When a venue on the Oberlin College campus cancelled a Viet Cong show — citing concerns that the band’s name was far too offensive to Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American students at the school to warrant any sort of support from an esteemed academic institution — it spurned a fair amount of back-and-forth online commentary over whether or not the “Viet Cong” should be considered “offensive” compared to other band names that reference (some might say exploit) violent historical periods. The two names that have come up the most in this torrent of outrage are Joy Division and Gang Of Four (and let’s throw Guantanamo Baywatch in there, for good measure).
The original Gang Of Four was made up of Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen, who formed a political powerhouse within the Communist Party that came to prominence during China’s Cultural Revolution, and were later deposed and tried for crimes of treason in the years following the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. In contrast, Gang Of Four is a British post-punk band with no obvious claims to Chinese history. It could be argued that post-punk groups have a tendency to name themselves after controversial political groups, but that’s not really a prerequisite for being a post-punk band and only seems to really apply to the three aforementioned and a few others here and there. Those who want to defend Viet Cong’s band name ought to find some grounds other than a circular appeal to tradition, especially those who helped initiate that tradition.
Gang Of Four guitarist Andy Gill adopted a different strategy. Gill spoke to Brooklyn Vegan about the controversy, stating that, “We should not be deciding for people what we think they are capable of understanding or not.” Read his entire statement below.
It’s a little ridiculous to ban bands for their name. We can all think of dozens of bands with really quite offensive names and as soon as you get into being the guardian of public morality, taking it upon yourself to decide what’s OK and what is not, you are acting in an illiberal, undemocratic, and anti-progressive way. People should be treated as grown ups, capable of making their own decisions. We should not be deciding for people what we think they are capable of understanding or not. Artists, film-makers, writers, musicians need to be un-censored so they can make their point, political or otherwise.