Lifestyle & Culture

I saw Tigers and there’s a lot I don’t understand: A Tiger King Review

Lions and tigers and… murder, oh my. Jayme Zimmermann gives us a run down on the Netflix hit, Tiger King. 

Okay, in my 21 years of life I’ve watched some crazy reality shows and documentaries. From ‘90-day fiancé’ to the riveting documentaries of Louis Theroux, shows of this caliber attract large audience interest as they’re based on real people and their lives.

Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, Joe Exotic, is an American former zoo operator and now convicted felon. He is the former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma and claims to be one of the biggest breeders of tigers and big cats in America. Joe Exotic came to fame through the world-wide Netflix sensation ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’.

‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’, directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklinis, is a Netflix documentary which took audiences on a roller coaster ride exploring the life of Joe Exotic, as well as people in connection to him and most importantly the running’s of exotic animal sanctuaries across America. I never thought a fame hungry, gun slinging, gay, polyamorous, bleached mullet wearing man with hundreds of exotic animals would be the one to cure the boredom during a global pandemic, but he sure did the job.

The series consists of 8 episodes in total; the 8th being a follow up interview hosted by Joel McHale, which revisited some of our favourite characters from the show to see how they have been going since reaching stardom, and how they feel about the outcome of the program.

It’s true the series was extremely entertaining, but I believe it did lack when presenting the issue of exotic animals living in captivity in America. Instead, it focused on the drama which unfolded between Joe Exotic and his “enemies”, such as Carole Baskins, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit animal sanctuary based near Tampa Florida.

The doco-series exposed the workings of these animal parks and did show the mistreatment of the animals, but it was not the clear focus. Rather, the show made sure to include Joe’s husbands, drug use, Joe running for Governor in Oklahoma and running for President, Joe’s music career (which, lets face it, songs are bops even if it’s not him actually singing), murder plots, accidental suicide, tiger mauling’s, lawsuits, and we cannot forget Carole’s missing husband, who a lot of viewers presume she killed. Of course, this content makes for amazing television and is why the show is so popular, with 34.3 million unique views in the US in its first 10 days on Netflix, but it did neglect to explore what can be done for these animals.

The series did however make sure to show exactly how these parks operate and highlighted not only the mistreated animals, but the mistreatment of staff. Joe Exotics staff in my option were treated sometimes worse than the animals. They were living in terrible conditions, were not well paid but continued to work there for the love they possessed for the animals.

The series also gave audiences a rare insight into Bhagavan “Doc” Antle’s wildlife preserve called Doc Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The staff I think seemed brainwashed to work for him and it seemed very much like a cult.  He likes to be called Bhagavan (which means blessed or fortunate one in Hinduism), his staff are all women, who work 7 days a week, are not paid well and live on the property. I also believe Carole’s operation is quite cult like with her workers being unpaid volunteers. The parallels between these “wildlife sanctuaries” are profound.

The Tiger King series itself kept viewers on their toes with its outrageous drama filed antics. The creators made sure to drop new juicy information at the end of each episode, which always left viewers wanting more. Let’s face it, I loved some of the crazy montages just as much as everyone else. The interviews conducted were interesting to say the least, with some interviewees in bathtubs, shirtless for no reason, sitting among literal garbage- it was very upfront in keeping with the bizarreness of the show, but I am still wondering if it was entirely necessary. There was also the issue of Saff Saffery, one of Joe Exotics former employees, being misgendered throughout the series, which left me questioning how much research and care went into the creation of the series.

Tiger King, I believe, will forever remain iconic and entertaining; however, it did neglect to focus on the treatment of exotic animals in parks in America. Despite this, the series was able to deliver with its outrageousness and drama. Ironically, as Joe Exotic’s fame hit its peak, he was in jail serving 22 years in federal prison on 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts of murder for hire, for plotting to kill Carole Baskins.


Feature image by Alice Kjoller from Yak Media 

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