Wait. What Did You Just Say?

Rima Abunasser • December 2nd, 2009 @ 2:39 pm • Uncategorized

It’s Holiday Season. We all know what that means – several radio stations switch to All-Holiday-Music-All-The-Time, commercials start running their annoying versions of carols, and everyone walks around with mind-numbing earworms of truly hideous songs like that terrible one about shoes (CRAP. Now it’s in my head.). Now, don’t get me wrong. I like quite a few holiday tunes – like that one by that guy. You know, with the snow in it. Okay, so I’m lying. I really don’t like holiday music. All that canned sentiment gets to me. Sorry, Internet.

But, to be fair, very little about holiday music bothers me. It’s largely inoffensive, it captures the sentiment of the season relatively well and, at the risk of sounding uncharacteristically cheery, it makes people happy.

Generally speaking, that is.

There are some holiday songs that I find truly horrifying. Truly, truly horrifying.

Like this song, for example:

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I know I’m not the first person to notice how serial-killer, date-rape creepy this song is. I love me some Dean Martin. I really do. But when the female vocalist (called “The Mouse”) says things like, “Say, what’s in this drink,” “The answer is no,” and “At least I’m gonna say that I tried [to leave]” and is met with the man’s (“The Wolf”): “What’s the sense in hurting my pride,” “Baby don’t hold out,” and “Gosh, your lips look delicious,” I can’t help thinking that I’m going to hear about this woman later on an episode of Cold Case Files. What’s really creepy? How cheery and damned catchy the song is. *shudder*

Or take this little ditty:

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Allow me to preface this by saying that Eartha Kitt was a goddess. Straight up GODDESS. And best friggin’ Catwoman ever. But I digress. The song. What would we call this? Extortion? I mean, she is implying (rather strongly) that Santa might have a chance with her if he makes with the Christmas loot. Is anyone else troubled by the fact that the woman reduces herself to little more than an exchangeable sexual commodity? In return for shiny things – at least I assume the yacht she asks for will be shiny. It makes my feminist brain hurt. And of course, lest we forget, she’s promising to put out for this guy:

North_Pole_Alaska_Santa_Claus

And, finally, perhaps the most condescending, offensive, neo-imperialist(?) Christmas song ever written. EVAR.

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Let’s see, where to start? How ’bout with the categorical representation of Africa as a “world of dread and fear” whose only “water flowing is the bitter sting of tears”? Poor Africa is a place that *sniff* has no snow, and “Nothing ever grows / No rain nor rivers flow.” That’s right, NO RIVERS. What’s that? You’re wondering if they have Christmas bells there? Well, they have bells that “are the clanging chimes of doom.” Does that count? Well, I dunno about you people, but I think that it is clearly the time to go to Africa and spread civilization and Christianity. It’s weird, even though I’m not a White Man, I’m feeling a Burden coming on. I realize this song came out in 1984, and I should probably be over it by now. But I’m not. Seriously BAND AID? This song can suck it.

Then again, what do I know? This is my favorite holiday tune:

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Happy Holidays, everyone!!

Rima Abunasser is Assistant Professor of Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture at Furman University. She also teaches Contemporary American Popular Culture, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Literature of the Arab World, and the Feminist Literary Tradition. That’s all a very complicated way of saying that she really likes to read. And to think and talk about what she reads. And, you know, to have an audience. She really likes having an audience. It makes her feel special – and somewhat drunk with power.

9 Responses to “Wait. What Did You Just Say?”

  1. Jerome Stueart says:

    Jeff, thanks for the laugh and the deep analysis of some wacked out, but formerly benign Christmas tunes. I’ve always thought Santa Baby was extortion…but some Santas are hot–don’t knock the polar bear men. However, with millions of homes to hit, he doesn’t have time for a fling, really….unless Santa is “quick with a trick”.

    My favorite movie is the “Snowman” with an awesome moment where the kid is taken into the air by the snowman, and flown around…it’s a brilliant bit of cartooning…and then the kid and all the snowmen and snowwomen dance in the north….

    It’s hard to sing though if you aren’t a choir boy of about 10.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjPBuqWasaA

    I’ll leave you to your drunk tanks of Irishmen…and I’ll go spend time with dancing, kidnapping snowmen…

  2. Rima Abunasser says:

    Sorry, not Jeff here. I’m afraid the confusion was probably my fault — I neglected to add my bio at the end of the post (I’ve just added it).

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post. I’m constantly amazed by the wacked out things that become such ingrained parts of culture. Truly amazing. Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that “Santa Baby” is extortion. The creepiness of the Santa fling is not (for me) so much the fact that he’s a “polar bear” man but rather that he’s, you know, Santa. All sweet and grandfatherly, hangs out with little children. Something about it just ooks me out.

