Editor’s Note: Carol Costello is the host of “Across America With Carol Costello” on HLN. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
It seems like America’s every cultural moment is under review thanks to Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore and the rest of the men accused of sexual misconduct this year. I can’t even watch a Christmas movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life” without wondering if it is inherently sexist. And I love that movie.
But seriously, if gorgeous, brilliant Mary had never met her George Bailey, would she have ended up working in a library? Worse than that, would she have been an old maid – a fate apparently worse than death when the movie was made in 1946?
I am not alone in my musings. Blaine Greteman, who writes for The Week, questions whether “The Nutcracker” is appropriate for young girls. He asks, “What the hell is going on with Godfather Drosselmeyer?”
And feminists have long objected to that flirty Christmas Carol, “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” That’s why every holiday season someone writes an article urging America to retire the song because of its rape-like undertones. It starts innocently enough. Guy meets gal on cold Christmas night. They share a drink. I am all in until the duo sings this:
Man: Put some records on while I pour
Gal: The neighbors might think
Man: Baby, it’s bad out there
Gal: Say what’s in this drink?
Man: No cabs to be had out there
The song was written in 1944, when women were expected to, as billionaire Foster Friess “joked” in 2012, put aspirin “between their knees” for birth control. I try to keep an open mind, but yuck!
But have we become too sensitive to lyrics, movies and plays? CNN’s legal analyst and my good friend, Paul Callan, wonders if the Broadway hit, “The Producers,” could be censured. “I think … Ulla was the sexy receptionist who got her butt tapped a few times by all of the people in this very successful Broadway show,” he said on HLN. “I don’t think we can run that on Broadway anymore, given Wendy’s attitude about these things and how dead serious people are about this.”
Wendy is Wendy Murphy – a fiery former prosecutor and staunch defender of sex abuse victims. Murphy and Callan were arguing over whether a “zero-tolerance” attitude has taken hold in our culture – one in which an accuser points a finger and the accused is automatically deemed guilty.
Pop culture is “not the point,” Murphy said passionately. “These are real human beings; this is not theater. Real human beings and women have a right to work in equal and safe conditions. That’s not asking for much.”
However, old-fashioned songs, plays and ballets are a part of the real world. They can influence the way kids think about gender roles. Perhaps it is time we retire these dinosaurs and bask in a brighter, more equitable future. It’s happening right under our noses.
After all, women are leading the box office in 2017 – and not one, unlike Ulla in “The Producers,” sings a song called “If You Got It, Flaunt It.”
The “Last Jedi” features Rey, a smart, strong freedom fighter. “Wonder Woman” boasts a superhero who is compassionate, smart and a kick-ass fighter. And “Beauty and the Beast” features Belle, who refuses to settle for a man who is not up to her standards.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been backlash. Remember the all-female remake of “Ghostbusters?” Sexist and racist trolls, angry that women replaced the original male characters, made life hell for Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and especially Leslie Jones.
The hateful provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was front and center. He told ABC News the recast made him feel oppressed. “I would rather a healthier, equitable arrangement that existed between the sexes rather than the sort of vindictive feminism that seems to exist now,” Yiannopoulos said. “And by the way, most people agree with me. Fewer than one in five women in America describe themselves as a feminist, because they see what I see.”
Too bad, Milo. The “Ocean’s 8” trailer has just taken social media by storm. And Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett and Mindy Kaling have replaced the original male cast.
And guess what?
The cast is ready to go to war with sexist trolls who might be angry that women are treading into male territory. As Bullock told Entertainment Weekly, “I’ll tell you, we’ve got some feisty women that will fight right back.”
I plan to run to the theater to see Sandy and company rule. But have I cooled to classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside?” Kinda. I most certainly will never watch that movie or hear that song in the same way I did when I was a kid. And that’s a good thing.