Courtesy of Netflix
In the midst of a global pandemic, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is the kind of show I needed to watch. I finished the entire seven-part docuseries in a single weekend, completely immersed in the crazy world of exotic animal owners.
The show mainly follows Joe Exotic, a flamboyant exotic zoo owner, and Carole Baskin, an animal rights advocate. Joe and Carole have an almost cartoonish rivalry, with Carole wanting to shut down Joe’s zoo and Joe threatening to kill her every chance he gets.
Much of the talk about the show has been speculation about whether or not Carole Baskin killed her husband Don Lewis after he reportedly went missing back in 1997. I mean, the first thing that pops into Google after you type “Carole” is “Carole Baskin killed her husband”. I myself have engaged in the online memes and find them absolutely hilarious.
While the subject matter of Tiger King is very serious, the scenarios presented were completely ludicrous to the point where it all felt unreal. I often found myself referring to the real-life subjects of the documentary as characters. That, along with the insane twists the filmmakers threw at you every 10 minutes, kept my eyes glued to the screen. Whenever I thought things couldn’t possibly get any weirder, boom! Murder-for-hire plot!
At the beginning of the series, I found myself sympathizing with Joe because he was charismatic and didn’t seem to care what anyone thought of him. He was just a mullet-having, tiger-owning, gay polygamist redneck from Oklahoma and he completely owned every aspect of his identity. However, I quickly realized that Joe, like almost all the other subjects, was only in it for the money and the pride. I came to the conclusion that I should treat this documentary as a cautionary tale, and to not get too invested in any of its characters.
The documentary focused mostly on the drama between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin instead of the exotic animals that were being abused and kept in captivity. It didn’t really delve into why keeping exotic animals in cages, breeding them and exposing them to humans is harmful to the animals. However, at the end of the series, Joe’s former campaign manager (oh yeah—he also ran for governor of Oklahoma) made a powerful statement about how everyone was so caught up in their own drama that they all forgot about the tigers. I think it was smart of the filmmakers to wrap us up in this drama then slap us in the face for caring about these people and not the endangered animals.
The drama of the docuseries really let me get distracted for a few hours without worrying about online classes and the pandemic. While I was struggling trying to get used to an entirely new system of learning and working, it was nice to know that some people out there have much bigger problems that have nothing to do with me. Trying to find the motivation to write an essay seems minuscule compared to Joe Exotic’s whole … thing. Tiger King allowed me to have a weekend where I didn’t have to think about the coronavirus or the stresses of online classes. It was a great escape.
While I absolutely loved watching Tiger King, UM-Flint students seemed to have a bit more mixed response to it. In an M-Times poll, one respondent straight-up called the show “boring”. Other students, however, had a more positive take on the docuseries.
“[I] thought it was hilarious and there was good drama,” said one student, with another saying that “everyone there is crazy and should go to jail”.
All in all, Tiger King has definitely got people talking. With the stress surrounding online classes and a global pandemic, it’s nice to have some good old-fashioned controversy to get wrapped up in.