Why I’m Not Convinced By ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’s Historical Context

There’s snow on the ground, the sound of bells in the air, a turkey in the oven. Trees are inside of houses, instead of outside where they belong. Yes, it’s that time of year again: time for the annual controversy over a seasonal tune from 1944. Yep, it’s Baby It’s Cold Outside thinkpiece season once again. Is the song a romantic call-and-response ballad? Or is it a harrowing tale of date rape? Everybody vote on their phones!

Look, here’s the truth: I hate Baby It’s Cold Outside. But I don’t hate it for being about date rape (although I definitely do fall in the ‘this sounds pretty rapey’ camp). I hate it for the same reason I hate most Alanis Morrisette songs: for being tuneless and meandering. It baffles me that a song this terrible has become a widespread part of the seasonal playlist. As such, I’m not going to waste my time engaging with it by breaking down the exact terms of the debate around it, especially when so many other people have already done the legwork for me; if you don’t already know why people feel the way they do about it, read these annotated lyrics on Vox which break down fairly well how the two sides tend to read its controversial lyrics.

But I do feel compelled to engage in one area, because it touches on a broader point. Those who feel compelled to defend the song always fall back on one thing: historical context.

See, this woman is staying late, unchaperoned, at a dude’s house. In the 1940’s, that’s the kind of thing Good Girls aren’t supposed to do — and she wants people to think she’s a good girl.

And even more specifically:

Historical context matters a lot here. “What’s in this drink?” used to be a stock joke to which the punchline was basically, “Nothing, not even much alcohol.”

And honestly, it’s kind of impossible to defend the song’s lyrics while also paying attention to them without falling back on historical context because…I mean, it’s a song about a man pressuring a woman into sex. Without attaching historical context to it, there’s not a lot of wiggle room out from under that. And the historical context argument is a fairly strong one…or it would be, if I cared about the historical context. In this case, I really don’t.

If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Historical Context’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.

That might sound like heresy coming from someone with a graduate degree in literature. Surely we always care about historical context, right? Well, if we were treating the song like a piece of history to be closely examined, of course would. But if that’s all Baby It’s Cold Outside was, we wouldn’t have annual bumper crops of outrage over it. Academics would no doubt continue to argue over it, as is our wont, but the debate wouldn’t make the editorial page of every major newspaper (as it does at least once every year without fail) because there would be no mainstream audience for it. Nobody would care.

Here in the real world, though, people do care. A lot. And here’s why: because Baby It’s Cold Outside‘s permanent place in the holiday playlist makes it perpetually current. Every year, it is piped into radio stations and shopping malls as-is. Every year, famous singers like Michael Bublé record and publish new versions of it, generally without changing a syllable of the lyrics. When people complain that Baby It’s Cold Outside‘s lyrics, they aren’t complaining about Baby It’s Cold Outside, the song from the mid-1940s. They’re complaining about Baby It’s Cold Outside, the ongoing cultural phenomenon.

And of course we all know why we keep regurgitating it every year.

In the 1940s, maybe the song was, as people have suggested, actually a sexually liberating piece for women. But the song hasn’t just sat in the archive since that time, it’s been continually revisited. Every year in December we return to the song and mindlessly reproduce it once again, renewing its pop-culture relevance for another year. The result is that the song has been unmoored from its place in history. If you took a random sample of 100 people who know the song well enough to sing along with it, I would be amazed if even ten of them could tell you it was written by Frank Loesser. Or that it was written in 1944. Hell, I’d be astonished if ten people in that sample could even correctly identify the decade it comes from! The historical context behind the lyrics doesn’t matter because what the song meant in 1944 isn’t really relevant to what it means now. Historical context is only a defense if the piece is historical. For most of the work academics of English and other cultural critics do, that’s just assumed, but it doesn’t apply to cases like these.

The song’s lyrics may have remained the same over the past 72 years, but the world around it hasn’t. When Frank Loesser put pen to page and wrote Baby It’s Cold Outside his lyrics may not have signified rape to his listeners, but for a lot of people they sure do now. And historical context only explains why Loesser created it as he did; not why we continue to recreate it every holiday season.

In Defense of Tomb Raider’s Quick Time Events

The Tomb Raider reboot from 2013 was fairly controversial for a couple of different reasons, many of which will be familiar to anyone who’s ever read internet commentary about any reboot of a classic games franchise, no matter how well-made. There were two major points of criticism that rang fairly true, though: the game has massive ludonarrative dissonance (I’ll explain what that means in a moment), and the game has too many damn quick time events.

I’m not interested in defending the game from the first charge, because it is a real problem. But I do take exception with the second one, because not only are there fewer QTEs than most people think, the game actually uses them in an interesting way to reinforce Lara’s growth throughout the game.

