Whew! That was a close one! The Christmas spirit was nearly crushed by an offensive song written in the mid-1940’s! It leads me to ask the question: Do words matter? They do, and we have cause to be deeply alarmed, but not for the reasons you might think.
Reader Alert: I am taking aim at profanity in the post below. Some of it is spelled out quite distinctly. Just giving you a heads up.
Let’s start at the beginning. The song Baby It’s Cold Outside was written in 1944. It seems that a man sings with a woman about whether to stay or go, and about drinking and perhaps fooling around. According to the annuals of veracity, Wikipedia, it’s been recorded over 60 times, including at least once where the roles were reversed, and the woman sang the man’s part. (Uh oh!) It won an Academy Award in 1949 for Best Original Song.
The controversy over the song is not new. Yet, with the megaphone of social media, it’s receiving another hearing. Some radio stations banned it. Others played it more often.
Let me be unequivocal. I’m against all forms of sexual harassment, gender bias, racism, and any other illegal or uncivil behavior. However, when I project those crazy 1944 lyrics against those celebrated on this week’s Billboard Hot 100, I am confounded and confused!
How did I find the Hot 100? I googled it looking to see if the song in question was on the list. What I discovered was a real eye-opener. Come take a walk on the wild side with me and visit the Hot 100!
BILLBOARD HOT 100
Coming in at #1, our friend Ariana Grande with the song Thank You, Next! Sounds innocent enough. It’s got a super catchy verse that offers her heartwarming appreciation: “f—in’ gratitude for my ex!”
Let’s go to #2, Without Me by Halsey. It’s really fun, too! It only uses the F-word once in each chorus.
How about #3? Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode, which includes inspirational use of the b-word, the n-word, the p-word, the MF’er word. Delightful! Let’s blare it while baking sugar cookies!
Good news at #4! Happier by Marshmello. Unless I’m reading it wrong, no profanity! Happy, indeed.
Then the song coming in at #12 caught my eye – it has my nickname in it (some people call me “Mo”) It’s called Mo Bamba. It appears to be about drugging up a 16-year-old b— getting “poled” with lots of MF, N, F, hoes, b—in’ and lots more intellectual verbiage. Have a look. I dare you.
Lest we be unfair to the male stars in the Hot 100, check out Cardi B’s #29 song, Money. Surely a woman artist wouldn’t go so far, right? I didn’t make it past the first five lines. If you have daughters, I especially encourage you NOT to look.
A DEALER IN WORDS
In 1923, while speaking to surgeons in the UK, Rudyard Kipling said, “I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. Not only do words infect, egotize, narcotize, and paralyze, but they enter into and colour the minutest cells of the brain ….”
That is a frightening truth. Weighing Baby It’s Cold Outside against those Billboard Hot 100 songs, which do you think is having a negative impact on the #MeToo movement? Which should be banned from the radio waves? Which one is more likely to result in disrespectful behavior in person or on social media?
Recently the WSJ had an article about the number of women killed in El Salvador, at the hands of gangs and spouses. A popular Latin American ballad encourages “Get a gun if you want, or buy a dagger if you prefer, and become a killer of women.”
People, what are we doing to one another? It is alarming. Language and culture combine to drive behavior.
The thing that puzzles me is why one controversy lands center stage and the other makes no news? Where’s the social media megaphone and army of #MeToo people attacking modern-day artists? It’s a blatant double standard. My personal belief is it reflects our tendency to gravitate toward the easy. Tackling the hard is, well, hard.
WHAT WE TOLERATE, WE TEACH
Among my friends, I’ve had discussions about the increased acceptance of the F-word in society. I have twice done battle with strangers about using it in my presence, sharply asking them to “Find another word.” They were taken a back. One person was on the phone, bellowing into it as people do these days, F-word after F-word about his wife, whom he was divorcing (ask me anything – I got to hear all the details.)
One time it was before 8 am (somehow it is more offensive to hear the F- word before 8 am) at an elegant restaurant where big business deals go down every day. Two grown men dropping F-bombs as they spoke about their technology product. I don’t want to hear the F-word in that environment. It’s not a locker room.
I have heard the F-word said live on air from guests on cable news, with no apology from the host to the audience. In fact, one of them, Anderson Cooper, looked sanctimoniously at the camera as CNN closed out and went to break.
What, is the F-word impressive in some way? Did I miss the memo? I believe it undermines one’s credibility when used in public or in a business environment. I think less of someone, not more.
Remember when a female comedian called Ivanka Trump “a feckless c—” on TV? I don’t care what you think of Ivanka because that is not the point. The point is that much of society didn’t just tolerate that moment: They celebrated it. By doing so, we’re teaching others that it is okay to use that language. And then, when it shows up in our neighborhood, we are shocked, shocked to hear it. And we don’t want it aimed at us, right?
Frankly, when it comes to harmful language, Baby It’s Cold Outside is the least of our problems.
BAN THE F-BOMB
Let’s talk about the future, maybe 5 years down the road (or maybe it is here already?) Little Johnny or Jill, a vivacious 3rd grader, comes home from school and says, “My teacher is a f—in’ c—.”
Are you okay with that? Because that’s where we are headed, at warp speed.
I for one won’t tolerate that language in my sphere.
Here’s a confession. Long ago I registered the website, BanTheFBomb.com not because I’m an angel, but because I hate hearing it in public or at work (and I heard it often at work, a high-tech firm.) For years, I’ve done nothing with that domain. I’ve had thoughts of creating a pledge statement that people sign, similar to the commitment people make against texting while driving. Or having people share the colorful and creative language they use in its place, akin to the insults thrown like daggers from the great 1897 classic, Cyrano De Bergerac. (Google it to read the nose jokes which are hilarious).
Maybe 2019 is the year I find the time and courage to do something with that website. Maybe we can join forces. Maybe we can keep our own side of the street clean. We don’t have to use words like N, F, MF, P, H, B, C, etc. In fact, we can be leaders. We can stand up against those people using them in our own little part of the world. Imagine families, companies, and communities who choose to give profanity a time out!
Each one of us, as Mr. Kipling said, is a dealer in words. As such, we are selling drugs. In this time of good will towards men and women, let us listen to our better angels before we speak or post on social media. Let us choose elevation over denigration. We can create more powerful drugs than those the others are selling. In fact, I would argue that we must do that.
What do you think? Can we do it for one week? Starting today, dealing in written and spoken words that are warm, inviting, encouraging. Profanity free. One week. Let’s call it a “proof of concept.” If the POC goes well, we might choose to extend it. Or not. But for now – one week, choosing to lead by example.
Will you join me?