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TV Show Analysis: Tiger King (2020)

Tiger King (2020) has taken the world by storm. In just seven episodes, creators Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin touched almost every sensitive subject concerning the United States of Amurica.

Grab your cheap beer, play a nice, country music in the background and get down to reading about the show that pretty much owned 2020. In this article, I will try to answer the question – why is everyone talking about Tiger King (2020) – and secondly – should you watch it too?

tiger king meme - popular Netflix documentary show analysis by cultural hater

Rednecks. Tigers. Murders. Cults. Drugs. Money.

It’s probably impossible not to hear about Tiger King (2020) by now, isn’t it?

I first heard of the show because of… memes, which flooded Reddit and my Instagram. Following the series premiere, the Internet went bonkers in a split of a second. Meme production line worked 24/7, spewing images of strangely-looking, bearded guy with a mullet haircut, as well as a woman with long hair and a bike. You will see some of those memes in the article too.

Anyway, these two people are Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin.

joe exotic and Carole Baskin in Tiger King (2020) - Netflix show analysis

So, rallied by all this mockery and heated discussion over threads and comments, I tuned into the first episode. So, when a feverish, trailer-like prologue ended with the last chords of Goodnight, Texas’ The Railroad the unbelievable tale of Joe Exotic has begun for me.

Note: This article contains spoilers for Tiger King (2020). It is also an analysis, based on the show and some research surrounding the characters appearing in the show. I tried to refrain from hating here, but you know – in the case of this show, controlling one’s emotions can be difficult.

What is Tiger King (2020) about?

Showrunner Eric Goode traces the story back to where it all began for him. This is when Goode accidentally met a guy who drove around with a rare tiger caged in his van. For Goode, that was an outrageous view – an endangered species, forced to survive in a deadly heat inside some redneck’s van.

Shocked to his core, Goode joint forces with Rebecca Chaiklin, and began his investigation.

In short, Tiger King (2020) showcases the history behind America’s most notorious private zoo owners. Over seven episodes, the series tells the story of how these people profit from illegal breeding and where their ambition and hatred led them. And trust me, the word notorious isn’t my linguistic mistake here. The characters that Goode and Chaiklin bring forward are much wilder than the animals they keep and hurt.

Without further ado, let’s move onto this first topic then – how Tiger King (2020) tackles the problem of animal abuse.

The topic of animal abuse in Tiger King (2020)

Following up on that one tiger locked in a van, Goode and Chaiklin reveal the terrifying truth about the U.S. laws concerning wildlife.

For years, wild animals constituted private property, and as such, there was no clear quotas or limitations. Therefore, private zoos flourished, as they attracted thousands of visitors, craving to see the jungle royalty from an arm-long distance.

But let’s make a step back even farther than this one. Why would anyone want a bunch of tigers running around in his backyard in the first place?

Drug trafficking and wildlife have a lot in common

If you watched Narcos (2015-2017), or read about Pablo Escobar, you probably remember a gargantuan private zoo that Escobar established. Colombia’s most feared drug lord imported rare animals to amuse his children. But that’s the surface. Deep down, owning wild animals felt badass.

But that’s only one reason. At least, not for everyone.

In Tiger King (2020), Goode and Chaiklin manage to talk to Mario Tabraue, a colorful character who belongs to the most prolific drug traffickers in the history of Oklahoma (if not the entire States). As he admits in the show, there’s a rumor that Tony Montana from Scarface (1983) was based on him. So that we all get the picture of how much of a variegated character Mr. Tabraue is.

Just like Pablo Escobar, Tabraue was obsessed with owning wildlife, and established his own private zoo. But contrary to the boss of the Medellin cartel, Tabraue jumped on the cocaine wagon in order to finance this fancy collection – not the other way round. He benefited from the lack of regulations in that specific area, back in the 80s. As mentioned in Tiger King (2020), Tabraue allegedly stuffed snakes with marijuana and coke bags, but as he also claims – “he served his time for the wrong he did“. Now, he’s a businessman.

While Tabraue isn’t the focus of Tiger King (2020), his character provides an essential look into the kind of people who owned those private facilities filled with illegally bred and kept animals. He might have been the only former traficante in the show, but both Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin don’t fall short. And even today, animals are still used to smuggle drugs – take the last year’s case of a vet who surgically stuffed dogs with liquid heroin.

Joe Exotic vs. Carole Baskin – the powerhouse of Tiger King (2020)

Setting aside the drug traffickers and animals, the main conflict that fuels Tiger King (2020), is the feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. And before I wade on in this area, let me briefly spare a few words about both these characters.

