Out of Line or Out of Context?

Brian Benavides, Staff Writer

The power of context is absolute is every sense. The ability to distinctly alter the perception of anything without changing the sum of its parts is a extremely versatile trait to have. However, that kind of influence is best to be wary around. In context, classic holiday songs such as Frank Loesser’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside” can be understood in a few different ways. Although, out of context, this song takes on a variety much less favorable interpretations.

The timeless classic was written in 1944 by Loesser for his wife Lynn Garland and himself to perform with each other and to play at parties. He and is wife loved the song because it was a hit at gatherings and got them invited to parties all around Hollywood. Later he sold it to MGM for their new musical Neptune’s Daughter, a transaction that Garland was not thrilled about. Nonetheless the song was a prominent feature in the musical, being performed twice in the duration of the film. The first and most famous version was performed by Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams with a reprise of the song later in the movie. During the course of the musical number, the two have a compelling back and forth, illustrating the innate romantic friction between the two parties involved. This certainly can be taken as a clever display of the dance of love these two people share. Building tension through the push and pull of their dialogue and playfully teasing each other, as well as the idea that she may stay. Now this interpretation is certainly the one intended; it is a clever and playful walk through the budding romance between two individuals. But the concept intended to reach the audience can only be conveyed under a certain set of circumstances. The movie has to instill specific precognitions in the audiences in order for them to come to the conclusions that the filmmakers want them to come to. In others words, without context, this classic song is easily misinterpreted.

As a result of the monumental fame that this song has gained, it had been dragged into the spotlight for years, a spotlight that has melted the scaffolding around that cherished tune. So after decades of this song being isolated from its larger work, the perception of it by new listeners has shifted from a playful display of emotional friction to a show of unrequited advances at best and an exhibit of an overambitious and delusional “doesn’t take no for an answer” pervert at worst, both excruciating to witness. It only goes to show how powerful the influence of context, or the lack there of, really is.