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.

Symbols

I’m troubled by something. 2016 has been mighty troubling to a lot of people, to be sure, for a lot of different reasons. And yes,it’s easy to just slap the name “TRUMP” on a blog post or article and get the same standard outrage from the Left and hoots and cheers from the Right. Yeah, yeah, he won. Fair and square. And there have certainly been a number of well-publicized hate crimes and what seems to be an increase in racist and misogynistic rhetoric; however, it’s really hard to get a true, accurate read on those numbers because, as we learned all too well this election cycle, the internet is full of shit and people only hear what they want to hear.

No, it’s not really a Trump issue, not really, that has me feeling tight in the chest and anxious. I feel like he’s sort of the symptom rather than the cause, the bellwether of a growing problem, an infection of sorts. The infection of jingoism and Nationalism that seems to have taken root in our beloved United States.

“Wait, what’s wrong with being Nationalistic? Ain’t nothing wrong with being proud of your country!” I can hear it already. Okay, look. I’m one of those people who get labelled “smart-ass” and “elitist” because of this argument, and I’m fine with it, because look: I don’t think it’s correct for most of us to say that we are proud to be Americans. And it’s not for the reasons you may think. It’s just semantics. See, I feel that if you’re proud of something, then it should be something you had a hand in earning. Be proud of earning your Masters. Proud of the bookshelf you built with your bare hands and a miter box. Proud of the way your kids turned out. But here’s the thing: most of us in this country were born here. We didn’t earn that. We just got lucky.

Am I delighted to live here? Oh, you bet yer sweet ass I am. For the past 46 years of my life, I’ve been able to say what I want, eat what I want, work where I want, worship (or NOT worship) how I want. I’ve had a say in who runs my community, my state, my country, even which laws are to be enforced. There’s so much about this country to love, but I have to acknowledge that I could very easily have been born in Sri Lanka or Hungary or Lithuania, and while I’m sure those are all wonderful places, they just don’t have the quality television programming, fast food, and rock music that I’ve been spoiled with my entire life. Now, someone who emigrates from any foreign country to the U.S.? Who toils to earn the money for the trip here? Who brings his or her family and studies hard and gets a visa and takes the test and thus joins the great community of these United States of America? THAT person has every right to be “Proud to be an American.” Because they will have earned that shit.

I simply inherited it.

Anyway, with that perspective firmly in mind, I get a bit nervous when I hear and see things like the huge outpouring of support for our President-Elect when he says “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” (Twitter, November 29, 2016)

Okay that shit’s alarming to me. Not that Trump said it…he’s made so many insane declarations that it’s hard to keep track, and if I got stressed out every single time he opened his mouth or his Twitter, I’d never sleep. And hey, the 1st Amendment protects his right to say it, even if some of his statements are offensive to me. I don’t have to like what he says. But I have to let him say it. That’s free speech, baby.

What concerns me is the way my social media feeds have been filled with ignorant shouts of “HELL YEAH! THROW THEIR ASSES IN JAIL!” And even more alarming is the number of folks who have no idea that not only is burning the American Flag as a form of protest completely legal, but it’s been upheld twice by the Supreme Court of the United States of America. And for good reason.

Consider the order in which our Bill of Rights fall in our Constitution. I mean, there’s some good stuff in there, stuff we often take for granted. The right to a speedy trial by a jury of our peers. That is huge. (Ask anyone in Saudi Arabia who’s committed a petty theft.) How about being protected from unlawful search and seizure? Yeah. The cops can’t just barge into your house when you’re at work in an attempt to find something incriminating. Oh, and that big one, the right to keep and bear arms. So very important. And yet, in front of ALL of these is the right of the people (or the individual) to say what they want, worship how they want, assemble how and where they want, and to publish or otherwise disseminate their thoughts to whomever will listen, watch, or read them. These rights were so important that the framers of our governmental framework said “OH, SHIT, GUYS? KNOW WHAT WE FORGOT?! FREE FUCKIN’ SPEECH! FUCK! PUT THAT SHIT IN WRITING AND GET IT IN THE CONSTITUTION POST-HASTE!”

Now, I get it. I do. This country love us some symbols, don’t we? The Stars and Stripes. The Bald Eagle. George Washington, minutemen, the flag raising over Iwo Jima. Powerful symbols that carry a lot of weight. I believe that our national obsession over such icons is due to our very brief history (we’ve only been here for 240 years, compared to, you know…the thousands of years our European and Asian friends can claim) and our mixed-breed pedigree (British, Germans, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italians, followed eventually by all manner of Asians and blacks, which is a whole ‘nother discussion, but anyway). We didn’t have a history. We didn’t have a shared national identity. So we made one. We adopted certain symbols and sigils and combined them into our own iconography. And then, slowly, things started popping up on their own. The Liberty Bell. The blues and rock & roll. Cowboys. Hot rods. Hell, I’d argue that blue jeans are more of a holy symbol of America than the bald eagle. Because we made them. We invented something timeless and enduring. Bald eagles were simply here. And like the native human population, we pushed them to the brink of extinction before realizing “holy crap, we’d better slow down! Let’s hunt some buffalo and wolves instead!” But as bad-ass as the American Bald Eagle looks, and as wonderful a national bird as it is (WHY THE HELL DO WE EVEN NEED A NATIONAL BIRD?!) landing on the Moon is much more representative of the USA. And yet, there are complete idiots that would choose to believe that it never happened, because…reasons? I’ve never understood that particular conspiracy theory, by the way, and wish I could haul off and Buzz Aldrin some bitches when they propagate that sort of foolishness.

But hey, you know what? I don’t punch them. Because they have a right to say whatever pea-brained derptastic feces that falls from their tiny little cerebrums and out through their putrid mouth-holes. So I sigh and shake my head and leave them to it.

In closing, I suppose the person I’d really love to ask about all this is my late Grandfather Watson. He won two Bronze Stars in Europe fighting the Nazis, and I think he’d be alarmed that a lot of the same rhetoric that was being spouted as Hitler rose to power is echoing here in the U.S. “OUR COUNTRY FIRST! NO FOREIGNERS! TO DISRESPECT A NATIONAL SYMBOL IS TREASON!” On the subject of flag burning, I’d imagine he’d say something to the effect of “Well, that’s their God-given right…but I’d recommend they don’t pull a stunt like that in front of the VFW. Like to get their asses handed to them.”

Grandpas always have the best advice.