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How I Would Fix Man of Steel

Many people have many different feelings about Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman film, Man of Steel, but this is my blog so we’re mostly here to discuss my feelings so let me tell you what I think of the movie:

I spent the whole movie alternating between boredom and offense. And not because I don’t like Superman! I love Superman. But Zack Snyder’s vision for Superman is colorless, drab, and almost entirely devoid to the inspirational values that define Superman. And all of that is before you get into my nitpicks with how the film was made, like how even totally static scenes are shot with more shaky-cam than all of the Bourne movies put together.

None of this is news, though. A lot of ink’s been spilled over the past three years about how the movie has problems, and while it does have its defenders, the general consensus seems to be the it’s not a very good Superman film. I’m interested in doing something a little different, though: I want to talk about how I would fix it, without radically changing the plot and without going back to technical nitpicks. There are two points where the story is severely broken, and fixing these would go a long way towards fixing the movie as a whole.

These points are Jonathan Kent and The Death of Zod.

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Fandom, We Need To Talk

We_need_to_talk_Steven_Connie_Listening

Well, it’s happened again. Steven Universe writer/storyboarder Lauren Zuke has been hounded off of social media by supposed fans upset that their preferred ship isn’t the one being teased at the moment. This isn’t the first time a creative force has been forced to flee Twitter after being hit with absurd and uncalled-for harassment – just last month it was Leslie Jones. It’s not even the first time the Steven Universe fandom has done this sort of thing (discussions of suicide within, and then discussed again below), which is absurd given that Steven Universe is about as friendly and inclusive a show as it possible to make without going full saccharine.

I’m not interested in getting into the substance of the complaints made against these people, or any number of others who have endured the same sort of treatment, both because it’s not particularly relevant to their critics’ shitty behavior, and because it serves as a distraction from the main topic: whether it stems from right-wing reactionism or left-wing kookery, too many people within fandom think that they’re within their rights to act like complete shitbirds to other people, and it seems to be getting worse.

A lot of ink has been spilled over this problem, generally identifying the problem as some new attitude of entitlement and usually involving a lot of veiled fist-shaking about those danged millennials being on the lawn. I don’t think that’s correct, because there is absolutely nothing new about the kinds of behaviors which lead to these incidents. What is new, however, is the platform it’s carried on. Tumblr and Twitter alike are terrible platforms for fandom activity, and as a result of fandom largely moving onto them, these kind of behaviors are amplified until they become the dominant form of fandom activity. Hashtag fandom is great for throwing bombs and starting witch hunts; it’s not so great for actually having a conversation.

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On Fight Scenes: Three Things That Make For a Good Fight Scene (and Aren’t Choreography)

I love a good fight scene. Not every story needs to be a slugfest, but I do love a really good session of slugging.

When we talk about fight scenes, we tend to speak in terms of choreography and editing; how the characters move and how those movements are shown to the audience. And those are important, don’t get me wrong! But I want to talk about three other factors that go into a really great fight scene. And I’m going to do it using what I think it one of the best fight scenes ever put to film, the trailer fight from Kill Bill:

God, I love that fight. Unfortunately, this version cuts off before the final confrontation but the only other version of it I could find on YouTube was absurdly low quality, so here we are I guess.

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On Creepypasta

If you’re like me, you probably enjoy a good spooky story. I’m a huge baby where scary stuff is concerned, but I sure do love getting my pants scared off. From the novels of Stephen King to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, it’s fun to be creeped out. And apparently the internet agrees with me, because over the past decade creepypasta, short horror stories written and shared online, have become incredibly popular. There are whole wikis and websites dedicated to collecting and recording them. The /r/nosleep subreddit gets dozens of new posts a day, most of them new original stories. In terms of sheer quantity, it’s never been a better time to be a fan of horror writing.

Unfortunately, most creepypasta aren’t very scary. In fact, most are pretty shit.

While Sturgeon’s Law suggests that 99% of anything is always going to be crap, what’s striking about creepypasta is that so many of them are bad in the same way. They start out promisingly, offering up some good creepy imagery and generating some effective atmosphere. But somehow, by the end, that atmosphere has evaporated entirely, and what’s left behind feels stagnant and dull. Even some of the better examples of the genre suffer from this problem.

So, what mistake are these bad creepypasta all committing? I think I’ve figured it out: their authors have failed to recognize that they are writing a fantastic story, and in the absence of the fantastic, the story itself just isn’t that interesting.

If you’re not familiar with ‘the fantastic’ as in the genre of literature, and only know ‘fantastic’ as in ‘really good’, that sentence probably didn’t make a lot of sense. Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.

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