When the Bloodhound Gang's bass player, Jared Hasselhoff, decided to bare it all on stage and wipe himself with a Russian flag at a concert in Ukraine on July 31, the band received the kind of media attention they haven’t had since their 1999 hit “The Bad Touch.” The group was banned from participating in Russia's Kubana music festival and will probably not be invited to play in the country again.
As much as anyone loves a 90s comeback story, the important takeaway from this is not Hasselhoff’s apparent inability to keep his pants zipped on stage, it’s that the Russian government has taken the bait yet again. The Kremlin gave the Bloodhound Gang the kind of attention that even monkey suits could not garner for the band.
Here’s a brief rundown of the YouTube video, in case you don’t want to see Hasselhoff drop trou.
During the concert in Odessa, Ukraine, there were reportedly two flags on the stage: a Russian one and a Ukrainian one. When the Ukrainian flag was presented, the crowd cheered. And when the Russian flag was displayed, the crowd booed — an unsurprising reaction considering that Ukraine has had longstanding feelings of animosity towards Russia. Then, Hasselhoff unzipped and passed the Russian flag through his crotch, out his back end, taking cultural insensitivity to a whole new, and entirely unnecessary, level.
"Don't tell Putin," Hasselhoff shouted to the crowd.
Well, Vladimir Putin found out.
Shortly after the performance, Russian cultural minister Vladimir Medinsky got in touch with officials at the group's next stop: a music festival in Russia. "These idiots will not perform," Medinksy wrote on Twitter.
By the time the Russian government had caught up with the Bloodhound Gang, the members had already made it through the porous Ukrainian border into Russia. Just under four days after Hasselhoff’s indiscreet act (he would later claim that it was common for him to run things through his pants) the band’s van was pelted by waves of eggs and tomatoes en route to the Krasnodar airport. At the airport, they were then assaulted by Cossacks, an ethnically Slavic group of people with a strong military tradition. Several particularly exuberant Cossacks tried to smother a band member with an American flag before police broke up the scuffle, and the band made their exit.
Let's get this straight. National symbols and landmarks should be respected. By no means should individuals or groups be allowed to rip — or wipe with — flags. In both the United States and in Russia, flag desecration can warrant up to a year in prison. (This is a fact that Lil Wayne knows all too well — the rapper got in trouble for walking on an American flag while filming his "God Bless Amerika" music video.)
It's reasonable that Americans would be upset if a Russian musician were to wipe his crotch with the stars and stripes.
The problem is that the Russian government has a particularly nasty habit of taking public displays of insubordination a little too seriously, while offering its own dogmatic brand of social mores as the alternative. By paying attention to the tasteless antics of the Bloodhound Gang, the Russian government shows its weakness: the inability to have dissenting, albeit sometimes just idiotically crude, voices. This makes the Bloodhound Gang's story all too relevant, not because what Hasselhoff did was remotely intelligent, but because the reaction it received is a footnote to a larger narrative.
It’s the same kind of thing that happened with Pussy Riot. Though the group’s sentiments, and certainly sentences, are by no means comparable, the Kremlin took a group of punk rockers on the edge of Russian society and made them a symbol of government oppression when it should have, and very well could have, just left it alone.
As for the Bloodhound Gang, a Russian flag in the pants might be the closest they'll ever get to Russia again.