joreth: (anger)
Alright, let's get this down on "paper", so to speak, so that I don't have to keep retyping it several times every December.  It's the time of year for That Song.  You know the one.  The creepy date rape song.  "But it's not rapey!   It's about feminine empowerment!  Historical context!  It gave women an excuse in a time when they couldn't be openly sexual and needed an excuse to do what they wanted to do!"

Bullshit.

Basically all these "but historical context!" defenses are not exactly true.  They're a retcon justification because people feel guilty about liking a holiday song about date rape (and one that actually has abso-fucking-lutely nothing to do with Christmas).
ret·con
/ˈretkän/
noun
1. (in a film, television series, or other fictional work) a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency.

verb
1. revise (an aspect of a fictional work) retrospectively, typically by introducing a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events.
Let's talk context then if you want to talk context.

Sure, in the 1940s, women did not have the freedom to openly desire sex and (I'm told - I did not verify it but I will concede that this is probably true because it doesn't matter for my point) some people used to use the line "hey, what's in this drink?" wink wink nudge nudge know-what-I-mean? to absolve themselves of responsibility or accountability for the sex that they were about to have.  That was a thing.

But that was not a thing *in this song*.

Let's start with the background.  The song was co-written by a husband and wife team, Frank Loesser and Lynn Garland.  In their social set, in the '40s in Hollywood, there was, apparently, very stiff competition for who could throw the best parties.  Hosts were expected to, not only provide the location and refreshments for said party, but actually *be* the entertainment, with singing, dancing, performing, whatever.  Whoever was the best entertainment got invited to all the other best parties.  And in Hollywood, who you knew was of paramount importance.  It not only determined your spot in the social scene, but also got you employment, which affected your livelihood.  So this was a Big Fucking Deal.

So the husband and wife duo wrote the song as the climax to their party, hoping it would make them popular.  And it did.  They literally moved up in social class because of that song.  "It was their ticket to caviar and truffles", Garland once said.  It made them so popular that MGM offered to buy the rights to it 4 years later and Loesser went on to write several other popular songs for movies and this one in particular even won an Academy Award.

The song is a call-and-response type song, with the characters in the song being named Wolf and Mouse, i.e. Predator and Prey.  Loesser even introduced himself as "the evil of two Loessers" BECAUSE OF THE ROLE HE PLAYED IN THE SONG.   Loesser would probably defend his line about "evil of two Loessers" as being witty, a play on words.  Shakespeare played with words all the time!   He certainly didn't *mean* that he was really evil, right?  It's just a joke!  Don't take everything so seriously!

Except that Schrodinger's Douchebag says that too.  Schrodinger's Douchebag is the guy who makes assholey statements, and only after his comments are not received well, tries to excuse them as "just a joke".  You don't know if he's seriously a rapist / racist / bigot / other asshole or just a dude with a bad sense of "humor" - he's both! - until you call him on it.

So, OK, that's a little ... weird, but a bad "joke" is just one thing, right?  Well, the next thing that happened was Garland did not want to sell the song.  She thought of it as "their" song.  But Loesser sold it out from under her anyway.  Garland felt so betrayed by this, she describes the betrayal as akin to being cheated on.  I believe the specific quote was something about her feeling as though she had actually walked in on her husband having sex with another woman.

This led to a huge fight which, by some accounts, contributed to the downfall of their marriage and they eventually divorced.  So here we have a man who puts his own wants above his wife's needs (or strongly felt wants).  Why is it so difficult to believe that he would write a song about pressuring a woman and not even understand that it was bad or why?  It shouldn't be so difficult to accept that a man who would do this to his own wife probably has no problem with "wearing her down" and doesn't think his song represents straight up assault.  

We have here a pattern where a man just, like many straight men, didn't think about what he was saying or how it would affect women, particularly the women in his life, and he, like everyone else that year, was merely a product of his time and not able to foresee 70 years later where we now recognize the deeply disturbing "boys will be boys" patriarchal reinforcement of the "what's in this drink wink wink" joke.

Frankly, I don't think he thought about his lyrics all that much at all, let alone tried to write some weird, backwards, 1940s female "empowerment" anthem.   I don't think he deliberately set out to be an evil villain writing an ode to date rape either, I think he just flat out didn't consider all the implications of a bubbly song where one person keeps pushing for sex and the other keeps rejecting but eventually capitulates.  Y'know, like the Blurred Lines song - it's bubbly, it's cute, it's got a catchy hook, but ultimately it's about street harassment, like, he literally said that he wrote the song by imagining a dirty old man yelling things out to hot chicks as they passed by on the street.  But people love it because it's bubble-gum pop.  Same as this song.

Only with this one, we're *defending* it as a "joke" people used to use because women couldn't be openly sexual.  THAT'S PART OF THE PROBLEM.  Women needed that kind of excuse because they were not allowed to have their own agency.  So romanticizing this song only reinforces the message that a woman's "no" is really just her needing a better excuse, so if you keep "offering" her excuses (i.e. pushing her), eventually she'll find one she can use and give in.  Keep pressuring her!  She wants it!  It's for her own good!  It's empowering!

That's some fucked up shit.

But back in the '40s, they didn't really know better, apparently.   Women used what avenues they had for expressing their sexuality, and at the time, "what's in this drink?" was what they had.  They, and Frank Loesser, were not thinking how, in the next century, women who had taken back some of their agency would be constantly fighting to keep what we have managed to wrestle back precisely because of this line of reasoning - that "no" doesn't mean "no", it means "try harder" because we just need to be given the right push in the right direction.

