[guest post by JVW]
I saw this item in a post written by Madeline Kearns at NRO titled “Public Pianist Takes on Authoritarians in London.” It interests me because I am actually somewhat of a fan of the YouTube channel of Brendan Kavanagh, a boogie-woogie pianist who records himself playing in public spaces such as airports, train stations, parks, and malls, along with his interactions with the crowds who watch him. He oftentimes invites audience members who play to join him for duets or take over the piano entirely to play different genres of music, or to provide vocal accompaniment. As with any YouTuber, some of his stuff is no doubt contrived and scripted, but I’m a fan of boogie-woogie so his videos are usually a harmless way for me to pass time while doing something else around the home.
But Mr. Kavanagh had a rather real encounter with onlookers a couple of weeks back. Here is how Ms. Kearns describes it:
Brendan Kavanagh, or “Dr. K,” was playing the public piano at London’s St Pancras station, while a friend filmed him for a live-stream to his YouTube channel. He was approached by Chinese nationals with Chinese flags who wanted to use the piano but asked that he not film them.
One of the women explained that she works for Chinese TV and can’t show her face on other channels. But Kavanagh wasn’t having it.
“We are in Great Britain, we are not in China,” Kavanagh said, explaining that in Britain, people are free to film in a public place, and those not wanting to be filmed are free to simply walk away.
Events then took a strange turn when one of the group, a young man, accused Kavanagh of being racist and began shouting at him when he touched one of the women’s flags.
This brought a London policewoman onto the scene, and she immediately instructed Dr. K to stop filming her interaction with him, as well as to not publish the film of the Chinese nationals to his YouTube channel. To his everlasting credit, Dr. K was having none of it, and Ms. Kearns excerpts their exchange as follows:
Officer Kerry: The matter is, they [the Chinese nationals] say you’ve been making communist comments at them. . . .
Kavanagh: No, I said they were waving a communist flag. That’s all I said. . . .
Officer Kerry: They’ve requested that the video where they approach gets deleted and not used on your channel. . . .
Kavanagh: No, they don’t have that right.
Officer Kerry: Because there’s money being made, and they work for a company where their faces can’t be shown on TV or somebody else’s channel.
Kavanagh: You’re not their private security agent.
Officer Kerry: I’m not their private security agent.
Kavanagh: And we’re in a free country. We’re in a free space. We’re not causing any trouble. The problem is not from us, Kerry. The problem is they are coming over telling us what to do. And playing the piano. Now fair is fair, but you are not their private security guard.
Officer Kerry: I never said I was and I’m having a conversation with you.
Kavanagh: And we’re in a free space, in a free country.
Officer Kerry: There’s an allegation being made and that’s why I’m talking to you.
Kavanagh: What’s the allegation? You told me to stop filming and now you say there’s an allegation. The camera never lies. That’s why I’m filming.
Officer Kerry: The reason why I’m asking you not to film it is because I know you’re putting it on your YouTube channel.
Kavanagh: It doesn’t matter where it goes. We’re in a free country. Sorry. We’re in a democracy. We’re not in China. And that’s not racist. That’s the truth. That’s what our forefathers fought for.
Officer Kerry: Exactly. But you can’t say things like that either. You can’t just say things like that.
Kavanagh: What? That we’re in a free country.
Officer Kerry: No. “We’re not in China.” We’ve got Chinese people. . . .
Kavanagh: Listen, Kerry. If I was over in China and I started laying the law down to Chinese people at the piano, telling them what they cannot do. Do you think that’s appropriate? They came over here. The guy started shouting at me. They were saying “You’re not allowed to film, you’re not allowed to film!” And I said, “Sorry, we’re in Britain. I’m allowed to play.” And I said, “You’re waving a communist flag.” And then he said, “You’re racist.” So, if I’ve done anything wrong, tell me.
Because Dr. K refused to knuckle-under to the outrage of an English bobby doing the bidding of members of a totalitarian society, Officer Kerry eventually tired of the exchange and departed the scene. She of course comes off looking awful in this exchange, and though I feel that in a small way she deserves the derision she will likely receive from the nearly 10 million people who have viewed this video to date, I can’t help but feel a measure of pity for her since she no doubt was trained in all of the intersectionality and social justice nonsense which would perhaps lead her to believe she was at least some bit in the right.
But I am saving my real contempt for the Chinese nationals who tried to enforce their nasty authoritarian will while visiting an (ostensibly) free nation. I have special contempt for the man who tried to manufacture a battery charge because Dr. K had touched the flag of one of the Chinese groups. In a comment on the post, Dr. K links to a YouTube video by the anti-CCP Chinese-American journalist David Zhang, who believes this was an coordinated operation by CCP agents, testing the limits of how far they can push people in the West.
This reminded me of a similar situation I observed probably six or seven years ago outside a hotel in San Diego. I saw security having a discussion with two Asian men. I don’t know for sure that they were Chinese, perhaps they were not, but given the relative population sizes among countries in what we used to refer to as the Orient, they likely were. What was apparently happening is that the older of the two men was smoking a cigarette right next to the hotel’s revolving door, standing maybe only four or five feet away. Security was trying to explain to him that he had to move farther away from the door in order to smoke. The man didn’t (or pretended not to) speak English, so a younger man who seemed to be an assistant of sorts was translating. But no matter how patiently it was explained to the man that he had to move farther out, he stubbornly refused. I didn’t wait around to see how it all ended up, but I remember being a bit peeved that this visitor to our country had so little respect for our rules and regulations.
I think it’s pretty clear that China is more than willing to probe societies in the West to find just how susceptible we are to tolerating their thuggish ways. Recall that just a little over a year ago we discovered that the CCP was operating rouge police stations in New York City, Los Angeles, and at least one other U.S. city, dedicated to monitoring the behavior of Chinese citizens living here under our freedoms. Chinese nationals, many of whom are here on student visas, also have been found to enforce repressive Chinese laws while living here, not only on their own countrymen but also sometimes on Americans whose freedoms offend their totalitarian sensibilities.
The West has failed miserable in managing the rise of China as an ambitious influencer in free societies. Britain suffers from residual guilt over their Asian colonialism, but our country has no good excuse for our passivity. Donald Trump seems to have the willingness but not the deftness to challenge China, and Joe Biden simply lacks the intestinal fortitude. Either way, we’re not looking at any viable solutions anytime soon. So much the worse.