January 20, 2019

The End of Seduction

“Can a four-minute holiday ballad be a source of moral harm in the world?

Plato, who suggested that the best political system should either expel artists or strictly censor their work, would certainly have thought so. So would the original Puritans settlers of New England, as well as the Americans who supported the many forms of state and local censorship that prevailed across the United States for much of our history until the mid-20th century.

And so, of course, would the feminists and progressives who have lately directed their attention, and ire, toward the old 1940s duet of wintertime seduction (and, possibly, menacing threat), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

The song is problematic, we are told, because it takes the form of a kind of back-and-forth negotiation in which (in most renditions of the song) a man repeatedly tries to entice a woman to stay at his home later into the evening when she repeatedly states that she prefers to leave. In the #MeToo era, this sounds a lot like the kind of manipulative, exploitative, and potentially even violent behavior that men too often engage in to get their sexual way with women. (More than one critic has suggested that the song is a prelude to date rape.)

That seems to make the controversy about the song very much a product of our moment. But it turns out that the song has stirred up negative feelings for a long time. As The New York Times notes in its account of the criticisms surrounding the song, Sayyid Qutb, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood and major influence on the development of Islamist ideology, took critical note of the song on his travels throughout the United States during the late 1940s. (This account was published by an Egyptian magazine in 1950 under the title “The America I Have Seen.”)”

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