Is Joe Exotic a delusional maniac? Or rather a master of self-creation?TWITTER/NETFLIX

Content note: This articles includes brief mentions of suicide.

Hailed as one of Netflix’s most successful releases to date, with 34.3 million viewers within the first ten days of release, this true-crime docuseries has to be seen to be believed. In seven 50-minute episodes, you witness polygamy, a personality cult, animal trafficking, a presidential bid, arson, an accidental suicide, and a federal investigation into murder for hire.

The series’ primary focus is Joseph Schreibvogel, better known by his stage name Joe Exotic. This gun-toting country singer is the former owner of G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood Oklahoma. Claiming to be the most prolific breeder of tigers in the US, he’s earned the moniker ‘Tiger King,’ an alias now firmly embedded in popular culture. Fame hungry Exotic, convinced of his own importance, meets his nemesis in Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue. Baskin, the author of the now iconic greeting: ‘Hello all you cool cats and kittens,’ presents as the antithesis to Exotic’s neuroticism, with her hippie nature, flowing outfits and flower crowns.

The majority of the country is living out the same mundane routine, and a show as crazy as this offers an escape from quotidian boredom.

Throughout the exploration of their rivalry, stemming from Baskin’s criticism of Exotic’s cruelty to his animals, we meet various other characters who seem just as eccentric as the infamous duo. My impression of the personalities in this show is that it could almost be a scripted satire, with each person exhibiting such an over the top and defining personality, it’s truly a movie deal waiting to happen. Honourable mention must be extended to James Garretson, a key informant in the federal investigation of Exotic, whose jet ski montage has become the source of various memes across the internet – and will be burned into my brain forever more.

Is Carole Baskin Mother Theresa of big cats? Or rather a cold-blooded murderer?TWITTER/COMPLEX

The success of Tiger King is unsurprising, not only is it wildly entertaining, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. The majority of the country is currently living out the same mundane routine, and a show as crazy as this offers an escape from quotidian boredom, and a topic of conversation when we’re all starved of anything new in daily life. There was a moment, following the accidental suicide of Exotic’s husband, Travis Maldonado, when I had to rewind, as the story being told seemed so unbelievable. Tiger King is a show so far removed from our current lives in lockdown, I think it would’ve struggled to not be successful.

I think, done differently, Tiger King could have been influential in implementing laws to ban private ownership, and subsequent cruelty, of big cats.

However, thinly veiled behind memes, TikToks and country songs, is, in fact, a crime documentary. Exotic was charged with two counts of murder for hire, plotting to kill Carole Baskin, but also for 17 federal charges of animal abuse. This criminal has become somewhat of a cult figure, achieving the fame he has always craved. Yet, perpetrators in many other Netflix true-crime series have not enjoyed such a response. In the wake of series such as Don’t F*** with Cats, and The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, there was a distinct lack of humour found in the actions of Luka Magnotta, Pearl Fernandez or Isauro Aguirre. In my opinion, such a striking difference in the response of the media, and the public, stems from editing choices that seem to maximise entertainment and draw attention away from the more serious themes.

A majority of the revelations in Tiger King are interwoven with clips of Exotic’s music videos, or commentary from the toothless, and mystifyingly shirtless, John Finlay. This tactic adds humour that allows us to remove ourselves from the severity of the stories. These storytelling choices seem to be largely to blame for allowing the series to be more entertaining than incriminating, but I also believe it suffers from a lack of focus. I struggled to identify what the mission of Tiger King was, there’s so many mismatched stories and events that there isn’t really a resounding message. I think, done differently, Tiger King could have been influential in implementing laws to ban private ownership, and subsequent cruelty, of big cats, - the Blackfish of big cats if you will - but it disappointingly misses this opportunity, prioritising humour, over the possibility to make a change. Thus, playing into the hands of the bored, quarantined demographic who’re craving a distraction from the insanity of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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I can’t deny that Tiger King is extremely entertaining, its crazy events are a common source of conversation amongst friends at a time when we’re all stuck indoors. It’s difficult not to laugh at the ridiculous characters involved in this series, and I am definitely guilty of finding humour in the debate of whether Carole Baskin killed her husband. Do watch Tiger King, it acts as a form of necessary escapism when we need it most, and with more plot-twists and drama than an episode of East Enders, there’s no shortage of amusement. But, I implore you to remember that behind the ridiculous - and sometimes humorous stories – there are crimes being committed.

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