Even the best writers wouldn’t come up with a character such as Joe.

He’s a cartoonish, cheesy, gay redneck, who wears all these weird costumes, shiny shirts with sequins, piercing done and whatnots, composes songs, and likes to blow up dolls that look like his arch-nemesis, Carole. Over the course of the seven episodes of Tiger King (2020) people accuse him of animal abuse, as well as frauds, unfair employment policies and even – hiring a man to kill Carole.

But Tiger King (2020) shows only so much, and there seems to be more to this story. Jeff Lowe, another shady zoo owner who helped put Exotic behind bars, is now very vocal about the horrendous things he’s been exposed to, back when he met Joe. According to Jeff, Joe buried bodies of protesters around the zoo, and used stuffed animals to pleasure himself, and even explored other sexual fantasies that involved animals. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the current zoo owner claims (although the credibility of his could be questionable).

In a nutshell, Joe Exotic is a freak like no other.

Because who on Earth would ask Marilyn Manson to support his political campaign? You guessed it – Joe did, back in 2018 when he ran for governor.

The nagging question, that is left unanswered in the Netflix series, is what shaped Joe, and who he was before all this shit went down. In front of the camera, Joe admits to have gone through a mental breakdown. However, the drama goes much deeper, because Exotic was reportedly raped when he was five years old.

Being openly gay in Oklahoma had to weigh in as well, as the state isn’t particularly known for inclusion. On top of that came the suicide committed by his brother. Joe faced a troublesome childhood and youth, hence became a gruesome caricature of the ruthless South.

Carole Baskin isn’t any less wicked.

The founder of BigCat Rescue, Baskin too owns a large number of wild cats. She sells her establishment under the umbrella of a foundation, and wages a below-the-belt war against the likes of Joe. Carole’s behavior reveals many similarities to bipolar people, with a worrying lack of human reactions in certain situations – in an example, she laughs when talking about her missing husband.

I mean, she laughs the whole time, and her body language’s totally off. According to experts, this behavior reveals her true nature…

Animals are in the centre… but not over the whole series

While both Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin claim to take utmost care of their pets, Goode and Chaiklin avoid painting them in white and black.

Joe is criticised for how he enslaves his workers (most of which are ex-cons), but hey – Carole makes people “volunteer” and pays them nothing for all the hard work. Joe keeps the animals in cages, and so does Carole. And so it goes, the spiraling argument of two equally deranged individuals.

In spite of that unbelievable feud, Goode and Chaiklin keep coming back to animal abuse. As mentioned in the episode 1, there is more caged tigers in the US then living freely in the world. This sickening fact is then explained by just how marginalized the problem is. Although the US government tried to limit the plague of breeding wildlife and keeping it locked on private properties, Tiger King (2020) proves it’s not working in reality.

There are still dozens of small and medium zoos, all are private and – more often than not – owned by irresponsible, and scary people. PETA even listed fifteen most horrible of these places, but guess what – all are operational (that only changed temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic). And while some are actually doing good – like Phoenix Zoo that’s been accredited by both Association fo Zoos & Aquariums and World Association of Zoos & Aquariums – a vast majority is not.

Certain sources – such as PETA – claim that the series doesn’t do justice to the atrocities meant to hurt the caged animals. I am inclined to disagree here. Almost all the issues and scandals revealed in Tiger King (2020), pinpoint to the animal abuse – one way or another. Goode and Chaiklin use a lot of footage from the zoos, and constantly bring them up just in case we forgot how messed up this whole story is.

However, what I do agree with is that arguably, the focus switches over the course of those seven episodes. Who (or what) steals the spotlight?

Joe Exotic in Tiger King (2020)

Eat or be eaten – the murder investigations in Tiger King (2020)

Setting aside the bigger picture of animal rights in the US, Tiger King (2020) lives off its riveting feud story that sets the show’s pace.

In the second episode of the show, Mario Tabraue mentions that Carole Baskin supposedly murdered her previous husband. That isn’t a hoax, made up by the former Cuban drug lord. In fact, the topic becomes the main weapon for Joe Exotic in a crusade against Carole. The showrunners spend plenty of time tracking down all the leads, and get close to the bottom of it.

So, did Carole Baskin murder her millionaire husband?

Carole Baskin meme reddit

Nobody knows.

Tiger King (2020) unravels that none of those people is pristine and good-hearted. From body language experts to conspiracy masterminds ravaging the Internet forums like Reddit, people can’t crack that one yet. One is certain – the disappearance of Carole’s husband is eerily shady, and has too many loose ends.

