The Slants go to Washington

The Supreme Court announced a decision last month in a case brought by an Asian American rock band, the Slants, who were denied the right to register their name by the U.S. Copyright and Patent Office. The reason cited was that the name was disparaging and violated the Lanham Act. The band’s lead singer, Simon Tam, was quoted by NPR as saying he wanted “to change [the term] to something that was powerful, something that was considered beautiful or a point of pride instead.”

The case will have far-reaching influence in effectively striking down the provision from the Lanham Act, which was intended to prohibit copyrights that could disparage an individual or group. The most notable case may be that of the Washington Redskins football team. The Washington Times reports that “trademark law is full of confusing cases. The television show ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’ was registered by the trademark office, but ‘Clearly Queer’ was rejected. ‘Permachink’ was accepted, but ‘chink proud’ was rejected.”

The case establishes, after some years of uncertainty, that the government’s stamp in the form of authorizing a trademark registration does not constitute government speech. In remaining private speech trademarks and copyrights, even the Washington Redskins’ arguably offensive one, are protected under the First Amendment.

It appears opponents of the team name will have to find a new way to convince billionaire owner Daniel Snyder to consider a change. Even¬†The Washington Post, whose editors have called for the change, admits that a majority of Native people in a recent poll were not offended by it. Once again rock and roll has opened wide the pandora’s box of free speech.

In a Daily Show segment, Ronny Chieng (our favorite correspondent) points out the band could have chosen a much more offensive name and suggests a shocking but hilarious list: Ching and Chong Sing-a-Longs, Gook Face Killas, Wok and Rollers, and Vanilla Rice. This reminded us of a couple other bands with names which could be seen as slurs, whose records we found below.


Maybe the Wongs, whose single is credited to “Ancient Chinese Secret Music,” took their name as a tribute to Esther Wong, the promoter who is sometimes called the Godmother of punk.

And the Chinkees play on another Asian stereotype by adding a karaoke track at the end of each side of this single. It’s worth noting that this band featured Mike Park, and their records were released on his Asian Man label.


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