When Is a Band’s Name TOO Offensive? (Slightly NSFW)

I clearly remember when the first Lollapalooza came to Toronto in 1991, local TV news anchors had a hard time talking about the first band on the bill. Instead of “Butthole Surfers,” they reported on the “B.H. Surfers.” They just couldn’t bring themselves to pronounce the band’s full name.

This wasn’t anything new, of course.  Bands have been using provocative names for decades.  Some groups set out to shock (Dead Kennedys, Dayglo Abortions, The Dicks, The Queers, Revolting Cocks, Nashville Pussy, The Slits, Rapeman) whiles others just were goofing around (Jon Cougar Concentration Camp, Diarrhea Planet, Circle Jerks, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel). Then we have group that were trying to offend as many people as possible (Anal Cunt, Vaginal Defecation, Funeral Rape).  We also have a whole category of F-world bands (Crucifucks, Fucked Up, Holy Fuck, Fuck Buttons, Starfucker and the Oakland band that goes just by the name Fuck).

And let’s not forget the groups that snuck stuff past the general public. Joy Division was named after part of a concentration camp where female prisoners were forced into having sex with Nazi officers. The band’s successor, New Order, was slammed for adopting a fascist name. Then we have Spandau Ballet, which (more Nazi talk coming here) referred to the contortions prisoners at the notorious Spandau Prison went through as they were being tortured to death.

Sometimes people make a big deal out of nothing. Toronto is still embarrassed by the time in 1991 when mayor June Rowlands banned the Barenaked Ladies from performing in front of city hall because their name was demeaning to women. In 2010, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, banned The New Pornographers from playing a gig on campus because they thought its name promoted pornography and therefore violence against women.

The big controversy today surrounds Calgary’s Viet Cong. From Noisey UK:

[T]he highly rated Canadian post-punk band Viet Cong had theirshow canceled by the promoter at an onsite venue in Oberlin College, Ohio. The promoter said that after booking the band, he quickly became aware that their name “deeply offends and hurts Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities, both in Oberlin and beyond.” The fact a promoter had resorted to canceling the band, who had gone almost completely unquestioned thus far on an inter-continental tour, gave the story a much more newsworthy value and it spread rapidly. Within just a few days, another band, now from Oregon, and this time called Black Pussy, also found themselves the subject of name controversy via a petition for their gigs to be canceled and venues to be boycotted, along with numerous articles of condemnation. So what makes these two way more offensive than everyone else who’s gone before?

Read the whole article here.

 

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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