Rejoice! For the world of ironic celebrity adoration just got a little more self-consciously smirky this week, thanks to the arrival of a brand-new video with grand dreams of going so massively viral as to make Contagion look like a sneezing panda cub. Behold, David Hasselhoff sexually harassing young ladies... en Espaņol.
The official purpose of the video doesn't matter, of course. (Fine, it's part of a promotional campaign for the Spanish sex comedy Fuga de Cerebros 2. I told you it didn't matter.) The real appeal of a clip like this is in watching Hasselhoff do something peculiar and dignity-destroying, but in a manner that's tilted in just the right way that he'll come out of it instead with his stock increased. In short, it's about how it captures Hasselhoff being Hasselhoff.
While he's hardly A-list (you'd have to grade on a wicked curve to give him even a solid B), Hasselhoff nonetheless aspires to a strange, select club of celebrities. Years ago, I asked a friend, "Do you think Christopher Walken knows he's Christopher Walken?" (Our conclusion: Probably?) Walken is part of a small handful of people who exist in large part as parodies of themselves. So is Alec Baldwin. And William Shatner. William Shatner is their patron saint.
For this breed of celebrity, just being themselves is a performance. They seem to have quotation marks around them at all times. They happily amplify their idiosyncrasies, knowingly tweak their own weirdnesses and come out smelling like a rose even when they crash and burn. $#*! My Dad Says might have been an utter disaster, but do you think it hurt Shatner? Not in the least. Being Shatner demands that he eagerly involve himself in such fiascos from time to time. It suggests that he's in on the joke five or six levels beyond what we can hope to catch as mere observers.
(Shiver-down-the-spine note: It's entirely possible that another such star is in the process of crystallizing before our eyes, and her name is Kim Kardashian.)
It's this type of celebrity that Hasselhoff has gunned for as hard as he can. He has two iconic, era-defining television shows under his belt (Knight Rider for the '80s, Baywatch for the early '90s), but he knows not only that they were empty fluff, but also that he's not a particularly great actor. And so rather than run in embarrassment from his legacy (including his infamous European singing career) and limitations, he chose to embrace them. From that point on, his business became "being David Hasselhoff."
There's a small problem, though: He's not nearly as much of a natural as the Big Three. Walken, Baldwin and Shatner all have an effortlessness about them; they don't have to work at self-parody. Hasselhoff, on the other hand, strains so incredibly hard to be "David Hasselhoff" that the results are artificial and forced. Hasselhoff is never off stage.
Nor can he ever leave it. Walken and Baldwin (despite their overblown, self-guided oddness) are actors still capable of occasionally disappearing into legitimate, non-ironic performances. Shatner isn't, really, but he compensates by transcending his quotation marks with an effervescent nimbleness. Hasselhoff is trapped inside his.
And so it's come to this, where every appearance is just another "Hey, look, it's Hasselhoff!," whether it's skeeving on Latinas, failing to create the next arch reality-show franchise (three episodes!), crying on American Idol, drunkenly/shirtlessly/horizontally eating a cheeseburger (you may search for that clip on your own) or making a cottage industry of endlessly punning on his own name. (You're not hearing things. He did indeed just address his fans out in "Hoffspace.")
It's been successful, but just barely. Hasselhoff isn't a natural at it; he works too hard, and too deliberately, at creating these sorts of pop-culture moments that just seem to happen with Shatner, Walken and Baldwin organically.
Of course if he didn't work so hard, we wouldn't be talking about Hasselhoff — with or without the quotes.