Earlier today the members of Calgary band Viet Cong announced that they would be changing their name to Preoccupations after months of criticism from those who claimed the former name was offensive. The band announced they would change the name last fall after being greeted by angry protesters in Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland and having a show cancelled at Oberlin College. In a statement the band apologized for “to those who were adversely affected by our former band name”. When I read that quote I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could be adversely affected by the band name of a Canadian rock band but, of course, it’s their decision and they have every right to call themselves whatever the hell they want.
What pisses me off is the faux-radicalism on display by those that think they have struck a great blow against racism by forcing a Canadian rock band to change their name. Rock ‘n roll is supposed to be transgressive, it’s the point of the entire art form. Gang of Four was named after the murderous putschists who tried to maintain Mao’s Cultural Revolution and Joy Division got it’s moniker from the prostitution wing of a Nazi death camp. I grew up listening to (and loving) MDC an acronym for Millions of Dead Cops. Does anyone find these names offensive? I hope so. I would argue the offensiveness of those names is almost as important as the music itself. It announces the radical quality of the art, a swift punch to the jugular of staid and predictable orthodoxies.
Progressive politics has now degenerated into the affected pose of faux-radicalism. Last year The Guardian newspaper revealed the extent to which slave labour is being used in the South Asian fishing industry, a region that Canada does billions of dollars in trade with every year. I find that offensive. I find it offensive that our government continues to trade with the Vietnamese dictatorship that jails, murders and exploits its population. That is an issue that requires public protests and prolonged public engagement. Instead we get a prolonged movement to force an indie rock band to change its name. What a great victory we have achieved against racism and inequality. Well done.