In fact, some facts point to her committing the crime – like the fact that she had a few meat grinders removed from her property before the police could examine it. However, at the end of this article, you will find Carole Baskin’s open letter to all those accusing her of the murder.

It’s really worth reading actually.

People speculate – whether Carole did it. Yet she indeed mentions a hauntingly detailed idea of what could possibly help cover up a murder in a private zoo. And that, quite obviously, sparked miracles (below two of them, both from Reddit’s official Tiger King sub).

Carole Baskin tiger king meme - cultural hater
tiger king meme reddit

It gets even more interesting to follow the aftermath of Tiger King (2020). Reportedly, Tampa PD has received numerous tips concerning the disappearance of Carole’s husband after the show premiered. And police are looking into the case, and as explained by County Sheriff Chad Chronister;

I’m extremely suspicious, but not just of her, of this whole circle here, (…) This had to be extremely planned out, this had to be well thought out. There’s someone else involved in this, there is someone who is paid to do it, there is someone who helped do it.

source: globalnews.ca

At the same time, Baskin ain’t halting her “fight” for the cats. Back in November 2019, a series focused on her story was beginning production, when Baskin issued a statement to producer Kate McKinnon asking not to use real animals. Obviously, that stopped the production. Backed by PETA and animal activists, Baskin has enough support and topics to smartly avoid the uncomfortable topic and control the things that might hurt her brand.

No matter whose side you pick, both Carole and Joe are viscious human beings. They lie, and they profit from a disgusting abuse of defenseless animals. Furthermore, they wade into a deep mud of their feud, dragging each other through it.

However, they aren’t the only bad guys there.

The social landscape painted in Tiger King (2020)

Above the animal abuse, the failure of the judicial system and many more, Tiger King (2020) provides a social landscape of the modern America. An ugly one though.

From the perspective of a European, the image of the United States was fueled by Hollywood and the propaganda of success. Pardon my exaggeration, but indeed, America used to own that glowing emblem of an impeccable nation, proud and driven by growth. In a nutshell, it’s the land where dreams come true.

Tiger King (2020) throws a bucket of cold water.

In a film called 99 Homes (2014) – a thriller about the mortgage crisis back in 2007/08 – Michael Shannon’s character delivers a brilliant line.

America doesn’t bail out the losers. America was built by bailing out winners. By rigging a nation of the winners, for the winners, by the winners.

The insanity of what we see in this Netflix docu series lies in how these people perceive themselves. None of the the characters appearing in Tiger King (2020) can accept being a loser. The goal of winning costs both sides millions, and brings the poor animals on the edge of starving to death. But they are all winners, just like Shannon’s character says, although their win is ruthlessly and nonchalantly usurped from Mother Nature. They’re simply Machiavellian by design.

It’s a series about the inability to enforce law, as well as the disregard to nature and its place on Earth. Tiger King (2020) proves that there’s a lot of evil in the world, which successfully hides from the spotlight.

Will America bail Joe Exotic out?

During a press conference held on the 9th of April, Donald Trump teasingly said he will take a look. And while it’s obviously a “who the f*** is Joe Exotic?” kind of answer, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised.

While we’re at it – in between the lines, Tiger King (2020) also captures how deranged the famous “American Dream” became. Joe Exotic is a dreamer, but a vicious one though. On his march towards fame, he hurt both people and animals, and made some irrational comments just to step into the spotlight.

The latter must ring a bell.

Donald Trump won the elections despite throwing racist comments, promising to build a wall with Mexico and rather openly admitting that what America needs is less open-mindedness and international collaboration.

But a true reason for him winning is because he embodies this new American dream. Trump’s an ultimate owner type, the “rigged winner” type from 99 Homes (2014), the I-forge-my-own-future type. He’s a a wildly successful businessman, who reached for stardom as a president. Trump’s campaign, filled with grand words about sovereignty, and the rights of every American, spoke volumes to people such as Joe Exotic. While watching the Netflix show, I couldn’t help but see Joe as someone blindly dreaming about the same kind of popularity and power.

And guess what.

Unsurprisingly, the current husband of Joe Exotic mentioned too, that Joe was excited to hear that Trump might look into his case, as he is a big supporter of the U.S. president. When it comes to Tiger King (2020), memes are basically writing themselves.

Setting aside the politics, Tiger King (2020) is a saddening image, which confronts a country built on panache, and its own greatness, with its current state. America is deeply troubled, and the duo Goode & Chaiklin display part of these issues. Almost every person, who appeared on Tiger King (2020), had a shady past, and the only decent people are those who eventually live under the reign of those more cunning – like John Reinke, the only decent guy in the series. Led by Trump, America has been divided, and those divisions deepen – similarly to many European countries too.

