At the start of 2020, if somebody had told you that after three months we’d be effectively locked in at home, and a Netflix show about an abusive meth-head, sexual predator tiger keeper would be the TV sensation that kept everyone partially sane… You would have thought them crazy.
The Tiger King phenomenon is crazy. We’re all trapped in, relishing the “WHAT THE FUCK” outbursts from friends and family, and laughing at the low-hanging-fruit memes. This writer isn’t above it — I’ve had my fun.
For the purposes of this column, Joe Exotic, the central figure in Tiger King, is fascinating. Not only did he run a shitty zoo, but he also made a run for governor of Oklahoma, and he released a bunch of country music albums and videos. More on the music later.
The first wave of responses to the show was incredulity. “What am I watching?” And it was soaked in levity. But after a period of reflection, inevitably the serious side started to become more prevalent. It’s all very good laughing at Joe Exotic’s utter nonsense, the unrelatable nature of his lifestyle, but how about the countless examples of animal abuse on display? The tiger cubs immediately taken from the mother after birth so that tourists can pet them? The tigers shot and buried when they were no longer of any use to him? The cats left starving when his stupidity resulted in a lack of funds?
Then let’s look at the homeless drug addicts that Joe Exotic takes in and then convinces to sleep with him, laughing gleefully at the fact that they’re not gay. The two men that Joe Exotic roped into his throuple were clearly damaged — one of them commits suicide just off camera in one of the more devastating moments of the show. And it speaks volumes that, when you sift through the memes and tweets, you’ll rarely hear anyone talking about the homeless straight drug addict who shot himself in the head after being pulled into a gay throuple with a tiger keeper. How is that not the headline?
This is a show that stretches over seven hours and features some of the most garbage men ever seen on camera. We see a sex cult run by an absolute monster. A seedy strip club owner who also deals in wild animals. Swingers who entice girls to their Vegas room with tiger cubs. Just trash. Yet somehow, the person most people are the most angry with is Carole Baskin, a woman who, admittedly, is an utter hypocrite. She targeted Joe Exotic early on, drawing attention to the cruelty at his parks while running a very similar one of her own (under the guise of a “sanctuary”).
Baskin is no angel. But the fact that she’s become public enemy number one, while there are “free Joe Exotic” campaigns out there, is surreal. Cardi B, bizarrely, is doing exactly that.
Again, Baskin is no angel. But much of the hatred seems to come from the half-formed notion that she might have fed her first husband to her tigers.
Nobody really knows that happened to Baskin’s missing husband, but we do know that she was a runaway teen when he picked her up in his truck, and he was married to somebody else. He had two kids. He played a mind-fucking game with young Baskin and a gun. Then, he slept with her that very night. Trash? Yes. Is he tiger food? Maybe.
But let’s get back to Joe Exotic. His run for Oklahoma governor came in June 2018. He ran as a libertarian in the primaries. He came third, losing out to Chris Powell and Rex Lawhorn but, kinda impressively, somehow got 18.7 percent of the vote. That’s 664 people who, way before the screening of this show, decided to vote for Joe Exotic.
His platform was a scatterbrained shit-show. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s an opponent of animal rights. According to votesmart.com, he said, “This country spends more tax payers dollars on animal laws that could be spent feeding children and helping the homeless because they give more money to politicians while the very same people leave their loved ones laying in nursing homes with bed sores and no visitors and we think this is ok? This country needs to get its morals back on track. Animal abuse is one thing, deciding what someone can have is violating their rights to own property, while our elderly are being locked away and forgotten.”
He’s a second amendment advocate (no shocks there), though his position on healthcare is quite lucid.
“The affordable care act is a joke, and was written to appease America’s completely broken for-profit healthcare system. The obscene profits raked in by the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry and for profit hospitals has [sic] no place in the care of sick, injured and disabled Americans. The [sic] must be a more universal healthcare system that includes all Americans and all concerns of those providing and needing care.”
Now that Exotic (real name Maldonado) is in prison for putting a hit on Baskin, there’s little chance of his political career picking up in the near future. But what about his music?
The country songs featured on the show, notably “I Saw a Tiger” and “Here Kitty Kitty,” are objectively terrible by any musical standard but some were impressed by the polished production and the fact that Joe Exotic could hold a note. Like everything else about the man, that was fake too. Turns out, musicians Vince Johnson and Danny Clinton wrote and performed the songs. They didn’t get paid, with the agreement that the songs would feature on the reality TV series.
“It was absolutely ridiculous,” Exotic’s former producer Rick Kirkham told Vanity Fair. “One time, Joe got a little bit drunk and high, and we actually coaxed him into singing part of one of the songs. He couldn’t even hold a tune. It was just so ludicrous. It was a big joke within the crew and staff that it wasn’t him [singing in the videos] — but he was damned insistent to anyone and everyone, including us and my studio crew, that that was him.”