File under shitty band names. Meet the Calgary-based post-punk band that calls itself Viet Cong. A concert promoter recently canceled a show at Oberlin College because of controversy over the band's name.
Viet Cong Show Canceled Due to "Offensive" Band Name
Okay, bros. Of all the ridiculous things you could call yourself, you picked "Viet Cong." Where did you come up with that name? Why? Surely, you had to know that members of the Vietnamese community would it offensive.
"It's just a band name. It's just what we called ourselves," frontman Matt Flegel says in an interview.
In another interview, Flegel explains further, "That comes from our drummer, and from us being teenagers and watching movies. The Viet Cong were always the bad asses in movies." This might be the dumbest reason behind a band name ever. Too many teenage viewings of Full Metal Jacket.
Hmm. Well, perhaps they're unaware of the name's painful connotations.
Uh, nope. Flegel shares, "Vietnamese immigrants -- the Vietnamese Canadians and Vietnamese Americans -- will write us an email saying that their family was tortured by the Viet Cong for five years in a prison camp."
So this is just straight up, willful disregard. In a statement/apology to the Oberlin community, promoter Ivan Krasnov explained his reasons for canceling the Viet Cong show, acknowledging the problematic nature of the name, and citing the band's own awareness and seeming indifference to the name's offensive implications:
Especially troubling is the band's awareness of their name inflicting offense coupled with a seeming indifference to its effects and implications. This entire issue was brought to my attention through several of the band’s interviews in which they exhibit this sort of behavior, seen notably in the video, "Hello: Viet Cong at Le Guess Who? 2014," (at 4:51, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXaiEcgRxTg) and article, “The Ridiculousness of Being Viet Cong” (http://www.imposemagazine.com/features/viet-cong-interview: "That [name] comes from our drummer, and from us being teenagers and watching movies. The Viet Cong were always the bad asses in movies.") The fact that the band openly acknowledges their problematic name, yet fails to change it or do anything about it, highlights this blatantly appropriative move, reinforcing a tradition of American (and Western) orientalism and appropriation.
What the Vietnamese student community helped me understand is that I cannot claim to fully comprehend the implications of a band (consisting of four white Canadian men) naming themselves "Viet Cong." I can call out this name for being grossly ignorant and deeply offensive, but I also understand that even if I knew all the historical context, I am not someone whose personal and historical history is directly tied to and affected by the consequences of U.S. imperialist actions in Southeast Asia. This is precisely why I believe it is important for me to listen to the concerns raised by those who do understand and are affected on a deep emotional level. I cannot with good conscience put on this show knowing that it hurts others, and the onus should absolutely not be on those who are hurt to educate the rest of the community on why this name is offensive.
Read the full statement here.
Long time readers might remember a similar controversy a few years back over a band that called itself "Ching Chong Song." As far as I can tell, they're still around with their shitty name.
A few years back, The Morning Benders changed their name to POP ETC. After embarking on their first international tour -- having already called themselves The Morning Benders for five years -- they discovered that "bender" is used as a derogatory term for "homosexual" in certain English-speaking parts of the world. So they made the change. "We simply cannot go on using a name that is demeaning to the gay community," the band explained. It was that simple. You have to give them props for that.
I'm not Vietnamese. While it's plainly obvious to me why "Viet Cong" is a awful band name, I cannot fully grasp or express the deep emotional and psychological implications that this name evokes. For that, I'll point you to Charles Lam of OC Weekly, who offers a personal explanation of why Viet Cong Is a Stupid Band Name:
The majority of Vietnamese living overseas are refugees from the Vietnam War. They hate the Vietnamese communist government, and, really, communism in general. Why? Well, when someone invades your country, kills your family (my grandfather was killed by a VC roadside bomb, for example), renames your capital, throws you in reeducation camps and forces you to flee your homeland, it's kind of hard not to.
These kinds of emotions still run very deep in the Vietnamese community, even with 1.5 and 2nd generation kids like me, and it's honestly kind of shitty to name your band after the people who killed a good chunk of my family, stole most of their property, and imprisoned and tried to kill my dad multiple times. I don't care if your band name doesn't mean anything to you or if you just picked it because your drummer thought it sounded cool; it definitely means something to me.
The more I read about how these guys came around to settling on "Viet Cong" as their band name, the angrier I get about how such inconsequential thought went into choosing it. They insist that they're not out to offend people; they just want to make music. And dude, I totally believe that. So why do they insist on operating under this idiotic name? Because at this point, f*ck the music. I haven't even bothered. Nobody gives a shit.
Not when you're four white dudes cluelessly calling yourself "Viet Cong."