by Ngoc Bich
Recently, a music charity held in central Quang Binh Province and attended by Heroic Mothers, poor students, orphans, provincial leaders and philanthropists experienced some controversy when participating artists were criticised for donning skimpy outfits in public.
The public was shocked when inspectors from the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism imposed a fine of only VND3.5 million (US$167) on the programme organiser. No singer was punished.
This is a case in which some believe the authorities have good reason to step up the punishment, as the clothing was not suitable for a charity programme.
But even for general entertainment shows, assessing the appropriateness of dress is not an easy job. Whether or not to censor and how to do so is still a controversial issue.
Under Vietnamese laws, the act of "dressing offensively or unsuitably to the customs of Viet Nam" will be administratively sanctioned VND2-5 million ($95-238). Many people find the level of the fine to be too low considering the income of a singer, which may reach tens of million of dong per show.
In a recent conference on performing arts in HCM City, Nguyen Huu Chien, deputy director of the Da Nang City's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said that violation fines in performing arts should be raised to billions of dong. "A ticket for a music show in Da Nang is sold for at least VND500,000 ($25) and the highest price is up to millions of dong. Revenue of a show may reach billions of dong," he said.
Vuong Duy Bien, director of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Performing Arts Administration, said currently the National Assembly's ordinance specified a maximum fine of VND40 million for violations in art performance. Thus the sanction on scanty-dressed artists could not exceed the framework. But if an artist violated the code of aesthetics too many times, he or she would be banned from performing.
According to Bien, a new decree on performing arts, expected to be approved by the Prime Minister this quarter, will improve the situation by issuing heavier sanctions and regulations.
A Vietnamese singer famous for her suggestive style of dress once told the press that she followed dance music and thus she could not wear costumes that covered her from her head to toe. As a person in the public eye, it is inevitable that she will get compliments and criticism, but she will not change herself just because of the criticism.
As a singer, she does not dress for herself but for her audience, of which a large part is young people.
Le My Hanh, a fourth-year student at the Ha Noi University, said it was not necessary to punish artists who wore scanty clothes, as authorities had neither the capacity nor human resources to keep watch on all entertainment shows.
As long as there was no common and specific definition for ‘dressing scantily', it would be difficult to punish them, she said.
Meanwhile, music critic Nguyen Thi Minh Chau said young Vietnamese artists copied a lot from foreign countries, including dressing and performing styles. "It is fine to learn from foreign countries. However, local artists should choose costumes suited to the country and ones that preserve national characteristics," she said.
Grossly indecent behaviour must be punished to avoid doing harm to younger generations, she stressed.
On the other hand, people are often eager to read about and discuss artists who wear skimpy clothing. And mass media companies which are struggling to increase their market shares also seek to satisfy the majority's demand by targeting the controversial dressing of artists.
In addition, there is a trend for singers, especially newer ones, to seek fame not by proving their talents but by showing off their bodies. Then, mass media accidentally turns into a means for them to promote their image.
Chau said many young artists with no vocal talent and singing abilities were choosing to wear very short and very thin dresses to attract audiences.
Administrative fines was thus a way to prevent such unhealthy competition among singers and create conditions for real talent to develop, she said.
In 2008, the famous American girl band Pussycat Dolls had to pay a fine of $3,400 for flashing body parts during a live concert in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a Muslim country.
Though the fine was not a large sum for the band, it was a warning to other groups who wanted to perform in the country.
In my opinion, administrative punishment is a necessary method to prove a country's law is respected. But, it does not address the root of the problem because dress relies on personal sense. — VNS