The Tiger King: Worth the Hype?

I have officially been self-isolating for 30 days. This is the first time I have counted, and it’s a bit mind-boggling to really sit and contemplate how much time has passed. What have I done with my time in these last thirty days? How have I been entertaining myself? Keeping myself from going crazy? Surprisingly I have avoided my regular means of entertainment – Netflix. However, I picked up an old habit. I haven’t had an Instagram account in 3 years. The physical isolation has led me to the point that I have opened up my old account again. It helps to pass some of the time and see how people were dealing with the physical distancing. As I opened up my old social media accounts, names began to frequently pop up. Joe Exotic. The Tiger King. Carol Baskin. Doc Antle. My attempts to remain above the hyped-up nonsense proved frivolous as I was surrounded by memes of the fascinating humans and creatures associated with the names.

After the first three weeks of cleansing my brain from endless binging of The Office, I decided to dive back in. I just needed to know why people I know had Joe Exotic 2020 stickers, and Carol Baskin said to cover someone in sardine oil to feed a tiger. The initial episode of “The Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness” sent me right in. I watched it, absolutely fascinated and entranced by the caricaturizing of all the people. The narrative is connected through the workers of Joe Exotic’s animal park, Rick Kirkman, the director of Joe’s TV show, and the leading characters themselves. Honestly, I finished the series in like 3 days. I fell right into the drama. It was incredibly difficult not to. And when I finished, my perception was that Joe Exotic was a hoot, Doc Antle is a crazy cult leader, and Carol Baskin is just as bad as the first two. I ended the series thoroughly amused, entertained, even perplexed, but by no means horrified, angry, or disturbed.

That is until I started watching it again with my boyfriend. The first thirty minutes of the very first episode he was endlessly spewing out sounds of horror from the other end of the couch. He kept repeating how it was going to make him sick, and he genuinely was not sure if he could keep watching it. His response was so opposite to mine that it caused me to sit back and think about what was happening in this “documentary” and what exactly was the producer’s goal. If the goal was to use an illegal operation to create super entertaining television surrounding an especially flamboyant personality, then job well done. Or was he trying to uncover the issues surrounding these same things – breeding big cats and then shooting them when they get too old for petting, giving people $100/week for extremely hard labor, feeding animals and people old meat, allowing both to live in horrific conditions, mental and emotional abuse by Doc Antle and Joe Exotic? If that is the case, then the producer could have done better.

The show veers far off a storyline of animal and human rights violations and delves deep into the peoples’ personal lives. All of them have thrilling stories and personalities, and the focus on the human circus diminishes any narrative about the big cat breeding and killing. Plus, whether or not Carol Baskin killed her husband, the focus on it diminishes from the good work her sanctuary has done. We are in the midst of an all-out pandemic because of wildlife breeding, and yet, the reactions people are having towards this show are fascination with Joe Exotic and the development of memetics (yes, memetics is a thing), and frankly, I don’t think people’s reactions are wrong. Godde (the producer) took the series in that direction. How could he not? One could bet that, sadly, the people would provide a much more successful show than the tigers. 

Rylynn McCaw – Contributing Writer

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