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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

In late March of 2020, Netflix released its original true crime docuseries Tiger King and the internet has been pure chaos since then. The show has sparked conversations on all platforms of social media, bringing controversy, conversations, and of course, memes. However, the show is much more problematic than most people think.

Netflix screen
Photo by Thibault Penin on Unsplash

The show is centered around a feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, two exotic animal “rescue” owners. Carole is the CEO and founder of Big Cat Rescue in Florida. Their mission is “to provide the best home we can for the cats in our care, end the abuse of big cats in captivity and prevent the extinction of big cats in the wild” by taking in abandoned animals, animals forced to perform for entertainment purposes, and baby animals whose mother’s were hunted and killed. Joe Exotic was the operator and founder of the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma before his arrest in 2018. The zoo was accused of abusing its animals and employees, and of breeding baby tigers for profit. 

Contrary to the names of their zoos, the men in this show do not run animal rehabilitation centers- they run animal abuse sex cults that prey on vulnerable women and endangered species. The men who run these parks lure impressionable teenagers, convicts, and drug addicts in with the prospect of exotic animals. The “employees” are forced to live in seclusion from life outside the park and are grossly underpaid. Joe’s employees received around $100 per week while working 12+ hour days. They were verbally and mentally abused. “Doc” Antle forced his female employees to undergo body changing surgeries such as breast implants, change their names, and to enter into sexual relationships. 

Let’s revisit Joe Exotic. When football star Michael Vick was convicted of abusing animals and participating in dog fights, America was outraged, but when Joe Exotic abuses animals he is made into a meme. Joe is a gay man who seduced two men into marrying him. Joe is an abusive partner who trapped a man in a marriage in exchange for meth and people idolize him. Joe Exotic is a terrible person and does not deserve the attention this show has given him. 

Transgender pride flag
katlove on Pixabay
Netflix repeatedly misgendered Saff during filming, ignoring his preferred name and pronoun. Saff was a manager at G.W. Zoo who lost his arm when he was mauled by a tiger. Staff is a trans man who uses he/him pronouns and it is beyond disheartening that a 33.975 billion dollar company could not correctly portray his identity in the series. 

All conversation about Carole Baskin comes from if she murdered her husband (Don Lewis) or not. The conversation does not include Don picking Carole up off the side of the road when she was 19 and he was 40. After repeatedly telling him to leave her alone, Don continued to drive past Carole, persuading her to enter his vehicle. This is creepy, predatory, unacceptable behavior, but no discussion has been brought up around this. However, Carole is not as pure as she claims to be. In her early years of Big Cat Rescue, Don and Carole bred animals to gain attraction and for personal gain. She has done awful things while running her rescue program, but her actions do not justify death threats.

People are more concerned with the debate over whether Carole killed her husband than the treatment of the animals in the zoos. The cats at G.W. Zoo were fed spoiled meat and were oftentimes underfed. Animal cruelty was rarely mentioned in the show and has been scarcely talked about since it has aired. The true tragedy of this show is not that Carole Baskin has been profiting off of caged, exotic animals or that Joe is locked up; the true tragedy is the abuse that countless animals have faced and the silence surrounding it. 

tiger playing with cub in cage
nlw143 through Pixabay

Rachel Hietpas

Wisconsin '20

Rachel is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is double majoring in political science and economics, and hopes to attend law school after her bachelors degree. Her passions include reading, drinking coffee, and dog-watching!
I am a senior at the greatest university— the University of Wisconsin. I am in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, double tracking in reporting and strategic communications and earning a certificate in and Digital Studies. I am a lover of dance, hiking, writing for Her Campus, the Badgers and strawberry acais. I am also a president of Her Campus Wisconsin.