go so far as to outright lay the Trump era at the feet of those who incessantly seek to offense-proof the world in the name of absolute political correctness. The reality is a bit more complex than that. But the constant drumbeat of disapproval from Generation Scold gave Trump a perfect target upon which to sic his rabid minions. And in the wake of that slaughter, it would be nice to think that anyone who enjoys getting pissy over every little perceived slight against their slice of the identity politics pie would be self-aware enough to realize they don’t have the luxury of that kind of petty shit anymore.
It would be nice to think that, anyway.
Enter a report over at NPR today about a couple of Minneapolis-based singer-songwriters who’ve solved one of the most pressing crises of our time by “fixing” the Christmas classic Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski say that the original version of the song just struck a nerve with them, what with its sexually aggressive male who refuses to allow his female singing partner her agency and constantly tries to talk her into staying with him rather than going home. Or something. “It was meant to be playful, but all those lyrics just sit wrong with me — especially being from this generation,” Liza says, unnecessarily informing us that she’s a Millennial. “It’s just very aggressive,” adds Lemanski. “He’s not respecting her wishes to leave.” What they’ve done to correct this problem then is rewritten the song to include lyrics that emphasize consent. Thus, instead of the man trying to get the woman to stay — the entire point of the song — he’s, like, good with whatever and just hopes she gets home safe.
Sure, it’s not at all playful or goofily sexy anymore, but at least it’s been scrubbed of all that toxic masculinity and is therefore safe for enjoyment in the year 2016. They’re even donating the proceeds from the single to the Sexual Violence Center of Minnesota, the National Alliance To End Sexual Violence and RAINN — thereby implying that the overtones of the original silly Christmas song are so dangerous that they have the power to lead to actual sexual assault.
It goes without saying that Liza and Lemanski couldn’t be more archetypically of-their-generation if they were literal Snapchat pictures come to life. In the images that accompany the NPR story online, they’re photographed against a predictably vintage-looking backdrop, in a room with dark wood-paneled walls adorned with gold-framed motel room paintings. She has mousy hair and a cardigan sweater. He has a beard and looks like he’s trying to hold back the last drop of testosterone from draining out of his asshole. Neither of them is smiling. They’re sentient Williamsburg. A dual living embodiment of a generation that’s never had a sick, passionate urge it didn’t immediately cleanse itself of via a committee on Twitter.
Now, sure, Baby, It’s Cold Outside is a creepy little song by today’s standards. But that’s just the thing: It wasn’t written with today’s standards in mind because it was written 72 fucking years ago. If we attempted to “sanitize” every piece of art from every generation that came before us, we’d not only be ruining the spirit — right or wrong — of the original material, as it was intended by the artist, we’d also miss out on what that art told us about the era in which it was created. Yes, it’s shocking to go back and watch old Tom & Jerry cartoons and realize how horribly racist they were, but that’s a product of the time they came from and should therefore be understood as such.
Imagine for a moment if Trump decides in four or eight years that he wants to be president for life and his impact on the nation is to the point that our culture reverses itself. So imagine if years from now KKKletus & Britneey decide to do a cover of Killing in the Name Of that changes the lyrics so it praises cops killing black people — all because that fits in more with the times. Art is malleable and can always be open to interpretation, but there’s a difference between adjusting a work because you love that work and it inspires you and doing so because you disapprove of the original — its tone, message, etc. You do something like that you’re kind of just being an asshole.
What’s most amusing about the NPR story is that it digs deeper — certainly deeper than our Very Serious Hipster Troubadours thought to be — and put the meaning of the original song to a music historian. Thomas Riis says that in the mid-to-late-40s, Baby, It’s Cold Outside was seen as empowering for women. It featured a woman having a drink with a man who wasn’t her husband, not wanting to be judged for her actions, and deciding for herself what she wanted to do. Small potatoes now, certainly, and definitely up for a much more critical interpretation, but at the time Riis says the message was “‘I can do what I doggone please. I’m a modern woman.”
But, you know, it made somebody feel unsafe in the year 2016 so it has to go. Thank Christ we’ve finally got that whole date rapey song from 1944 under control.
There’s about to be a psychopath in the White House, but, hey, at least the kids saved Christmas. Baby steps.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.