Death and the Meme

In order to understand why the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is in fact, not “rapey”, we must go all the way back to the myth of Hades and Persephone, sometimes nicknamed “Death and the Maiden.” A fantastic play and Roman Polanski film (IRONY) also use this title as a reference to the myth but features an inversion of the genders, text, and subtext to craft a story of revenge both sensual and political. Rape is definitely a theme in that story, and there is certainly reason enough to reference this myth when dealing with such themes. It’s clear from the films he chose that Polanski saw women as powerful creatures brought low by cruel men, and how that pity may lead someone to destruction and resentment of the female is another discussion altogether. We’re here to talk about a Christmas song.

The original “Death and the Maiden” myth tells how Hades, lord of the dead, kidnapped his bride, Persephone, and brought her into the Underworld. Her enraged mother, Demeter, blights the earth with cold and famine on condition of seeing her daughter returned. This continues despite the pleas of other gods until Zeus tells Hades to return Persephone. He does so, but secretly sends her with seeds of the pomegranate. The pomegranate, carnal and chambered like a bloodied heart, is the original Fruit of Knowledge, as there were no apples in the lands where these myths were written. Tasting of food binds Persephone to Hades so that she must spend a third of the year with her husband. When she is away from her possessive mother, we are punished. This is why in winter, it is cold outside, if you will.

“Death and the Maiden” is where the tradition of carrying one’s bride over the threshold, symbolizing the death of the bride’s previous life with her parents through a ritualistic “kidnapping,” originates. It can be seen as a repeating motif throughout art history in countless paintings and repeated whenever a monster picks up a woman draped in white: think Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, all the way to The Force Awakens. If it doesn’t happen in one way or another, possibly even reversed, in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, I’ll be surprised. And it is echoed, in a lighter form, in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Is it a coincidence that this is a winter song? Probably. But in a Jungian way, it may be the subconscious repeating an archetype it doesn’t know it possesses.

The key to understanding, contextually, what is going on, is to understand the place of such stories in history, in ancient gender roles, in politics, and in honor-based cultures, which most conservative wartime cultures like that of Ancient Athens or WW2 America (1944 to be exact) are, almost without deviation.

Persephone ate the seeds willingly. Demeter was no fun to be around. Gods of death, for obvious reason, are often portrayed as possessive and jealous–people’s experience of death and the impossibility of bringing back the dead inform this. But there is a recurring arc of the possessive parent throughout archetypal stories, as well, and it is a right of passage to be “taken” or “freed,” as the case may be. Like Rapunzel, Persephone is her mother’s captive. Hades, “kidnapping” her, frees her from innocence, chastity, childhood, and the shackles of parental overprotection while saving Persephone face with Demeter because it was all “against her will.”

Throughout honor-based cultures run by patriarchal ideals, the Maiden is forced into the role of eternal virgin followed asexually by Motherhood, and then thanklessly, to Cronehood. A father, in this case, the entire Patriarchy, does not want to know how he gets his grandchildren — but make no mistake, a mother character can also be a patriarch.

In the Forties, to have a woman struggle against an implied sexual interlude, but only to struggle lightly, was for her to consent. There is a game being played — sex is never mentioned, and she feigns innocence because to be forward would be to imply a further depth. When culturally a woman hides 90% of her experience, to be forward is to say one is essentially a prostitute, because you’ve implied there’s 90% more beneath that layer. So everyone knows the song is about a seduction, and about the fact that she must let him seduce her, or else everyone, not just the man in the song, would be put off. When she asks what’s in the drink, it isn’t a roofie. She’s implying it’s spiked with alcohol, or stiffer stuff than her usual — because otherwise, she wouldn’t be in the process of consenting. “What’s in this drink?”, the very line many have latched onto as the “rapey” section, is the moment of consent on her part. By establishing an audible excuse for her future behavior, she’s sent the signal that she’s willing while simultaneously saying that this isn’t something she makes a habit of doing.

Persephone ate the seed willingly. Eve ate of her pomegranate first. A woman’s role in the Forties was to put on a shadowplay that the man was in control, sexually, to save face with her parents and the outside world. But we all know a threshold doesn’t hold thresh, that the monster is more alluring than the suitor waiting at home, and that the woman is who spiked her drink in the first place.

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(Ballad of the) Stupid Things (Fighting to Be) in Love

Imagine a steady beat and an acoustic guitar, maybe keyboards. Pop, in the style of Death Cab / Broken Bells:

This is what you want if this is what you want

Don’t let it go

(That’s right)

If this is what you want then this is what you want

Stop letting go

Don’t you dare let go

Fell into your arms long before I knew my name

This what I waited for, this long with no detours

Touched the side of your face before I heard your voice

We’re living backwards now, it won’t be long before

We’re on all fours

Knew the color of your eyes before I saw at all

“Can we just talk a while?” And memorized your smile

Saw your face then relearned to speak

I age like Merlin now, Benjamin Button style

We’ll die infantile

This is what you want if this is what you want

Don’t let it go

Don’t let it go

If this is what you want then this is what you want

Stop letting go

Don’t you dare let go

You’ve got to hold a grip to all you love

Even if you love stupid things

You stupid thing

You’ve gotta love what goes through your grip

Even if it’s just a way of clinging tighter

We’re all lovers if we’re fighters

Oh I’ll love you like a fighter

You love her if you fight her

I love her like I fight her

I still love you, I’m a fighter

Felt the smell of your breath ‘fore I saw what you were saying

Can we just walk this hall? Till we forget it all?

