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Television Review: ‘Tiger King’ provides an exotic but chaotic distraction

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Alondra Campos
Staff Writer 

Tiger King” is a sensationalist Netflix documentary series that reeled in 34 million viewers within the first 10 days of its release on March 20. And yet it is not at all what is expected from a serious and informative docu-series. 

“Tiger King” follows the rise and fall of Joseph Maldonado Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, who identifies himself as the Tiger King, once owning a private zoo of over 150 tigers and other big cats in Oklahoma. 

In the first couple of episodes, each lasting less than an hour, Joe Exotic is presented as an erratic man whose world revolves around his passion for big cats, especially tigers. However, as the series continues, Joe Exotic shows himself to be quite different from your typical documentary series subject.

Dressing in flashy clothing, an attention grabbing mullet and a loud personality at all times, Joe Exotic reveals himself to be a very enthralling character. He made business deals with Jeff Lowe, a shady promoter who used tiger cubs to attract women in Vegas casinos; possibly hired someone to kill his biggest rival, animal activist Carole Baskin; and even ran for governor of Oklahoma and president of the United States.

As the show dives deeper into the life of Joe Exotic, it also reveals chilling discoveries and backstories of both Baskin and Exotic. Joe Exotic came from an abusive childhood and was married to two men at the same time, one of whom killed himself at Joe’s private zoo. 

The show provides footage of the exact moment Travis Maldonado took his life in 2017. Travis Maldonado was sitting in Joe’s office with Joshua Dial, Joe’s former campaign manager, when he raised a gun to his head and shot himself in front of Dial. Although the producers of “Tiger King” do not use the footage of the moment of Maldonado’s death, they do show Dial’s shocked reaction.

Baskin had her own traumatic experiences, too. She survived an abusive relationship but was later accused of killing her former husband with the help of Joe’s hate campaign against her.  Baskin has been accused of feeding her husband to her tigers, although the show says is no evidence of that happening.

The relationship between Baskin and Exotic becomes more vicious and catty toward the middle of the series, where it does not get any prettier.

The actual safety of the hundreds of big cats in the show is lightly touched upon, with the center focus being the dramatically enhanced life and backstory of Joe Exotic and all his entourage. “Tiger King” is definitely not the next “Blackfish” for big cats in captivity, with the producers focusing on the human scandals to make it more of an entertaining reality show than an animal rights documentary.

As intriguing as the stories of each person become, there is no real depth or context behind any allegation or claim made in the show. The producers seem to provide the audience with more entertainment than real facts, which makes it questionable to refer to “Tiger King” as a docu-series. 

Due to the lack of concrete facts, “Tiger King” has become a victim of numerous Twitter memes and is not taken seriously by its viewers, despite the real incidents depicted in the show. 

Furthermore, the mission to find who is truly guilty of animal maltreatment becomes a finger pointing game among the rest of the big cat owners, which leads to everyone appearing guilty of animal cruelty. 

“Tiger King” becomes more about the people in it rather than the tigers and wild animals featured in the show. Nasty statements and ridiculous scenes are thrown around with no solid conclusion, leaving the viewers with questions and wanting more.

However, with its short episodes and compelling subjects, “Tiger King” may be the chaotic distraction we need from the distressing pandemic chaos we are currently living in.

Alondra Campos can be reached at alondra.campos@laverne.edu

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