Tiger King: Entertainment Win and Animal Rights Failure


Courtesy of people.com

Sean Mauro, Staff Writer

The popularity of Netflix’s hit show “Tiger King” shows how a program can fail spectacularly in its intended effect, yet still be one of the most wildly entertaining shows of the last few years.

“Tiger King” documents the rise and fall of Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic”, a roadside big cat zoo owner with an excessively flamboyant personality. Exotic built his zoo up from a small operation to one of the country’s most well-known exotic animal zoos.

Exotic’s downfall began as he feuded with an animal rescue organization and its owner, Carole Baskin, also featured extensively in the show. Baskin eventually won a lawsuit over Exotic which destroyed his income. In retribution, Exotic allegedly solicited a partner to murder Baskin, an act which promptly led to Exotic’s imprisonment, along with being convicted of animal abuse.

Watching these events unfold in “Tiger King” makes for an incredibly amusing viewing experience. The show, intentionally or unintentionally, is one of the most hilarious, unhinged, unpredictable series on Netflix.

The antics of Joe Exotic range from incredibly laughable to demented and shocking. As insane as the show can get, it constantly captures the viewer’s attention with its absurdity.

The peak of the show’s hilarity comes with the documentation of the Joe Exotic presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Exotic’s delusions of grandeur truly know no bounds.

However, this unbelievably entertaining quality of “Tiger King” also contributes to its failure. When watching the show, it becomes evident that an animal rights message was intended. In this respect, “Tiger King” completely collapses.

The show opens and closes on the same stunning fact: more tigers are living in captivity than in the wild today. Several moments in the show make a concerted effort to highlight the seedy, immoral aspects of animal breeding and profiteering off of endangered species. The show even highlights the abusive behaviors from zoo owners like Exotic engaged in towards both people and animals.

At other times, in what can come off as stark awkward contrast, the show attempts to elicit sympathy for Exotic. Furthermore, the issues relating to animal rights are pushed off to the side to make room for Exotic’s lunacy most of the show.

The show also seems to needlessly censure Carole Baskin, in what should be the antithesis of its message. An entire 45-minute episode is wasted exploring an improbable theory that Baskin murdered her ex-husband. While Baskin is not an exemplar of virtue, she has been harassed and threatened by Exotic for years, to the point where her life was in danger. The way the show smears her seems unnecessary given the severity of Exotic’s crimes.

Even after Exotic allegedly solicited Baskin’s murder, the show tries to portray Exotic as an innocent man, framed of all allegations. Conversely, in 10 minutes, the show may pivot to painting Exotic as a monster who killed tigers when they stopped being useful.

There are some moments in the show that illuminate what may have been the initial message of the show. In the finale, an old interview is played featuring a young Joe Maldonado-Passage discussing his support for animal rights legislation. After all the show had documented, this shocking footage creates a truly profound moment, showing how vanity can destroy a once principled person. Unfortunately, haunting moments like these in “Tiger King” are few and far between.

“Tiger King” seems confused as to what it wants to be. Quickly switching from serious expose to reality show hilarity not only fails to expose the cruelty of exotic animal zoos, but occasionally results in an unexpected delivery.

Yet this craziness is undoubtedly what makes “Tiger King” so special. There is something so gripping about the ridiculousness displayed in the show, that it is no surprise how much of a cultural phenomenon the show has become.