Saw the touch of your mouth when I heard your name

This what I’m wanting for, this long and still indoors

This is what I want if this is what I want

I’m gonna let it go

Till it will not go

If this is what we want then this is what I want

Don’t let me go

Grab my hand, let’s go

music terminology

There is a severe lack of communication among music fans, connoisseurs, afficianados, and just plain freaks that leads to altercations, fist fights, and ankle-biting. It involves a lack of understanding and general concensus on certain musical terms.

Terminology associated with any kind of media changes and evolves over the years, but as we English majors can attest, there is a difference between term evolution and meaning degradation, that being that one is language changing to adapt to new tech or genres or situations, such as the creation of new terms like “Grunge”, and the latter being people forgetting what a fucking word means and using it anywhere, or creating a new word because you don’t know the real word that already exists, like “conversate.” IT’S FUCKING “CONVERSE”! JUST SAY “TALK” FOR FUCK’S SAKE.
So, I’m going to clear up some things, redefine some things, and assign specific meanings to some music terms, so that we can not get into arguments because we don’t know we all agree on something.
1. Emo – this is the most contested term in the music handbook, some using it to mean any post-punk they like, others using it as an umbrella over any and every type of music they hate, including bands that have nothing to do with punk rock. Let’s get this term degradation straight, shall we? Emo is a term nearly as old as the punk rock label, and has nothing to do with how many words you have in your band name or how nasal your lead singer is. It comes from the word “emotion”, and refers to PUNK ROCK music that is about an emotional situation rather than a political situation or anti-establishment motif. Elvis Costello was once considered emo, and yes is an evolution of punk aesthetic, but nonetheless, The Ramones are the first emo band, and because they are the first major punk band as well, EMO CAME FIRST. Sex Pistols are just punk rock, and The Clash are a punk band who wrote emo songs every once in awhile. This means you can scream gutterly all you want, but if your song is about a girl, you’re fucking emo, asshole. Staind are not emo, because they are not punk, they are metal. Emo is not Good Charlotte, because emo is not synonymous with suck. Actual examples are: Ramones, Elvis Costello, Weezer, Violent Femmes, Tegan & Sara.
2. “Pop” – Pop music comes from “popular music”, referring to any music that is liked by the majority of music listeners at any time. Past pop includes The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Beach Boys, etc. Pop also refers to a specific genre of music, usually categorized by extreme over-production, bands built of studio musicians, entire groups assembled, written for, and manufactured by a major music label for the sole purpose of being popular, or selling the most amount of product, usually to teenage girls and impressionable adults. This pisses me off, because the second term invades the first term’s connotations and uses its associations to boost itself, and the second group should be shot, if the world were just, which it most certainly is not. So, for the sake of clarity, we will be reassigning some words here. Pop will now exclusively refer to any and all popular music, only a genre insomuch as most of it shares certain qualities, because it is the origin of the term so it gets to keep it. Pop music manufactured for sales will be a subcategory called “bubblegum” (which serves this purpose already, but will henceforth serve without pop’s implication of popularity), which will also be a prefix added onto any genre when a band or artist seems to be mimicking an aesthetic to appeal to a market rather than being a rightful member of the scene. Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, etc. will now be called “Bubblegum Punk” rather than emo. Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears will now be called “Bubblegum Rhythm” rather than “Pop”.
3. R & B – Modern R & B will no longer be called R & B, because the term comes from Rhythm & Blues (a synonym for Rock & Roll), and there is no fucking blues represented. It will henceforth be known as Rhythm.
4. Rap/Hip-hop – These terms began synonymous, but there has been a growing trend to use the words to refer to two different subcategories of the Rap movement. I would like to solidify this difference. From now on, Rap will refer to gangsta rap and any rap that objectifies sex, violence, and capital gain spent in an ill-advised fashion as a status symbol to other poor, disenfranchised minority youth. Hip-hop will refer to “alternative rap”, that with intelligent lyrics, complex beats and samples, attempts to stretch the limitations of the genre, and all “classic” hip-hop from the creators of the genre through public enemy. Rap artists will include any members of NWA and their disciples, Biggy, Nas, and eminem. Hip-hop will include The Roots, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang, Black Eyed Peas, Tonedeff, Atmosphere. Puffy, DMX, Vanilla Ice, Juvenile, Master P, and any of their crews will be known as “Bubblegum Rap”, and anything by Black Eyed Peas or the Roots post- 9/11 will be referred to as “Bubblegum Hip-hop”.