Exploitation, mullets, big cats – all in an episode of “Tiger King”

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Kapa65 for Pixabay

"Tiger King" on Netflix a wild, but enjoyable ride.

Anna Frazier, Climate & Environment Editor

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When my boyfriend suggested we watch “Tiger King” on Netflix,  I took one look at the piercing blue eyes of Joe Exotic’s mugshot and vehemently said no. Not to judge a book by its cover but this “book” looked absolutely abhorrent. 

Something unsettled me about this man, and the twangy country music that played during the trailer set an image of “redneck-ville” in my head. How could this “murder, mayhem, and madness” be topping the most watched- list?

Apprehensively, I relented and sat in partial horror as the opening scene of the first episode, “Not Your Average Joe,” ensued. It opened with a man in an oversized hat taking us to the “crazy beginning.”

Tigers in cages. Bleach-blonde mullets. Everyone’s either a felon, has nipple rings or both… and probably also does meth. People are threatening to kill one another left and right. One entire zoo appears to be a sex cult of some kind. The main character runs for president and proudly proclaims he’s “broke as shit” and does “kinky sex.”

 

After binge-watching the seven, whiplash-causing episodes I have reached my conclusion: this is an astounding docu-series that is deserving of more than the jokes generated on social media. 

It follows the three big bosses of tiger and other exotic animal ownership in the American South; all culminating to the attempted murder plot of an animal rights activist, who appears to be just as guilty as the other tiger owners.

“Doc” Antle, who runs a “safari” (and a cult… probably) in South Carolina. The suspected husband-murderer Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue in Florida and ardent enemy of the third big cat enthusiast Joe Exotic — as he’s known to all –who owns over 270 tigers and other assorted lions, ligers, and bears (oh my!). 

Of course, the real star of the show is Joe Exotic. With filming taking place over the span of five years, the director Eric Goode had no idea when he started his documentary about the Tiger King that he would end up having to follow the arc of an alleged murder-for-hire plot. 

The director very carefully introduces the audience to each player in the story early on, far before we suspect foul play of anyone. The audience sees the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly of each person, and after watching the whole of the series, gets to place each of the pieces for themselves.

We see each of the big cat owners for what they are — big cat exploiters — no matter their outward mission. We see the deterioration of each person as the five, long years drag by.

Most importantly, it is left to the audience to decide what they feel. For a subject as touchy as animal rights and exploitation, one would expect there to be an angle, but the director does what good journalists do and lays out the facts as they are.

“Tiger King” takes storytelling and truth telling hand-in-hand to create an enjoyable and riveting limited docu-series. I won’t spoil it, but my only suggestion is to watch them all in one sitting to keep your memory fresh because there are plenty of twists and turns.