Tiger King: America’s Newest Obsession

Christopher Bradley

Christopher Bradley

Christopher is a lawyer from NEPA, aka, Pennsultucky, He is an avid baseball fan, audiophile, and dog owner. He spends the majority of his free time with his wife and daughters, reading, listening to music, watching baseball (except the Yankees) and writing. If you wish to send him a positive missive, any errata concerning albums, or requests regarding albums: saturdayspins32 at gmail dot com

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62 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I seem like the only person with no desire to watch this doc. The whole series seems to mainly exist as a way to gawk at willfully dysfunctional people. Sophie Gilbert said it best at the Atlantic, the whole series is a moral failure.


    • I would disagree strongly that these people are “willfully dysfunctional.” They are a product of an ideology that is becoming more pervasive everyday. Especially in America.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Christopher Bradley says:

        “I enjoyed it, mostly because of how absolutely wild it is…”


        you’re part of the ideology, apparentlyReport

      • Well, why do people become narcissists? (Because that’s fundamentally what all of the zookeepers here are, every one of them.) Many of us have had narcissists attempt to, vampire-like, glom onto us; and we are all able to see the destructive antics of the Narcissist-in-Chief. Is it an ideology that turns what would otherwise be good people into this? Or are they born psychopaths, devoid of the capacity for empathy?

        I’m not a developmental psychologist to answer the nature-or-nurture question, but it does seem to me that it’s not just an “ideology.” My lay impression is that there are a certain number of people who are just this way and probably always have been. We’ve had cult leaders preying off of the emotionally or financially vulnerable for a long time. The internet just makes them more visible. And, at least as to some of the more charismatic ones, more dangerous.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Burt Likko says:

          “Because that’s fundamentally what all of the zookeepers here are, every one of them.”

          Really. Carole Baskin is a narcissist cult leader preying off the emotionally vulnerable.


        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:

          This is what I think it is. I read parts of the original New York article and it seems like all of the, even the better meaning Baskin, made lots of personal life decisions that seem rather unwise and openly did so because they would look at our lives as being boring and the decisions we made as boring.

          It is a kind of the bourgeois seeking out epartier le bourgeois on purpose for Tiger King viewers.Report

    • You’re not the only person with no desire to watch this “documentary”Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Looking forward to Sexy Joe Exotic and Sexy Carole Baskin Halloween costumes.Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    funny to see how people are willing to buy into the Netflix narrative about Baskin. but not really all that surprising because one of the things people learn when you decide to be an Ally is that you no longer get to just dump on women, but nobody wants to talk about how doing that is fun, so they build up this big pent-up reservoir of Mean, and when a white chick comes along they just blow that load.

    “yeah I know this Joe guy is a horrible asshole who killed tiger cubs and ground the bodies to hamburger, but let’s be real–this woman did make a joke about how the obligate-carnivore ambush predators she tends to would probably eat you if they got a chance!”Report

    • Yep. It’s Karen-bashing writ large.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to DensityDuck says:

      I’m with you on this. I’m deeply confused by the Baskin bashing. Her refuge is a FHAS certified non-profit*, doesn’t breed the cats and whatever money they make goes to actually help the animals that are rescued. Ok, Baskin comes off as a bit of a crazy cat lady in the show but that could just as easily be the editing of the show and even if she is, well she uses it to help the animals she cares for. In what universe is the person trying to help these poor animals (and genuinely succeeding) in any way on the same level as a fraud meth head fabulist who exploits and abuses animals?

      *which means it’s audited regularly to make sure it provides humane shelter for the animals it houses, doesn’t exploit or abuse them and spends its funds on the sanctuaries mission, not on padding the bottom line of the owner.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to North says:

        Havn’t seen this and won’t for the reason others have noted. Is part of the baskin bashing the dislike of people that Believe in Cause? It seems that there is a South Parkian dislike of people earnestly believing in things.Report

        • Avatar InMD in reply to greginak says:

          The way shes portrayed creates a question of whether what she is doing is different in kind (as opposed to perhaps degree) from what Joe and Doc Antle are doing. The bashing comes from the apparent hypocrisy.

          Is that portrayal fair? Who knows.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to InMD says:

            Ahh okay. Thanks.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to InMD says:

            I’ve also seen her criticized for not paying her workforce. Baskin advocates argue that these are volunteers but the critics point out that many are working full schedules as opposed to volunteer schedules and should be paid as employers. But yes, there is a difference in degree and not kind and that Baskin is essentially running a private zoo to.Report

            • Avatar InMD in reply to LeeEsq says:

              That’s kind of what I mean. Shes (apparently) encouraging then pressuring a bunch of well meaning ‘volunteers’ to work themselves to the bone at great personal sacrifice while basking in her own brand and moral superiority.

              Is that as bad as running a weird sex cult or exploiting a bunch of drug addicts and ex-cons? I would venture to say no. But it isn’t exactly the greatest pedestal from which to direct moral outrage at others.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to InMD says:

                So many weasel words. “creates a question”. “who knows”. “apparently encouraging”.

