Tiger King dominates attention during the pandemic

Aoife McMahon

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, appeared on our screens on the 20th of March this year. Within a few days, memes started pouring in and Joe Exotic became an internet sensation with over 37,000 people signing a petition on change.org to release him from prison.

This documentary focuses on Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, who is a “gay, gun-toting, redneck” who owns hundreds of lions, tigers and other big cats and creates the weirdest music videos known to man. Exotic allegedly orchestrated a murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin, a woman who has devoted her time and money to trying to shut down zoos like his.

“Tiger King” goes behind the scenes in the unbelievable feud between big cat breeders and animal rights activists. It’s made by the same producers behind Fyre, the successful documentary about the disastrous Fyre Festival. There are some similarities between them in their interview style and some of their creative shots. However, Tiger King is ten times as entertaining.

Every person introduced in this series is more outlandish than the last and often the fact that they have tigers is the least crazy thing about them. In the first two episodes, we meet Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who rides around on elephant back and has multiple wives. It is suggested that Antle is grooming teenage girls and people have accused him of running a cult. A woman who has left Antle’s Zoo described how her colleagues slept with Antle to get promotions and how she was forced into getting breast implants.

Baskin, the animal rights activist who Exotic possibly hired someone to kill, seemed to be the most normal person in the show. That idea is abandoned by the third episode when it’s revealed that she also charges people to come to see her tigers and has no paid staff, just over-worked volunteers. Exotic and Antle say that they can’t see any difference in what the three of them do as Baskin keeps caged animals too. There is also the matter of her missing husband, who people are convinced Baskin killed and fed to the tigers.

The relationships in this series are extremely unusual, we’ve already mentioned Antle’s multiple wives, but he isn’t the only one in polyamorous relationships. In one of the unconventional scenes in the documentary, Exotic marries two men at the same time, Travis Maldonado and John Finley, both troubled drug addicts who later claim they aren’t even gay. As well as this, Jeff Lowe, another big cat owner who takes over Exotic’s zoo, says he uses tigers to entice people into having threesomes with him and his wife.

There will be a few times during the series when you will have to remind yourself these are real people and that these events took place because a lot of it seems too crazy to be true. It’s also possible that you might get too wrapped up in stories of these people that you will forget they own hundreds of animals, but sadly you’ll be reminded when they are interviewed holding adorable tigers or they show shots of the magnificent cats locked in cages.

There are some disturbing scenes in this documentary, one in particular, where a man accidentally shoots himself. While it happens off-camera, we do watch someone witness it and the light from the gunshot is visible at the bottom of the screen. There are also some disturbing scenes involving animals. If you very uncomfortable seeing big cats in cages or chained up, this isn’t the show for you. There are also mentions of animal abuse and you are forced to watch as they take tiger cubs from their mothers’ seconds after they are born.

It is complete car crash TV, but it will have you gripped from the minute you press play. With only 7 episodes, all less than an hour-long, Tiger King is perfect binge-watching material that could be finished in one sitting, especially during this pandemic. Every episode ends with a teaser of what the next will focus on, so you will need a lot of self-control to stop Netflix from automatically playing episode after episode.

Aoife McMahon

Image Credit: Netflix