C’mon, Baby, Let’s Cuddle

Credit: Wystan on Flickr via Creative Commons

Credit: Wystan on Flickr via Creative Commons


“Ambivalent” is probably the best word to describe my feelings about Christmas music. On one hand I really hate overly ornamental music (think Mannheim Steamrollers), anything that sounds like Oldies, and a lot of religious, hymn-ey organ music. On the other hand I love the solemnity and somber orchestral sounds of a lot of Christmas music. It’s the same with the lighthearted stuff: too much bell and it’s over, but just the right amount of bounce and I can’t help but smile.

My two favorite religious songs for the season are “O Come Emmanuel” and Little Drummer Boy. The former has come into focus more over the past few years as my church’s worship leaders have breathed much life and creativity into the song. I’ve written about the impact the latter song has had on me here and here. My favorite lighter songs are “Let It Snow” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” As a friend recently pointed out they both involve snuggling someone by a fire with a warm drink in hand. Nothing sounds cozier.

Unfortunately “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” gets some bad press. One friend and I have argued the merits of the song every Christmas for years. For some it sounds a bit rapey, and people seem to be taking the song really seriously. While I am all for mindful consumption of arts, let me just take a second to encourage us all to lighten up a bit.

I first heard this song in the movie Elf as a duet between Buddy the Elf and his new coworker Jovie (played by my current crush Zooey Deschanel), and I think this context is a perfect picture of the innocence of the song. Buddy has no idea that Jovie is in the shower, or that it would be weird to start singing with her in the ladies’ locker room. Similarly, we have to remember that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” became popular in the 1940’s. This was well before the sexual revolution, women’s lib, feminism, or the era of free love. It was a time when good girls didn’t flirt too much or hang with boys late at night. Women weren’t sexual aggressors and purity culture was at its height. Under the surface, though, women had sex drives just like they do today. So culture constructed certain mores through which men and women could coyly communicate their interest in one another without being inappropriate.

Today we are so sexually charged and twisted around that we can’t hear these lyrics with any sense of innocence. We hear a woman saying something like “the answer is no” or “say, what’s in this drink” and a man responding “what’s the sense in hurting my pride” and we hear date rape with a side of roofies. Let me be the first to say that any time culture promotes sexual aggression or sexism against either gender there is no other response than to stand up and fight against the contribution to a sickness in our society.

Yet we also contribute to this sickness when we refuse to allow for any purity, especially in romance. Let’s assume, just for a second, that the man’s end goal in this song isn’t a night of crazy, quasi-consensual sex. If you’ve ever been cuddled up beside someone in front of a fireplace while it’s below freezing outside, drinking something warm, feeling amorous, maybe smooching a little, you know exactly what kind of “spell” she’s referring to in the song (and if you haven’t, I’m so very sorry because it’s a wonderful experience). The story told in the song is simple:

She’s stopped by to see her beau. He invites her in and they have a lovely evening. She puts up the expected protests (all revolving around others’ perceptions, by the by) while asking for another drink, then another and finally accepting the many arguments he’s provided against leaving. As another writer points out, “the joke is almost always that there is nothing in the drink. The drink is the excuse.”

So many of the woman’s lines clearly communicate her desire to stay that I have a hard time understanding the “rapey” argument. Again, even the implication of sexual aggression is something I believe we should absolutely take seriously. We should also take context in the arts seriously. When I hear this song, it reminds me of cozy experiences snuggling to keep warm with a romantic interest or even a friend while clinging to a hot mug of one drink or another and feeling content. I don’t live in the songwriter’s world of social pressure and repression of female independence. I listen to this song and I feel grateful for my freedom, reminiscent, and happy. “Baby” is my favorite romantic term of endearment, which only adds to the soft familiarity I feel when listening to it. I have no negative associations with the term; in fact it’s one of the only affectionate aspects of my parents’ relationship I ever witnessed as a child.

I hope we can reclaim some innocence in a world where every relationship is overly sexualized. I hope we can regain a sense of intimacy and physicality that doesn’t have to be charged by sexuality and aggression. I hope we can believe that innocence is still a real thing. And if we can’t, I hope we can at least give others the freedom to do so.


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