Vietnam Proposes Law Banning Karaoke Parlors

In Vietnam, what the Communist Party says goes. But now the Party is threatening to spoil the party — so to speak — for lovers of the sublime art of karaoke.

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In communist Vietnam, what the party says goes. But now the party is threatening to spoil the party, so to speak, for lovers of the sublime art of karaoke. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Hanoi.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: In the 1984 movie "Footloose," Kevin Bacon plays a teenager from the big city who moves to a small Midwestern town where he tries to organize a school dance, much to the chagrin of the local preacher, played by John Lithgow.

(Soundbite of movie, "Footloose")

Mr. JOHN LITHGOW (Actor): (as Reverend Shaw Moore) Every day, our Lord is testing us. If he wasn't testing us, how do you account for the sorry state of our society? If our Lord wasn't testing us, how would you account for the proliferation, these days, of this obscene rock and roll music, with its gospel of easy sexuality and relaxed morality?

SULLIVAN: Vietnam's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism apparently couldn't agree more. Dancing isn't yet on the list of official social evils, but the ministry seems to suspect dancing can lead to harder things. Which is why it's proposing a ban on dancing in karaoke parlors here in a bid to discourage prostitution and use of the designer drug Ecstasy. As you might expect, not everyone is pleased with the idea.

(Soundbite of song)

SULLIVAN: At Hanoi's (unintelligible) karaoke parlor last night, public sentiment was running firmly against the proposed law. Twenty-year-old Chung San(ph) was there with two friends recording a song to send to a friend in the States for his birthday.

Mr. CHUNG SAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: We don't dance a lot, he says, but sometimes when we're happy we can't help it. We want to show it and there is nothing wrong with that. His friend Ming(ph) says he is indignant the Ministry would even consider such an idea.

MING: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: I'm very angry, Ming says, because sometimes you need to dance to have fun, to relax. Maybe our dancing gets a little naughty sometimes, he says, but that's normal. Of course the Ministry isn't all wrong. Now and again there is a good reason not to let people dance in public. Think of the "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine decides to get things going at the J. Peterman office party.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Seinfeld")

JULIA LOUIS DREYFUSS (as Elaine): Come on, who's dancing? Want me to get it started?

(Soundbite of applause)

SULLIVAN: Sometimes in this one-party state, officials don't bother to consider public opinion. Which is a shame because even here really bad ideas are, well, really bad ideas. Like the one an official at the Health Ministry had a few months back that essentially proposed that small-chested women not be allowed to drive motorcycles because they were, well, too small. That prompted water cooler jokes about traffic cops rushing out to get tape measurers. That idea died a quick death and this one probably will too, but not before whoever proposed it gets an earful.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Hanoi.

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