Oberlin College’s student-run nightclub canceled a show last weekend due to the band’s “problematic,” “offensive,” and “appropriative” name.
The postpunk band Viet Cong was originally scheduled to perform at Oberlin’s Dionysus Discotheque March 14. Ivan Krasnov, the venue promoter who booked the band, wrote an apology letter expressing his remorse for scheduling an act with a “name that deeply offends and hurts Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities, both in Oberlin and beyond.”
Krasnov stated that he acknowledges “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.” (RELATED: Oberlin College Mulls Ban On Gender Pronouns, Mandatory Transgender Sensitivity Training)
While canceling the event on behalf of offended members of the Vietnamese community, Krasnov writes:
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.
In the letter, Krasnov also lauds Oberlin’s “important legacy of social justice.” While apologizing for the offensive nature of the name Viet Cong, he praises Oberlin’s active history of protesting the Vietnam War (which was waged against the Viet Cong and its sponsor, North Vietnam):
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. […] 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.
According to the apologetic promoter, it would be against the private Ohio-based college’s values to allow a band named Viet Cong to perform due to its name. However, protests against the war to defeat Viet Cong are part of Oberlin’s “legacy of social justice.” (RELATED: Oberlin Students Beg School Not To Fail Students Who Were Too Busy Protesting)
Krasnov learned of Viet Cong’s nonchalant attitude towards their name through reading and watching the band’s interviews. The band maintains their name isn’t meant to be offensive. According to Krasnov, “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.” (RELATED: The 13 Most Rabidly Leftist, Politically Correct Colleges For Dirty, Tree-Hugging Hippies)
According to Stereogum, Viet Cong addressed the cancellation controversy at a show by referencing Wayne’s World 2. The band suggested their name should be changed to “Old Man Fashioning a Kayak” to avoid offending anyone.