Friday, May 14, 2004

Un-PC Lyrics, Part 2

Another musical-comedy lyric that audiences often take as an expression of unenlightened attitudes is "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm," by Frank Loesser, from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Sung by secretary Rosemary just after meeting the man she's determined to marry, it is a vision of a happy housewife's life in New Rochelle:

I'll be so happy to keep his dinner warm
While he goes onward and upward,
Happy to keep his dinner warm
Till he comes wearily home
From downtown.
I'll be there waiting until his mind is clear
While he looks through me, right through me,
Waiting to say "Good evening, dear,
I'm pregnant, what's new with you?"
From downtown.
Oh, to be loved
By a man I respect,
To bask in the glow
Of his perfectly understandable neglect....

The meaning of this song would have been perfectly obvious to anyone seeing the show in 1961: it was a satire of the button-down surburban ideal (the commuting husband, the waiting wife, the treating of children as just another accessory of the surburban life). Audiences knew the show was a satire and that this song was poking fun -- and rather brutal fun at that -- at the attitudes expressed within it.

But now, the song is routinely called "sexist" and amateur productions sometimes cut it (which they're not even allowed to do, but never mind that). If someone wrote a song like that today -- not that there's anyone around who could write like Frank Loesser -- audiences would immediately catch on to the irony and satire, and accept it as such. Unfortunately, audiences either don't know or won't accept that irony and satire existed in 1961, which means that, again, they assume that a song like this is an un-ironic representation of the attitudes of the author. We are willing to accept irony and un-PC humour from today's authors because we believe that today's authors are sophisticated; we have trouble understanding that authors 40 years ago were no less sophisticated than we are today, and perhaps more.

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