I read a tweet the other day that said something similar to, “When this quarantine is over, you will definitely be able to convince me that ‘Tiger King’ was a mass hallucination.” We have talked about Tiger King as a newspaper before, but we couldn’t just give this show only a little bit of coverage. I have not seen anything else that really encompasses the crazy energy that this show has in all of the media coverage that it has been given. I have watched a ton of these true crime documentaries in my life and this one definitely takes the cake as the wildest. I must give my mom credit because the day that the show premiered on Netflix, she wanted my whole family to watch it, and none of us were convinced until we saw people talking about it on social media. There has been a lot of press surrounding the show, so I am going to try not to be repetitive and just talk about what makes it so crazy and why you should watch it.
The main story in “Tiger King” focuses on the world of a man named Joe Exotic (no, that is not his birth name). Joe was the owner of a zoo in Oklahoma where he not only kept, but also bred and sold over 100 “big cats” (think tigers and lions). At the start of the documentary, the viewer finds out that Exotic is in prison for apparently hiring a hitman to murder Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue, who was attempting to have his zoo closed. Now, if that’s not a great opener for a show then I don’t know what is. It gets even crazier from there, with a wild series of events that are almost too shocking to believe. Just to give you a taste, there is a long segment in the series where Exotic is running for president, and one of his taglines is, “I’m Joe Exotic, otherwise known as The Tiger King, The Gay, Gun-Carrying Redneck With A Mullet.” This world of big cat sales and breeding is something I personally have never thought about, but there are so many layers to it that I never would have imagined.
One of the more controversial aspects of the show is the fact that most of the people in it are working more for their own benefit than the animals. There is almost no mention of any animal rights organizations and the problems that come with this kind of animal breeding, besides a brief mention of PETA at the end. Even Carole Baskin, a supposed animal rights activist, comes with a dubious level of morality. This big cat industry has a ton of money in it in the United States, and it’s clear that the motivation behind the actions of many of the people featured in the documentary is money. They are willing to risk the health and safety of the animals in their care for their own personal gain, and are now receiving enormous fame from the show. It’s important as a viewer to remember to remain objective of the actions of the people on the show. This is not a dramatization, it’s real life with real consequences.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away because it truly is something best experienced when you go in with as little background knowledge as possible. The reason to watch this show is both because it is highly entertaining and because it sheds light on a booming industry that is occuring right here in the United States. If you need something to watch that will hold all of your attention for the entirety of the time you are watching it and for probably a long time after, I totally recommend giving Tiger King a watch!