At the same time, I wouldn’t go as far as generalize here. America is incredibly diversified, and that’s the first point to be made. Tiger King (2020) was shot in the south of the country, and that’s where the problems stemming from loose gun laws, and xenophobic, narrow-minded attitudes grow. But again – that’s not the whole country.

And the second point is that stories such as Tiger King (2020) could be found in others parts of the world. A few days ago, I started digging into… Turkmenistan’s president – the insane laws forbidding dogs he introduced, and a marble city of Ashkabat which looks hauntingly empty for some strange reason. I bet that there’s an equally bizarre story to be told there, and dozens more are scattered all over the world.

The only difference is that in America, these stories get to see the light of the day.

The cults in Tiger King (2020)

One final aspect that didn’t get enough spotlight in Tiger King (2020), is how all these major zoos are, in fact, cults.

Doc Antle, a chubby guy who watched way too much of Crocodile Dundee in his youth, stays in the shadow of Carole and Joe. But this gentleman deserves the same attention, and a whole new show on his own.

At the time of shooting the series, Antle owned a second-biggest “collection” of wildlife tigers, preceded only by Joe Exotic. Other owners looked up to Antle. But to quote one of them, it isn’t the animals, but “the chicks“. Indeed, a vast majority of Antle’s employees are young, attractive women. As we learn more about him – through a personal story of one of his interns – it becomes clear that this manipulator belongs to the same league as David Koresh.

In short, the testimony of his intern leaves no stone unturned. Antle owns a harem of young, inexperienced women, whom he sleeps with, and keeps on a short leash – just like his animals. I feel anger when I think about all these poor souls, tied by an invisible rope to a disgusting old man who believes he’s a God. And Antle isn’t the only person in Tiger King (2020), who seems to gather weaker people and bind them to his world. Carole, Joe, Jeff – they all do that. Joe drew ex-cons and misfits, while Carole naive people who blindly believed they’re doing some good.

What’s next for Tiger King (2020)? Is there going to be a second season?

One certain thing about Tiger King (2020) is that this story is far from an end. The show has only scratched the surface, and more secrets will be revealed. With the comments from Jeff Lowe, and other people in this vicious circle of animal abusers, that’s only the beginning. Even a special episode, hosted by Joel McHale, concluded that we’ve not seen everything.

Despite Donald Trump’s vague interest in the story, I highly doubt that Joe Exotic can be pardoned – even in such a fucked up year as 2020. Still, Joe’s net worth is going through the roof, and if he ever leaves prison, the guy’s a millionaire. Every established publication will crave to be the first to interview him.

Currently, Joe receives letters and support from his fans, and he seems to be enjoying the spotlight. He also remains equally “empathetic“. A Reddit user sent him a picture his girlfriend made the other day and got a response saying that “Tell your girlfriend her picture is going to be a tattoo on some lesbian attorney in Detroit, Lol.

That’s a different story than John Reinke, a close employee of Joe, who actually appreciates his fans.

And what about Doc Antle, Jeff Lowe and others?

Lowe has been already targeted by PETA several times, while Antle’s reportedly pissed off by the way he’s been portrayed – so is Carole Baskin, by the way.

Baskin got so pissed, that she decided to write a big-ass publication on behalf of BigCatRescue about the lies told in the Netflix series.

big cat rescue message about tiger king (2020) screenshot cultural hater

After the show started a heated, global discussion, PETA voiced interest in a narrative, where there’s more tigers and less kings. The organization wrote about the way the show scrutinizes the characters, and leaves the animals aside too. For now, PETA assisted in creating a comic book spin-off, but Netflix could be possibly looking into just another angle to their story.

When readers learn how exotic animals suffer when they’re snatched away from their mothers as babies and exploited for photo props, they’ll despise ‘Doc’ Antle, Tim Stark, Jeff Lowe, and anybody else who profits from breeding and abusing these wonderful animals in shady, moneymaking schemes.

– Brittany Peet from PETA, source: digitalspy.com

Although Netflix doesn’t share the numbers concerning its shows, you don’t need Nostradamus to see that Tiger King (2020) has been one of their most profitable undertakings ever. According to Nielsen, Netflix subscribers watched a total of 5.3 bn minutes in its first week, from 23rd to 29th of March. In comparison, the second best in that time was 3rd season of Ozark, with 3.5 bn.

Does it indicate that Tiger King (2020) will get a second season? For now, Netflix didn’t imply that. However, money never smells bad, and who would say no to a success such as this show?

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