But as the saying goes, when we know better, we do better.  Not knowing any better back then isn't a good enough excuse to keep it around now.  It may have been considered "innocent" in the '40s or even "necessary" because of the restrictions that women had, but now we know better.  We know both the legitimately terrifying implications of the lyrics in this song as sung straight and we know the patriarchal implications of the lyrics in this song as sung "flirty".  He didn't know any better back then, but we know better now.

So now let's get to the context of the song itself.

When Loesser and Garland were performing this song at parties, it was a huge hit ... but only within their social circle.  It didn't reach mainstream attention until it appeared in the movie Neptune's Daughter, which is a really odd movie for this song, only partly because the movie takes place in the summer, not the winter.   The movie is about an "aquatic ballet dancer" and swim suit designer who mistakenly believes that a South American polo team captain is pursuing her sister but who really wants to date her, and who accepts a date with the team captain just to keep him from dating her sister.

Got that?  Swimmer lady thinks polo captain is putting the moves on her sister.  Polo captain is not, and wants to date swimmer lady.  So polo captain asks swimmer lady out on a date.  Swimmer lady agrees to a date with polo captain in order to keep a guy she thinks is a predator away from her sister, but she doesn't like him.  She ends up liking him later though, because it's a rom-com musical from the '40s.

Actually, I could have just said "because it's a rom-com" and stopped there, because "two people who don't like each other and don't communicate with each other end up married and we're supposed to think this is a good thing" is basically the entire motivation for the rom-com genre.

Meanwhile, her sister is pursuing some other guy who she mistakes for this polo team captain, and since he usually has poor luck with women, he lets her believe in his mistaken identity.   What follows is a comedy of errors and mistaken identity that somehow manages to go from two women who go on a date with two men, get mad at them for things they did not do, learn the truth eventually, and go from being mad at them to marrying them.  After one date.   Because the movie was written by men in the '40s who followed formulaic story-writing to sell more movie tickets.

This film clearly does not show a woman looking for an excuse to stay.  The scene is played as a woman legitimately trying to leave.  So, on this date where the swimmer is grudgingly spending time with the polo captain, he puts the moves on her.  But she still thinks he's a disreputable jerk who is courting her sister and she is only out with him to protect her sister from him.  She is NOT into him (yet).

She grimaces when she tastes the drink ("what's in this drink?") and it's NOT storming outside - the Wolf is lying to her about the weather to get her to stay.  It's summer in California, the entire premise of the song is a manipulation to get someone to stay against their will.  She is playing the character as annoyed and legitimately trying to leave.

The Mouse is not trying to save her reputation, she is trying to give him a soft rejection, as women were (and still are) trained to do, to avoid punishment for rejection by passing the responsibility onto someone the aggressor would have more respect for (her parents, the neighbors, etc.).  It's just another variation on "I have a boyfriend" - she is trying to give excuses that he will find valid without saying she's not interested and risking making him feel rejected and hurt by her disinterest.

The reverse gender scene in the same movie is even worse.  Later, the sister is on the date with the pretend polo captain and she is obviously, aggressively, and annoyingly pursuing him.  The man is visibly angry at her and trying to leave, and she is physically forceful with him to get him to stay.  Apparently, because it's a woman assaulting a man, that makes it funny.  But it's not any less rapey when a woman does it to a man, and sometimes it's worse because patriarchy.

Very shortly afterwards, each of the couples apparently gets over all of this harassment and mistaken assumptions and they get married.   Which is exactly the sort of narrative that "what's in this drink wink wink" promotes.  So even if it *was* the joke-excuse, it's *still* harmful to idolize it *today* because the lesson is that when a woman says "no", she means "keep trying until we find a loophole" and that eventually the man will wear her down and win the girl for himself.

Sure, maybe some women did have to find some kind of "excuse" to save her reputation because she didn't have the freedom to say yes back then.  BUT THAT'S ALSO PART OF THE PROBLEM, and also not the point. 1) That merely perpetuates the myth today that a woman's "no" can't be trusted because men just need to give her an "excuse" to say yes; and 2) that is clearly not the context *of this song*.

That is retconning the song to assuage our modern consciences for liking it.

The writer here is not a man concerned with either protecting a woman's virtue or subverting sexual mores for women's freedom.  He did not write some female empowerment anthem in which a sexually active woman gets to have the sex she wants by justifying it with the right excuse.

He is just what the Wolf appears to be - a selfish, egotistical man more interested in what he gets out of things than in how it affects the women around him, and fully believing he is entitled to whatever he wants at the expense of what the women around him, particularly his own wife, want.  Which was absolutely status quo then and still is today.

And the producers who bought the song and the director who directed the scenes did not feel that the message was "no, really, I want to have sex, just give me an excuse".  They very clearly saw the song as someone legitimately rejecting another person because that's how they directed the actors to play the scene.

AND THAT'S HOW THE REST OF THE WORLD SAW AND HEARD THIS SONG FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME

How's that for context?

Just admit you like the song even though it's problematic.  Own that shit!  Have y'all heard the music I listen to?  I listen to pop country for fuck's sake!  You like that song, the lyrics are disturbing but the tune is catchy. Just accept it.

Date: 11/29/18 04:34 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] ximinez
ximinez: (Default)
The line that always gets me when I listen to it is "The answer is no". Sure, excuse, excuse, excuse, but finally the Mouse comes out and says it. And the Wolf doesn't stop...

Date: 11/29/18 06:41 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] ximinez
ximinez: (Default)
Yup.

Date: 11/29/18 05:28 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] grail76
grail76: (Default)
I heard this in the 1960s, maybe earlier and it always seemed cute. It's really hard to listen to now. The scene from the movie -- even more.

An aside: I get the banner on the right, but it appears over the text and the only way I can read the text unobscurred is to copy it and paste it into word or something.

Thanks for your examining things like this.

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