Talk of "Tiger King" series has dominated the internet

By TORI D’AMICO
On April 2, 2020

Photo courtesy of Netflix, Wikipedia

Netflix’s new docuseries “Tiger King” has taken the internet by storm with its chaotic and crime-filled story. The series focuses on Joe Maldonado-Passage, more commonly known as Joe Exotic, and his life as the owner of a big cat zoo.

Joe Exotic at one time owned over 200 big cats, which he welcomed the public in to see, pet, feed and hold. Only a handful of people criticized him for this, namely an animal rights activist named Carole Baskin, who also owned several large cats at her “sanctuary,” which was also open to the public.

To say the least, this short series was the wildest ride of a show I have ever watched. It began with introducing Joe, who is just about the craziest combination of personality traits you can imagine. Not only is he a zoo owner, but he is also a singer, a TV host and a politician - sort of.

The G.W. Zoo is composed of several hundred animals and a beautiful rag-tag group of misfits. Not to mention Joe’s two husbands, John and Travis.

Despite the show’s occasional comedic moments, it is laced with tragedy. Joe’s husband Travis’ drug addiction is never really taken seriously, which I found upsetting. When he accidentally commits suicide, Joe mourns but moves on to his next marriage in just two months.

However, the most prominent death in the series is that of Carole Baskin’s first husband. Here is where the show turned its audience into conspiracy theorists. 

Joe, in his hatred for Carole, accuses her of killing her husband and feeding his body to the tigers in her sanctuary. While this claim sounds absolutely insane, especially coming from someone like Joe Exotic, it is more credible than anyone would have thought.

In fact, the claim was so credible that the case investigating his disappearance has been reopened, even though Carole had him declared dead. I had to say, even though I myself might buy into this conspiracy, I never thought it would run so deep.

However, Carole Baskin might not be the only potential murderer. The show itself all leads up to when Joe Exotic is arrested for calling a hit on Carole Baskin. Joe is said to have hired Allen Glover, the maintenance man for the G.W. Zoo after its sale to Jeff Lowe, to drive to Florida and kill Baskin.

There is never any telling what will happen next while you are watching, and you are never sure who to believe. Celebrities like Cardi B have taken Joe Exotic’s side, trending the hashtag #freejoeexotic. I am not sure what to believe.

If Joe was set up, he was in the perfect storm. He was doing business with many people who were convicted felons, primarily Lowe, and was open to the world about how he wished Baskin would die. He had been sued by her before for using her logo on his own products, and for handing out flyers in front of her sanctuary in a bloody bunny suit. That one you will have to watch to understand, and even then, Joe’s ways are hard to comprehend. 

Beyond Joe, Carole and the tigers, an interesting player in this docuseries is Netflix themselves. The series, like many others, seems like it may be edited to sway the viewer, rather than simply report the story. It certainly painted Baskin as a killer, and sympathized with Joe Exotic, who was convicted in the end.

The show also repeatedly misgendered Saff, a member of the G.W. Zoo who had his arm bit off and returned to work 7 days later.

Despite its flaws and its repeated glazing over of serious issues, the show is nothing if not addicting. It is impossible to pull your eyes away from the ever-changing situation.

If you are expecting “Tiger King” to be an enlightening series about the animals, and the harm they experience in the illegal big cat trade, this is not that. Though it is all centered around the zoo, Joe Exotic is the centerpiece of the series, which upon watching, you will know he loves to be.

4 out of 5 stars

 

vdamico@ramapo.edu

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