Free Speech

Here’s a good holiday resolution.

Why don’t we just let people think what they think and feel what they feel?

Particularly about things like songs and games.

The controversy surrounding the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is just the latest example of some people taking offense and other people telling them that they have no right to take offense.

But they do.

The people offended by the song say it is sexist and even, to use a phrase gaining traction on social media, “rapey.” They have a point. The tune is a duet between a woman who wants to leave and a man with a little more than good conversation on his mind who tries to persuade her to stay.

At one point, the woman sings, “The answer is no” and, at another, wonders if her drink has been spiked.

Defenders of the song argue that the song is less about seduction than it is about a woman trying to balance her desires against the powerful forces of social coercion. When the song was written in 1944, women weren’t supposed to acknowledge they were sexual beings. The pressure with which the woman wrestles, the song’s champions say, is from society, not the guy who is cooing blandishments to her.

There’s truth to that, too.

These conflicting interpretations have created a cultural flashpoint.

Radio stations in Cleveland and elsewhere have banned “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from their air. In response to that ban, a radio station played the song, over and over and over again, for two solid hours.

(An aside: I’m pretty sure that, if police officers or prison officials did the same to prisoners in their custody, any sane and reasonable judge would consider the act a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.)

I don’t have strong feelings about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which I consider little more than elevator music.

But I do find the way the controversy has played out fascinating.

Many of the people defending the song see criticism of it as just another example of political correctness. They argue that those offended by the song’s lyrics are trying to squelch free expression and that they have no right to impose their views on others.

A surprising number of the folks taking this position, though, were part of the same crew offended by black football players taking a knee rather than standing for the national anthem to protest the numbers of unarmed African-Americans shot by police. In that case, the self-appointed crusaders against political correctness had no problem imposing their views on others and trying to limit free expression.

But, then, this is what happens when we decide we have a monopoly on truth, virtue or wisdom.

I can see why people are offended by “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” They have a right to feel that way.

I also understand that, nearly 75 years ago, the songwriter didn’t craft the tune as a justification for sexual assault. But it’s not 1944 any longer and we now think differently about the man-woman dance than we did then.

If people don’t want to hear the song, they have the right to say so and to change the channel when it comes on. And a radio station has the right to choose not to play the tune at all.

And, if there are people masochistic enough to love the song and can’t listen to it enough – well, there’s a radio station in Kentucky willing and eager to torture them for two hours at a time. They should seek it out. It’s their right to do so.

The same goes for football players and the anthem and the fans offended by the players taking knees. The players have a right to express their anger at racial injustice. The fans offended by what they see as disrespect for the flag and the military also are entitled to their feelings and can express them by not attending or watching games.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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