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.

(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

Make Pretend

It’s time to bark it’s time to fuck it’s time to
make pretend
We’ve got the time we’ve got the gas now let’s go
have a weekend

Remember when you took my virginity where’d you put it I’ve got a
formal to go to
Air beds squeak and bounce and toss you off, not much fun unless there’s a
friend to hold onto

Chinatown’s no fun without you
All those family portions with
Nothing but strangers to pass them to

It’s time to sulk it’s time to brood it’s time to
make pretend
I’ve got no time I’ve got no car so guess
I’m staying in

I hold the hand of mannequins now I get odd looks
at the mall
Cuz you’re not there where I wish you where
I wish you to be

This is how I forget you
Or at least how I planned to
But a dream of you still sits
typing on the laptop I wish I was in my brain

This is how I’ll forget you
Make a painting of a fake you
Build a dream of you to hold
that’s nicer, neater, sweeter and altogether more sane

Vieux Carre‘s no fun without you
All that sarcasm and
Nothing but strangers to give it to

It’s time to pack it’s time to move it’s time to
make pretend
I booked a flight, made reservations
to stay in your head

And when I get there, I won’t ever, ever leave
I’ll paint a portrait of the real you
Use shades to cover up my orange naive
Use every color in the book but that rhapsody hue

Remember when I broke my pride where’re the pieces you’ve got some
love to glue it to
Air beds squeak and bounce and toss you off, not much fun unless there’s a
friend to hold onto