Context is King

Disclaimer: I am wholeheartedly aboard the #MeToo train. Hell, I’m a feminist snowflake, if that’s the language you want to use. Our sisters, daughters, mothers, and friends deserve better, quite frankly. However, I also acknowledge when “cancel culture” goes too far. Political Correctness usually has the noblest of intentions, but now and then it gets in the way, and creates division where there has previously been none. Case in point: the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Watch this video.

Here are the first two times this song was ever recorded for distribution, from the 1949 film “Neptune’s Daughter.” We start with Ester Williams and Ricardo Freakin’ Montalban (!) doing the version we all know…the wolfish male predator and his hesitant quarry. Okay, yeah. It looks really bad. When he grabs her arm…repeatedly…to prevent her escape…oof. Not a good look. At least in the radio versions, like Dean Martin’s 1959 rendition, or the (far superior) Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer version from 1949, we don’t actually see the couple. We can imagine that she really does want to stay, but feels guilty, because people back in the late-40’s and 50’s were completely repressed, and slut-shaming was rampant…like, he’s almost doing her a favor in making the decision for her. Still, when you see Ricardo essentially chase her around the room, it’s a little unsettling to modern eyes.

And then we get to observe the other couple, and, uh…well, now!

I mean, come on! Showing her KNEE! Like some shameless HUSSY!

From the same film, we see Red Skelton doing a cartoonishly bad accent, and the tables have turned…his lusty adversary is Betty Garrett, and she demands, like any liberated woman, to have her needs met, by God. Years later, in her powerful “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” Thelma Houston expressed her similar desire thusly:

 

“Oh baby, my heart is full of love and desire for you

Now, come on down and do what you’ve got to do…”

 

Do what you’ve got to do. Yes. TELL HIM, SISTER!! That was the disco-clad Sexual Revolution in the Swinging’ 70’s, but even then, fairly bold. A woman? Demanding sexual gratification from her mate?! CLUTCH THOSE PEARLS!!
“Okay, great…but what’s your point? That we should forgive Montalban’s character for his aggressive courtship?” Well, no. Not entirely. But we have to realize that A) it was a wayyyyy different time and B) the scene exists primarily as a way to set up the much more comedic scene which follows. The Red Skelton stuff would have been somewhat humorous in and of itself…but after seeing the “male” version, it’s even more impactful when Betty Garrett throws her conquest on the couch…sits on him…and turns out the light. She’s in complete control, and there’s not a damn thing Red can do about it. And as a viewer, we all sort of agree that he really doesn’t want to anyway. And, ultimately, as things tended to do in the screwball comedies of yesteryear, everything worked out, and both couples found love. Here’s the official “Neptune’s Daughter” synopsis from IMDB:
 
Scatterbrained Betty Barrett mistakes masseur Jack Spratt for Jose O’Rourke, the captain of the South American polo team. Spratt goes along with the charade, but the situation becomes more complicated when they fall in love. Meanwhile, Betty’s sensible older sister Eve fears Betty’s heart will be broken when Jose returns to South America. She arranges to meet with the real O’Rourke and love soon blossoms between them as well.
 
This brief description leaves out that Eve is an aquatic dancer (hence the movie’s title) and that she’s actually partnered with a man (the omnipresent Keenan Wynn) in a swimwear company. Partnered. Equal. She is, by 1940’s standards, a powerful, professional woman. Athletic, smart, cunning, and protective of her younger sister. Does it make Ricardo’s Jose O’Rourke (his character’s actual name, and Beto O’Rourke is totally biting his rhyme, yo) any less creepy? Not really. But it implies that Eve was more than capable of fending for herself. And that makes a huge difference; she’s not some meek little virgin, not some naive waif who simply doesn’t stand a chance against the machismo of a young Khan Noonien Singh. (And who among us can truly say that? Not I. I’m a 49-year-old heterosexual male, but if he wanted to chase me ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom, well, heck…no mere mortal can resist such masculinity, especially if it smells of rich Corinthian leather.) I digress. Okay, in conclusion, I’ll simply say that yeah, “no” means “no.” Still. But it’s never wise to take isolated incidents out of context. Do the homework. Read the entire article. Watch the interview. Consider everything before leaping to condemn. And above all, relax, people. Have fun. Kiss him or her. If they slap your face, stop. Pretty simple.
 
Enjoy the holidays, everyone.

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