Tiger King is Exciting, But Not Honest or Humane

Riley Keiter, Writer

*This article will have spoilers for the “Tiger King” plotline.

Documentaries aren’t anything new to today’s average viewer, but the national response to “Tiger King” surely is.

Being locked in quarantine has had effects on many, including me. Sleep schedules are non-existent, Walmart has suddenly become a mad fight for boxes of ramen, and people are choosing between staring out their window or watching Netflix. Needless to say, Netflix is making a large amount of money. After all, who would look outside when they could watch a gay, republican, polyamorous, tiger-owning man from Oklahoma attempt to run for governor and gain nearly 20% of the votes? Not me, that’s for sure.

That’s why I simply had to sit down and for two nights and watch seven episodes of what The New Yorker called “prestige trash”.

Now, there is some credit that should be given to “Tiger King.” The bravery of the creators to follow people that were potentially dangerous and dealing with wild animals is commendable, and the filmmakers deserve credit for their labor. Additionally, the insight into the life of Joe Exotic, the ‘Tiger King,’ is extremely entertaining. Its ups and downs are riveting, and the ongoing plot of the documentary is sure to keep the viewer interested in the life of Joe Exotic.

However, that’s where the issue lies, because life isn’t always riveting and interesting. When that becomes the case, it’s clear to see points of flawed editing or even revisions from the ‘Tiger King’ himself.

For example, the presentation of Carole Baskin killing her husband. I myself am questioning the debate still, as nothing is certain. I do not denounce the possibility of this murder, nor do I believe in it wholeheartedly. What I do believe in is the basic facts, of which, in “Tiger King,” there is none.

There has been proof of the supposed murder presented outside of the documentary, but within the documentary, it is nearly bare. Taking out all the padding, opinions, and slow-motion shots of Baskin on her bicycle, there are few facts leading to Baskin killing her husband. First, he disappeared, second, they weren’t happy together, and third, she owned tigers. However, the emotional evidence was enough to have many convinced that Carole Baskin killed her husband.

In fact, Carole Baskin has received multiple death threats because of this very issue. According to the New York Post, Baskin has had to shut off her phone, stay indoors, and completely eliminate communication with anyone. As floods of death threats come in, about 30 people loiter around the sanctuary, and drones fly overhead. Strangers “have begun filming and screaming at her.” She fears her workers’, her own, and ironically her current husband’s safety.

The attention that Joe Exotic and many others receive in this documentary only results negatively upon their actions. It was even seen in the show that Joe was willing to fire people just for the drama of it. With the splash of the show, it should be becoming more apparent that the people in this story don’t deserve our attention–because they thrive off of it.

This cannot be said about everyone, of course. Many workers truly cared about these big cats. Some even went further with their claims against him in the aftershow, but no difference has been made. Most people completely overlooked what should be the focal point of the show.

“I finally moved my two chimpanzees last week,” said Exotic, morosely in the last episode. “Probably one of the hardest days of my life. They sat in cages next to each other for over ten years… and in two days they were out in a big yard hugging on each other. Did I deprive them of that for 10 years? Yeah.”

“Tiger King” is entertaining and fun in the same way an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” is. It’s the fires, the murders, the hate, the threats, the overall phony extravagance that makes viewers click the magic button- ‘Next Episode’.

There were few benefits to the release of “Tiger King.” First, more attention was drawn to the seedy underbelly of exotic animal profiting, though it was quickly overshadowed by ready-made dramatic stings. Second, people at home had something to yell at and cheer for when their March Madness was canceled, though it preferably wouldn’t put multiple in danger after the fact. 

So what little thing can the average viewer take away from the show, if not the possible Baskin murder claims or the stupidity of 20% of Oklahoman voters? The fact that in the same way we got obsessed in the personal drama of Joe vs Carole, many people even today get engrossed in owning wild animals.

“I deprived them of being chimpanzees,” said Joe. ”Did I do it on purpose? No… I was wrapped up in having a zoo.”