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22nd October 2015

Viet Cong and the limits of artistic license

Zakk Brown questions whether the change in Viet Cong’s band name affected their artistic direction

Ever since the genesis of Viet Cong, their choice in name has been a point of contention, which continued to become under fire after the release of their self-titled debut LP. After announcing on the 19th of September that they would be renaming the band, I thought this was a suitable time to offer some musings upon the change, as well as on the wider issue of artistic censorship.

Allow me to preface my views by saying that I believe that music is art and all art is subjective, relative to the individual, and open to interpretation. This goes not only for the receiver of the art but also for the creator of it. The feelings the artist wishes to express are not forced to be the same feelings received on the individual. That being said, the naming of a band can be viewed as an extension of their artistic expression through music and lyrics. The band’s name and their subjective artistic expression in choosing that name is therefore relevant to nobody but themselves, as is the recipient of their creative output’s interpretation, whether it is the same feeling as the band wish to express or different.

Taking offence is therefore a perfectly acceptable response to their artistic expression, in this case the name of a band, as is it an acceptable response to not be offended by it, as there is no absolute interpretation or opinion on art. It is also acceptable to not allow an artist to exhibit their creation in your establishment if you find their art to be offensive, something which has occurred to Viet Cong, or rather the band formerly known as Viet Cong, earlier this year.

However it is not acceptable in my opinion to censor or ban something open to interpretation which does not coincide with your personal ideology, something the Calgary boys have faced, with a petition to ban the name holding 2,363 signatures. This is something which even an open letter from Sang Nguyen, whose family members encountered tragic events in the Vietnam War, doesn’t call for, despite utilising her right to express her interpretation of their art, with the result that it is offensive. I am of the impression that for the sake of artistic expression, an artist is within their rights to adopt imagery which they think best expresses themselves and the feelings they want to display with their art.

As we are not in the artist’s head and we cannot know or perhaps even comprehend the feelings they are personally expressing through such imagery used in their art, I am very much against censoring their art and dictating their expression and think it is a very slippery slope to go down. It’s important to note that the purpose of this article is neither to condemn the band for offending people with their name nor to defend them; it is rather to use their controversy to offer a defence on the freedom artistic expression and my thoughts on censorship.

With that said, I also think that the band Viet Cong is a terrible example of the name being reflective of their art, as the band’s Facebook status revealing the name change states that “our band name is not our cause.” As a result of this, I am not inclined to defend this band in particular’s right to artistic expression in their name as it is not an extension of their art. It is therefore not a betrayal of their artistic direction and not something their fans should be upset over, as it was the band’s decision to change their name and, fortunately, not forced upon them. In my personal opinion, they are still a damn good band.

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