Things you can no longer say:
I was in the big city earlier this week, and so saw for the first time in ages a physical copy of The New York Times. It contained an interview with James Dyson, the brilliant re-inventor of vacuum cleaners and much else. The Times felt obliged to preface Sir James' words with a health warning for the easily triggered:
In this interview, Mr. Dyson expressed antiquated and at times offensive views on "racial differences" and Japanese culture. He also referred to growth markets in Asia as the "Far East."
He used the term "Far East"!!! What the hell was he thinking?????? Good thing he has no plans to run for public office or host a cable show. The old British Foreign Office joke about the "Near East" (which is more generally referred to as the Middle East) is that they call it the Near East because it's always nearer than you think. But start referring to the Far East and the instant vaporization of your entire career is a lot nearer than you think.
"Far East" is, I suppose, literally Eurocentric. But then so is "Midwest". Perhaps the Times now finds any point of view or perspective "offensive". Perhaps it is time to ban such "antiquated" concepts as north, south, east and west - and indeed the very compass. The abolition of instruments of navigation would seem a necessary condition for the future we're sailing to.
~In American schools, they take the "separation of church and state" so seriously they ban candy canes, reindeer and red-and-green color combinations. By contrast, in Scotland the state schools still perform nativity plays before Christmas, and little Alfie Cox found himself cast as a shepherd. So his mum ordered the excited five-year-old a costume from Amazon, and was delighted upon its arrival to find that Jeff Bezos had been generous enough to throw in a free blow-up sheep:
But the mom of two was puzzled when a teacher told Alfie to take the sheep home â€” until she blew it up and found it had a huge hole in its bottom as well as red lips and eyelashes.
Cox, 46, found the exact same sheep was on sale as a "stag night bonkin' sheep" and is now devising a way to steal it away from unaware Alfie.
Is Jeff Bezos sending free blow-up sheep to all Amazon's customers this Christmas? Or only five-year-old Scottish boys?
On the other hand, perhaps Jennifer Sinclair, the principal at Elkhorn Elementary School in Nebraska so worried about "cultural sensitivity" that she bans reindeer, might find it more inclusive simply to mandate the reindeer has to have red lips and "a huge hole in its bottom".
~When Sir James Dyson is in a Far Eastern karaoke bar, does he sing "Baby, It's Cold Outside"? As you'll know if you're a regular round these parts, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" started life as a party piece for Frank Loesser and his missus that they just did at various soirÃ©es around town until they were begged to make it publicly available. So you can see why its fate would be personal to Mr and Mrs Loesser's daughter Susan in a way that her dad's more straightforwardly commercial enterprises might not be. In her remarks in The Daily Mail, she blames its apparent controversy on Bill Cosby, and says, "It was written in 1944. It was a different time."
Well, almost the entirety of human creativity comes from "a different time". Our time - aside from its notable dearth of great music, great art, great drama, great holiday-season novelty duets - is also the first (or at least the first since Pol Pot) to be set upon destroying everything that dates from a "different time". But, actually, Miss Loesser (whom I met about thirty years ago and who wrote a lovely and perceptive biography of her dad) is sort of wrong about this. Until the day before yesterday, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was very much of our time:
In its first couple of decades, this song was popular, but now it's everywhere. My theory is that that's because the only thing holding up the music industry now is celebrity duets, and there aren't that many songs written expressly for two persons to sing. Hence, 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' as sung by Rod Stewart & Dolly Parton, Norah Jones & Willie Nelson, Cee Lo Green & Christina Aguilera, Natalie Cole & James Taylor, Ron Paul & Sandra Fluke, etc. Miss Jessica Martin and I essayed a few bars of it at the start of our 'Sweet Gingerbread Man', and there's also a very sly musical reference to it right at the end of 'The King's New Clothes'. And, for good measure, we threw in a couplet or two in our epic version of 'Heart And Soul'. And, because of that, folks started writing in suggesting that, as a follow-up, for our next Christmas release we do a full-scale "Baby, It's Cold..." I demurred, in part because I thought it was kinda cool to be the only singing duo that doesn't have a record of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' out there, but also because I didn't feel I had anything new to add to the song. Tootling around the other day, I heard two new versions within ten minutes of each other - Seth MacFarlane & Sara Bareilles and Colbie Caillat & Gavin DeGraw. The latter I thought coarse and witless, and the former was just rather bland, which pains me to say because, among the musicians playing on the MacFarlane/Bareilles record, are trumpeter Pat White and tenor sax Howard McGill, who are also playing on my own humble musical offerings.
That was like, what? Three years ago? For two-thirds of a century, the song was understood as a distillation of a standard dating ritual: The boy wants her to stay, and the girl wants to stay. But she's a nice girl so she has to be talked into it, so Rod and Willie and Cee Loo et al give it their best shot.
Now radio stations are banning it not because something has changed since 1944, but because something has changed in the last twenty minutes. As longtime readers note, I used to joke that "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was responsible for the clash of civilizations:
A few decades back, a young middle-class Egyptian spending some time in the US had the misfortune to be invited to a dance one weekend and was horrified at what he witnessed:
'The room convulsed with the feverish music from the gramophone. Dancing naked legs filled the hall, arms draped around the waists, chests met chests, lips met lips . . .'
Where was this den of debauchery? Studio 54 in the 1970s? Haight-Ashbury in the summer of love? No, the throbbing pulsating sewer of sin was Greeley, Colorado, in 1949. As it happens, Greeley, Colorado, in 1949 was a dry town. The dance was a church social. And the feverish music was 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', as introduced by Esther Williams in Neptune's Daughter. Revolted by the experience, Sayyid Qutb decided that America (and modernity in general) was an abomination, returned to Egypt, became the leading intellectual muscle in the Muslim Brotherhood, and set off a chain that led from Qutb to Zawahiri to bin Laden to the Hindu Kush to the Balkans to 9/11 to the brief Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt to the Islamic State marching across Syria and Iraq. Indeed, Qutb's view of the West is the merest extension of 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' â€” America as the ultimate seducer, the Great Satan...I'm a reasonable fellow, and I'd be willing to meet the Muslim Brotherhood chaps halfway on a lot of the peripheral stuff like beheadings, stonings, clitoridectomies and whatnot. But you'll have to pry 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' from my cold dead hands and my dancing naked legs. A world without 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' would be very cold indeed.
And yet it's here - not because the Muslim Brotherhood took it from us, but because we opted to do it to ourselves: in that sense, this song is the clash of civilizations.
We are in a paradoxical land with a hyper-sexualized yet ideologically puritanical culture. In such a world, the wit and playfulness of Frank Loesser are perforce entirely alien.
~Mark's centenary salute to Frank Loesser, with live music from special guests and archive interviews with Loesser's songwriting partners, is available as part of our American Songbook Holiday Singalong and Broadway Christmas specials.
Steyn will be back later this evening with more of the first of this festive season's Tales for Our Time, Little Women at Christmas by Louisa May Alcott.
Tales for Our Time is made possible through the support of Mark Steyn Club members, for which we're profoundly grateful - and, if you've a friend or relative who enjoys classic fiction, we'd love to welcome him or her to our ranks via the Christmas present that lasts all year: A gift membership in the Steyn Club, which this festive season comes with a special personalized Christmas card from yours truly and a handsomely-engraved gift-boxed USB stick with three of our most popular Tales for Our Time for your friend or relative to listen to in the car or perambulating through the wilderness or almost anywhere else. (The trio of tales is The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Time Machine and The Thirty-Nine Steps.) For more on the Steyn Club gift membership, see here.