Should we question political correctness in Christmas songs?

Tom Routledge has his say on the debate about controversial festive songs such as 'Fairytale of New York' and 'Baby it's Cold Outside'

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The words “peace and joy” have always been closely linked with Christmas time as a period of love and laughter. Certain questionable remarks made around the dinner table are shrugged off in favour of not ruining Christmas Day and keeping the family peace. There’s a reason the holiday season often comes with a high dose of gingerbread, cinnamon and saccharine. As a result, recent debates surrounding problematic and outdated lyrics in classic Christmas songs have been classed as “overly PC” and “ruining the fun”. Assertions about “snowflake millennials” finding anything to be offended by has been used as a defence against some very valid and important arguments as to not spoil Christmas. It goes without saying that the lyrics in question are the sexism in the Christmas classic ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ and the use of the homophobic slur “f*****” in The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’.

‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ has been covered by everyone from Dolly Parton to Michael Buble since its release in 1944. Whilst the singing couple may have changed, the lyrical message of a man really wanting the subject of his affection to stay has persisted. The song’s lyrics are misogynistic and allude to sexual assault and its original performance in the 1949 film ‘Neptune’s Daughter’ supports this. If the man’s removal of the woman’s coat and pulling her back down onto the sofa aren’t enough, then the reference to an unknown substance in her drink and repeated ‘no’ definitely should be. These attitudes are unfortunately fitting in the 1940s system of male sexual domination but in post-Me Too movement 2018, these actions are chilling. In the past few years, the song has been the topic of various polls and petitions to get it removed and then added back to radio stations’ playlists. However, the man’s efforts to persuade the woman to stay and combating each of her reasons head on is exactly why the song doesn’t really belong on radio anymore. The subtlety of each of his lines contribute to a larger picture of why misogynistic attitudes still exist – it isn’t sustained by the blatant statements, it’s in the underlying meanings which are just accepted in society.

These attitudes are unfortunately fitting in the 1940s system of male sexual domination but in post-Me Too 2018, these actions are chilling

The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ has been the subject of more recent discussion following an article in ‘The Tab’ which was then unfortunately picked up in the ‘Daily Mail’. The crux of the article was that the word “f*****” in what has been described as the anti-Christmas song is homophobic and distasteful. For decades, the word has been used as a weapon against the LGBTQ+ community just like the ‘n’ word for people of colour, and arguably should be censored on radio in the same way.

For decades, the word has been used as a weapon against the LGBTQ+ community

In my experience of trying to explain this point of view to defenders of the song, the same arguments have come suggesting that the word actually refers to the Irish slang word for a lazy person, a waster. (I tend to ignore those who think that Kirsty MacColl is in fact singing about a Welsh meatball). Whilst this may be true, the larger problem is the intent by which straight people intend on screaming the infamous line in clubs and bars during the festive season. I highly doubt that when the fifth verse comes around, people are more excited to scream a piece of Irish slang, than they are a word which is taboo and socially unacceptable. Even MacColl herself altered the lyrics soon after the song’s release as to not offend those who have been on the receiving end of the word’s aggressively homophobic meaning. I’m not calling for an all-out blacklisting of the song, just the tiniest bleep of one word. Just one.

I tend to ignore those who think that Kirsty MacColl is in fact singing about a Welsh meatball

Whilst these conversations may disrupt the peace this Christmas season, they can help bring joy to those who are actually offended by the words and meanings of these songs. Not offended for the sake of it but instead because of the history of these words and the social repercussions that their casual use can have.

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