by Michael Waller
In a recent update on the ever-shrinking barrier between freedom of expression and political correctness in the post-internet age, indie band Viet Cong apologized for and promised to change their name. This comes after a slew of offended op-eds criticized the band’s name for its callous treatment of the atrocities perpetrated by the actual Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. In response to these sentiments, earlier this year the promoter, begging the question of where freedom of expression, historical context and political correctness end, canceled a planned show at Oberlin College.
It’s no coincidence that this cancellation comes from the world of higher education, where a pervasive atmosphere of PC has been on the rise in recent years. To be sure, this isn’t the trivial distinction between “old person” and “person of advanced age,” but it does pertain to our control over language and the ability to express ourselves. On the subject Andy Gill of the seminal dance punk outfit Gang of Four gave his opinion to Brooklyn Vegan, saying, “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.” The Dead Kennedys, Lamb of God, the Brian Jonestown Massacre — the list goes on, but Gill is an expert on the subject, his own band’s name deriving from the Chinese Communist Party officials who rose to power during the country’s cultural revolution. The issue at hand is essentially the difference between childhood and adulthood.
This moralizing condemnation of a band’s name extends beyond the simple declaration of ‘I’m offended,’ infringing on the rights of others in the conviction that, ‘since I’m offended, you have to be offended too.’ This line of thought erodes the distinction between childhood and adulthood, an individual (or band’s) freedom to choose the media they consume or create curtailed by an obligation to accommodate another’s wishes.
Perhaps the distinction between punk and post-punk lies in Viet Cong’s decision to bend to criticism, beginning the statement that accompanied the announcement of their name change, “art and music are about creative expression. However, our band name is not our cause, and we are not going to fight for it.” In this sense they contradict themselves, willfully submitting their creative expression to the scrutiny of all those who have feelings. They forsake their genre, or at least the origins of, in eschewing the individualistic ideals of punk rock.
Worst of all, they set a precedent that public opinion holds sway over what one can and cannot say in art, an ideal championed ironically in the recent NWA biopic, Straight Outta Compton. Though a noble (and respectful) move, Viet Cong’s submission of their identity leads to a question of just how far one should be able to express themselves without intruding upon the safety of others.
Michael Waller is a Staff Writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org