Netflix recently released its newest addition to its collection of binge-worthy documentaries. I’m a fan of a good Netflix documentary and have written about some of the features offered on the streaming platform before. But this documentary was crazy.
Tiger King (2020) doesn’t give much away in its trailer and synopsis. I think we were all a little hoodwinked into thinking this would be a straightforward docuseries about animal cruelty and crazy Americans.
It gave us so much more than that. Trailer trash, larger-than-life characters, murder plots, missing husbands, sabotage conspiracies, and organised crime; these are just some topics covered in Tiger King (2020). Believe me when I say, it’s a rollercoaster of a watch, and it also introduces us to the iconic pop culture sensation that is Joe Exotic of G.W. Zoo.
This guy is so weird. You might think you have him figured out, but you really don’t. He’s got a mullet, an excess of tattoos, a handlebar moustache, and many guns. “Got it,” you might say. But he’s also an ex-cop and ran for President and Governor of Oklahoma in 2016 and 2018, respectively. “Okay.. I think I still have him figured,” haha nope. He’s also openly gay, has polyamorously married two men far too young for him, and been married 5 times altogether. The fact he has owned, bred, and traded tigers and lions at the former Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park is probably the most boring thing about him.
In the documentary you also get to see him sing cheesy country songs that he doesn’t actually sing and be generally outrageous throughout. It’s fantastic telly, and Joe Exotic truly is the star of the show amongst a cast of other weirdos in the big cat trade that I’ve summarised for you below.
Alongside Joe Exotic is Bhagavan Doc Antle, owner of Myrtle Beach Safari and familiar in the exotic animal trading world with a cult-like following of young groomed girls in his arsenal. He also has long white hair in a ponytail to add insult to injury.
Joining them is Tim Stark, the no-nonsense zoo owner of Wildlife in Need with a tough love approach to his wild cats; Jeff Lowe, a gambling swinger pimping out tiger cubs to get laid even though he literally looks like Jigsaw; and Mario Tabraue, an ex-drug dealer who “sold cocaine to fuel my animal habit” in his own words.
There’s also the supposed villain of the piece, Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue. She claims her zoo is more of a rescue sanctuary and that she really does differ from all the others. She looks the part with her flowing blonde locks and tie-dye floaty tops. The hippy home-wrecker enjoys grassing up and apparently making life hell for all the other exotic animal enthusiasts. Oh, and she allegedly fed her millionaire husband to her tigers and cut his family out of his will.
That’s right. Honestly, with all the backstabbing and murder conspiracies you really forget that these people have exotic animals as pets the further you get into the documentary.
It’s a slow burning film, be ready for that going in. The first episode or two might not grab you, but once it kicks off it really kicks off. Per usual Netflix fare, it’s visually pleasing and sheds light on people within an industry you probably had no idea about before.
We also have Netflix’s typical hero vs villain approach between the main characters. As I’ve said before, we have a hero in Joe Exotic. Free Joe Exotic petitions have gone wild since the documentary’s release, and President Donald Trump himself is considering pardoning him.
We also have villains. But I’m here to tell you, it’s not Carole Baskin. I’m here to tell you, despite Joe Exotic’s popularity, they are all fucking terrible people.
My support in this article for Carole Baskin is not an attempt to exonerate Carole Baskin. But if you seriously watch this documentary and believe she is the worst out of the lot of them, you have a problem.
I believe most of the hate Carole gets is because she doesn’t behave the way a typical victim acts (according to society anyway). She is also incredibly annoying, hypocritical and deluded.
Don’t get me wrong; Carole is not the good guy. At her most low-key level, she was complicit in stealing a married man away from his wife and screwing their kids out of their rightful inheritance. I can’t say for certain if I believe she really did feed him to her tigers. Dodgy, manipulative practices and a seemingly disingenuous love between her and Don Lewis tick some boxes, but I’m not sure she is ruthless or calculating enough to organise a murder.
Not in the way Joe Exotic is.
I do not understand how you can like Joe Exotic but hate Carole Baskin if it is down to what they are each accused of. It’s possible that Carole did murder her husband Don Lewis, but if she did, she got away with it. Joe tried to murder Carole and didn’t get away with it! Say what you like about how he wasn’t really going to kill her, but there is a wealth of videos he made where he threatens to do just that, and encourages others to threaten and abuse her on his behalf. That ain’t right!
Joe Exotic is a psychopath.
Joe Exotic cons his family out of money, throws anyone under the bus if he feels he’ll get more fame and fortune from it, and shows himself to be manipulative and predatory when it comes to relationships.
The Netflix documentary features interviews with some of his previous husbands. The first we meet, John Finlay, is the sweetest guy who reveals he actually isn’t gay and has never considered himself gay. He also wants you to know he doesn’t look like that anymore and that he has teeth. The second husband we meet (SPOILER) shoots himself.
John Finlay, recounts how he was a struggling meth addict fresh out of high school when he met Joe, and we can conclude from this and other truths told by John that Joe Exotic is actually a predatory groomer who preys on vulnerable, straight men, with considerable years lacking in age and life experience. Joe Exotic keeps this pattern going with the latter husband mentioned above, Travis Maldonado, who was only 23 years old and struggling with drug abuse when he accidentally killed himself in 2017.
To rub salt in the Joe-Exotic-sucks wound, during Travis’ funeral, we see Joe Exotic talk disrespectfully and seedily about Travis in front of his grieving mother, referring to her son’s balls for way longer than necessary. Ms Maldonado reveals in her own interviews that she did not approve of or trust Joe with her son and you can’t help but feel sorry for her as she tearfully expresses her regret at not intervening in the relationship.
But yeah, Carole Baskin is the bad guy.
In society and culture, we like having clear cut roles for people. We like having defined villains and defined heroes. Tiger King (2020) takes that societal expectation and throws it out the window. Everyone in Netflix’s Tiger King (2020) is a villain; including Joe Exotic.
Do you think I’ve got it wrong? If you reckon Joe Exotic is innocent, comment down below. Let me know what you think!