Viet Cong are a very good Calgary postpunk band whose self-titled album we heralded as Album Of The Week back in January. But despite how good their music might be, the problem with naming your band Viet Cong — and then revealing your ignorance about the lasting significance of this name — is that people don’t brush off offensive, racially-charged statements anymore. Like it or not, identifying their band as Viet Cong does constitute a statement, and it’s one blatant enough to spur the concert promoter for the Oberlin College venue Dionysus Disco to cancel the band’s appearance.
Promoter Ivan Krasnov shared a statement via the venue’s Facebook page that apologized for booking the group in the first place, and then extends a deeper apology to anyone in the Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities:
As the person behind booking this band, I would first and foremost like to apologize on both my and my booking organization’s behalf for inviting a band with a name that deeply offends and hurts Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities, both in Oberlin and beyond. I acknowledge the problematic nature of a band naming themselves “Viet Cong” and extend my apology to anyone hurt or made uncomfortable by the name and its connotations.
He continues to explain the reasoning behind booking the band, before acknowledging that the band’s offensive name would do more harm to the community than the good their music might do.
My principal aim is to build a program of both up-and-coming and established, quality acts that I truly believe will deliver a memorable performance, and leave a positive and memorable impact on the Oberlin and Cleveland-area communities. Often times, these acts are bands I think Oberlin should know about, and are on the cusp of gaining national and worldwide attention. I book talent with these main intentions in mind. However, that talent should absolutely not be booked at the expense of hurting, offending, or making uncomfortable the very students and general public for which I want to provide quality programming. Such practices are counterintuitive to the positive lasting impact The ’Sco should have.
Furthermore, Krasnov goes into explicit detail about Oberlin’s protest during the Vietnam war, and the institution’s legacy of support for social justice and related causes:
Similarly, as a student booker who ultimately represents Oberlin by booking college-funded acts, I must be aware of Oberlin’s history as a progressive and highly conscious institution with an important legacy of social justice and action that needs to be upheld to this day. This legacy is seen notably in the student protests, demands, and direct action that took place on our campus during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the spring of 1970, in response to the Kent State shootings and President Nixon’s decision to send troops into Cambodia as part of the war against North Vietnam, Oberlin College ended the semester two weeks early. Time reported: “Oberlin College President Robert Carr simply canceled final exams, gave all his students credits for their courses and turned over the campus to antiwar planning.” Students today commonly and falsely believe that Oberlin does not require its graduating students to don traditional commencement regalia simply because Oberlin is “quirky”; the truth is that the cap and gown was first rejected by students in protest of the Vietnam War and the United States’ involvement in it….To allow a band called “Viet Cong” to play a show and make money at Oberlin College would be in complete disregard of Oberlin’s radical history and of the values it professes to uphold.
But as I previously noted, the most troubling aspect of the whole story is that the band admitted they were ignorant of the name’s implications, and even when they did realize, still didn’t really seem to care about its offensive nature:
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) and article, “The Ridiculousness of Being Viet Cong“: “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.
Krasnov also details how strongly the Vietnamese community at Oberlin reacted to the band’s name, and that honoring their reaction is part of what informed his decision.
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.
The band has yet to comment on the controversy. You can read the promoter’s full statement here.