Tiger King Review

Tiger King, Netflix’s newest docuseries, has taken the world by storm. It’s nearly impossible to go on any form of social media without seeing some Tiger King reference, and almost every Zoom call I’ve had in the past week has featured someone asking, “have you watched Tiger King yet?” If your answer to that question is no, here’s a general breakdown of the troublesome series.   

Tiger King was marketed as a show that would expose the intricacies of big cat breeding and “road-side zoos” in America. However, there are a plethora of other disturbing storylines that arise throughout the series that overtake this initial objective. Joseph Maldonado-Passage (Joe Exotic) would be considered the “star” of the show if one had to be picked. Truthfully, it’s difficult to award any of the people in the show with this title because they’re all equally inhumane and disturbing in their own unique ways. Joe is a self-proclaimed “gay, gun-toting cowboy with a mullet.” Saying that Joe’s personality is eccentric would be an understatement. The man owns an exotic animal zoo in Oklahoma, is part of a polygamous relationship with two much younger, self-identifying as “straight” men, regularly uses hard drugs such as crystal meth, and even put his hat in the ring to become the governor of Oklahoma. Although the documentation of Joe’s escapades is comical at times, overall, the behavior he displays towards his animals, employees, and significant others is unsettling. 

 Joe’s zoo--the G.W. Zoo--is home to hundreds of exotic animals, many of which are fully grown big cats such as tigers, panthers, lions, and even ligers. Yet, the main attraction for tourists of the G.W. Zoo (or any other exotic zoo of the sort) is tiger cubs. Joe breeds tiger cubs so that he can profit off of allowing his customers to engage in tiger cub petting. The show captures footage of Joe snatching the newly born cubs from their mothers and bringing them into his home so that he can attempt to raise and train them for monetary purposes. Joe’s actions clearly are in violation of many animal rights. Enter Carole Baskin.   

Carole Baskin is Joe’s arch-nemesis and one of the many reasons why *spoiler alert* Joe is in jail as we speak. Carole identifies as an extreme cat lover and animal rights activist. She is the owner of the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa and works tirelessly to shut down zoos, like Joe’s, that engage in cub breeding. Carole is not the saint that she sounds like, though; a central storyline in the show revolves around the mysterious disappearance of Carole’s husband, Don Lewis. The show indicates that Carole not only had something to do with her husband’s disappearance but that she likely killed her husband by feeding him to their tigers to have sole access to and control over his wealth. Don Lewis’ “disappearance” has yet to be solved, but from what the show reveals, all signs point toward Carole. Regardless of where you stand on the controversial topic of Don Lewis’ disappearance, Carole comes across as hypocritical and sneaky in the series. She spends much time and energy ridiculing Joe for profiting off of these animals when she herself does something very similar. Carole’s Big Cat Rescue is open to the public, and Carole makes money off bringing tourists in to observe her hundreds of big cats--just like Joe does. The only thing that might make Carole slightly better than Joe is that she claims to not engage in any cub breeding, but even that is up for debate as there are many rumors that she has bred cubs in the past and maybe secretly still does. 

The overarching storyline in the show is the hostile and everlasting feud between Joe and Carole. The two go back and forth regularly. Their mutual hatred leads to lawsuits, pricey legal bills, the seizure of Joe’s money, death threats, and even a murder for hire investigation. As of right now, Joe is sitting in federal prison because he was found guilty of hiring a hitman to kill Carole and for abusing/killing multiple of his animals. The feud, however, is far from over as Joe has declared that if he’s going down, he’s taking everyone down with him. Joe claims to have dirt on almost everyone in the big cat industry and is ready to expose them all. Although no one else involved with Joe or the big cat industry has been arrested, federal agents say their investigations are far from over, and they predict many others will end up in jail for Joe’s plot to kill Carole and for other animal rights abuses. 

Overall, Tiger is King is worth watching, but there are many underlying issues to keep in mind while indulging in the surreal show. Because the show focuses mainly on Joe as a larger than life character and the feud between him and Carole, there is a real lack of concentration on the more significant issues at play here. Candidly, the show doesn’t adequately address how evil, inhumane, and frequent the abuse of the animals is. Many articles have come out since the series premiered revealing that the animal abuse at the G.W. Zoo (and others like it) is far worse than what the show makes it out to be. The show paints Joe in far too positive a light, which isn’t indicative of who he truly is: a narcissistic drug, person and animal abuser. The series glosses over the scope and severity of the mistreatment that these animals face in order to sensationalize reality and appeal to viewers. Unfortunately, the show also barely discusses the drug abuse that many of the people in the show struggle with. Viewers don’t get a true understanding of just how severe the drug abuse is, thus clouding our understanding of why many of the people in the show act the way in which they do. Tiger King is not a perfect show by any means, but it’s hard to deny its entertainment value. It will most definitely help you pass the time during quarantine.