    I’d forgotten all about the movie “Snowman.” It’s been ages since I’ve seen it, so I remember very little about it. I’ll need to check it out some time soon.

  3. Corey Redekop says:

    I direct you to Christmas Shoes, or rather, I will not, as it is too dreadful to contemplate.

    However, I will direct you to PAtton Oswalt’s accurate summing up of its hideousness:

  4. Ame Howard says:

    While it doesn’t change the prostituting message of her song, I for one (and surely Santa for two) thank Eartha Kitt for realizing that Santa might actually still have a sex drive. Why must a jolly older gentleman who distributes presents be completely sexless? And if you’re worried about Mrs. Claus at home, well the song doesn’t tell us whether or not Mr. Claus accepts…

  5. Rima Abunasser says:

    @Corey: Ugh. That song is so, so dreadful. I honestly do. not. get. it. A million thanks for NOT directing me to it. Patton Oswalt, however, AWESOME.

    @Ame: You’re awesome. True, I suppose it’s perfectly feasible that Santa has a sex drive. It still ooks me out. You are a better person than I, my friend.

  6. jere7my says:

    I think you’re being a little hard on the King of Cool. He’s not plying the Mouse with drink to convince her to sleep with him — she clearly wants to already. What he’s trying to overcome is the weight of society’s disapproval. Her objections all focus on how her relatives and who-all will react: “My sister will be suspicious,” “There’s bound to be talk,” “The neighbors might think….” She never says “I want this” or “I don’t want this” — she’s allowing her sex life to be dictated by the disapproval of her “vicious” maiden aunt and the opinions of strangers. His response is, “Why not do what we both know you want to do? After all, you can tell them we were snowed in.” Throwing off societal expectations is empowering, even if Deanie is doing it in a self-serving way.

    I find the song pretty charming. I’m with you 100% on Band Aid, though.

  7. Farrago’s F.M.I. » This Christmas, Rima Abunasser brings the gift of dread. says:

    [...] blogging again at Jeff Vandermeer’s place, Rima Abunasser takes a look at the malignant sexuality and imperialistic drives behind some popular holiday [...]

  8. Rima Abunasser says:

    @jere7my: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” definitely presents itself as a lighthearted, charming exchange. And, of course, the fact that King of Cool made this famous adds to its overall charm (IMHO). My problem with it, joking aside, is a problem with the often repeated (and overused, I think) seduction-narrative trope itself. While the song (in keeping with this narrative tradition) does suggest the empowering nature of throwing off social expectations, it does so while effectively stripping “The Mouse” of sexual agency. Sexual initiative is his, not hers, and her role is limited to that of passive respondent. She either resists or consents — no agency of her own. The woman yields not out of desire, but out of helplessness. She is either coerced by “society” to refrain from the expression of sexual desire, or she is coerced by the man to yield to his desire (note that “The Wolf”‘s sexual desire is articulated in the song, but not “The Mouse”‘s). Either way, the woman is passive and helpless. The narrative is not hers. And as for whether or not she says “I want this” or “I don’t want this” in the song, well, she does say “The answer is no.” That aside, the ambiguity of her response reinforces her passivity with respect to both “society” and “The Wolf.” That said, do I really think that this song was some malicious attempt to strip women of sexual agency? No. I mean, it is a product of its time — women were still generally regarded as circulating objects of male desire. And, for what it’s worth, I’m not suggesting that your interpretation of the song is invalid. There’s definitely enough evidence in the song to support your reading of it.

    As for Band Aid…Oy.

    Thanks for the comment!!

  9. Kater says:

    I kind of like Weird Al’s “Christmas at Ground Zero” and Jonathan Coultran’s “Greetings from Chiron Beta Prime.”

    Except for that, I pretty much detest all of them. It’s not that they’re all horrible, but that they are horribly overplayed. And gah! The sappy crooning! The screechy children’s voices! The tinny bells!

    Every time I hear “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” I think of that guy’s wife slaving away to cook all that food, clean the house for the guests, and buy presents for the whole family. Cause you know if he had to brave the mall parking lot to buy something for his sister’s kid (who he doesn’t even like) and not another horrible potluck at the school, and there’s pine needles all over the floor, and someone licked a candy cane and stuck it to her coat, and where’s the tape because we have a pile of presents to wrap before fighting the traffic to get out of town, you bet your buttons he wouldn’t be singing so happily. That is the joy of a man who does nothing except enjoy the fruits of another’s labor.

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