[Crossposted to My Vox blog.]
There’s not much more I can say about the analysis, but the responses in comments are quite interesting, particularly in how the song is defended. It’s illustrative of the ways in which the status quo with respect to rape and consent gets defended.
And analysis destroys another great song.
Here the argument is that we shouldn’t engage in feminist analysis of popular culture, lest we lessen our enjoyment of or ability to participate in said culture. If we look to closely at our culture, the argument goes, all we’ll see is patriarchy. (In this way, it’s similar to the “we can’t complain about coercion or people wouldn’t get laid” argument).
Thus we must ban any song that may seem to have those sorts of connotations!
Occasionally the argument is not that the analysis will “spoil” the work for the critic, but that the critic has an agenda to “spoil” the song for everybody else through censorship. The effect of this argument is to silence criticism because nobody wants to sound like a censor. A related argument is that the critic is against sexuality in general rather than the problematic depiction being critiqued.
People shouldn’t be too uptight about music.
Also known as the “you have no sense of humor” or “it’s just a song” argument. Tekanji posted about this in “Debunking the Myth of Frivolity”, and it’s a better rebuttal than any I could give here.
Both Frank Loesser and his wife have archived interviews regarding this song, its composition, and premiere at a party they gave for friends. Sorry, I don’t have URLs for them. Neither allude to anything that would lend credence to these darker interpretations of the lyrics.
This is a different kind of argument; it relies on the authority of the author (or someone closer to the author than the critic is) to say what a work is really about. That the author of the lyrics may have thought them playfully sexy and didn’t intend to describe a date rape doesn’t make them problematic; indeed, it’s a quite similar argument to the one that an actual rapist may make – that the understanding was that the encounter was fully consensual. While an artist’s interpretation of his own work can make for interesting conversation material, it doesn’t invalidate other interpretations, and it certainly doesn’t disqualify the work from being used as a springboard to talk about the culture in general.
I think you have misinterpreted the lyrics according to your own ideas of right and wrong (obviously) and this has defined the result more than the song itself.
This is basically a way of deflecting the criticism back onto the critic, and ties into the argument from popularity: “Nobody else has a problem with it, why do you?” The effect is to get critics to stop talking about the work and focus more on themselves.
leaving verbal inflection aside she does a fair amount of dithering but assuming she has her own wheels and car keys the failure to get up and go combined with making *excuses* sounds a LOT like “convince me. I want to have my cake (being a good girl) and eat it too (not live like a nun)”.
In fact the whole point is that she is in the position to definitively say “no,” to leave, to forcefully reject her pursuer, but she specifically never does. In the end her response is always well “maybe.” I ought to say no. Well maybe one more drink. After all, it is cold outside.
“She really wanted it.” “She could have said no, or left.” I think these folks need to read Biting Beaver’s posts on coercive rape and playing hard to get, in order to see how problematic these statements really are.
It Was a Different Time
In a nutshell, she really wants to, but she can’t square that with societal mores.
Some good comments here, but also a lot of temporal imperialism.
It’s very easy to judge people in the past as naive, or stupid, or ignorant, or otherwise somehow shameful because they perceived things or conducted themselves differently from us. They weren’t, they simply lived in a different milieu.
I think these sorts of arguments are fundamentally misguided. “Temporal imperialism” is not the same thing as colonialism. The former is simply reinterpreting the data; the latter involves significant power differentials and the potential for exploitation. Both involve privileged perspectives, but the privilege of hindsight is by definition not exploitative; the past may not be able to answer for itself, but neither can it be altered.
In addition, the criticism of the song isn’t actually all that focused on the time the song was written, because it’s not one that establishes itself as belonging to its time period. These attitudes aren’t altogether gone, and that’s why it’s still important to point out that what’s described in the song is either a prelude to rape or indistinguishable therefrom.