                Just admit that you thought it was okay to laugh, bro. Just admit that you laughed at the white chick and thought that was okay.Report

              • Avatar InMD in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Weasel words? I did laugh. I thought it was hilarious and I’m discussing my opinions on something trashy I watched probably way too closely.

                The only reason I speak carefully is because like with all salacious ‘documentaries’ I take the completeness and accuracy of what was portrayed with a handful of salt. Who knows how real it was/is?

                So anyway take the snark and shove it up ye olde quacking duck ass.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to InMD says:

                See, here’s me thinking that you’d feel guilty about buying into a TV show’s decision to invent a villain, that your mumbling about “well her staff works kinda hard” and “I dunno, I dunno, who can say what ‘truth’ means, really” was an attempt to backfill when you realized you’d been caught out acting like a shit.

                But, y’know, if you want to lean into it? Go for it. Be that guy. Be Donald Trump. Have fun with that.Report

              • Avatar InMD in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Uh.. what? I’m saying I don’t believe everything I see on tv. Nothing more. If you’re reading a bunch of meta stuff into it that’s all you.Report

              • I believe they call it “projection.”Report

        • Avatar North in reply to greginak says:

          I think it’s more that in order to make their documentary even remotely watchable the producers had to both sanitize and cuddle up their main character Joe and drag down Baskin to narrow the moral distance between them.

          For Joe this meant playing up his derpy earnest stupid side while exorcising his rabid on film racism and subsuming his exploitative and drug peddling elements into a “look what that rascall is up to now” kind of tone.

          For Baskin that meant downplaying the good her organization does, eliding and squirming away from the vast difference between how her cat sanctuary and Joe’s zoo are run and heightening every quirk and oddity in her background to make her seem crazy and/or hypocritical. Also they imply, but don’t outright state, that she murdered her husband.

          It’s astonishingly shady and petty on the part of the documentary creators but it’s very obvious why they did it.Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to North says:

        She seems nuts but I do think the implications about her go… off the deep end. I couldn’t help but google around about her after watching and shes been profiled a few times prior to the film

        One thing I came across was that her first husband leased the land he had in Costa Rica from the local mafia. IIRC the documentary kind of glossed over those associations which seem pretty important when considering his disappearance.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to InMD says:

          I’ve seen an occasional Big Cat Rescue video from time to time and after watchin an episode of Tiger King (couldn’t really stand to watch more) I went googling. I couldn’t find anything substantive on Baskin to suggest she’s hypocritical/malevolent or evil.Report

    • Avatar Jesse in reply to DensityDuck says:

      For once (actually probably more than that), I agree with you. The whole episode focusing on Baskin was terribly tilted to make you believe she killed him.Report

  4. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    I live in southern Oklahoma. I lived through a lot of this winding its way through the local news. (I do not live all that near where this dude was, but it’s a population-sparse area and people love weird news).

    I have no interest in seeing it. Everyone involved is selfish and terrible. I have no desire to see selfish and terrible people get far more than their 15 minutes of fame.

    I know I’m a minority in hating on this, but… I’ve seen this whole damn story already and it’s disgustingly sordid and it just makes me even more disappointed in humanity.Report

  5. Avatar InMD says:

    I was really disappointed to find out that wasn’t him singing. While watching it I kept thinking this dude totally missed his calling as some kind of alt-country Weird Al or Dr. Demento.

    It did help me understand the opposition people have to ‘zoos.’ For me growing up the zoo meant the Smithsonian, including related scientific and conservation efforts. I had no idea the term was also used for road side attractions like Joe’s.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to InMD says:

      Same here. For me the Zoo was the Bronx Zoo, professional run, not for profit, and with a lot of scientists involved. Outside big metro areas, zoos are a lot more dubious.Report

  6. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    I’m with Saul & Kristin, not much desire to see it. It reminds me of this:

    ‘Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, war. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.”

    ― Nathanael West, The Day of the LocustReport

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Okay, fine. It’s my turn. The entertainments I enjoy are morally superior to the entertainments enjoyed by others. My entertainments indicate that I am sophisticated. Part of this is that I disdain the entertainments of others as being beneath me.

    I also didn’t watch Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or Stranger Things.

    These shows also signal low status and, seriously, I am not low status.

    I have instead been watching Rick and Morty. You have to be intelligent to watch this show. If you haven’t received at least a strong STEM education, you’ll miss half the jokes. A strong background in philosophy and history will help you truly get the other half. I find that if someone doesn’t like Rick and Morty, they’re pretty much just saying “I didn’t get the jokes.”

    Which tells me that they’re either not educated, not very smart, or both.


    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

      So in your world there is no moral or ethical statement made by any piece of “entertainment?” There is no analysis or broader implication of what it means for a society to produce, consume, and possibly gawk at something. Is that right?Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        It’s bait Saul.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Saul, I would *LOVE* to have a discussion of the importance of watching movies like God’s Not Dead 2 instead of Deadpool 2.

        Would you be willing to have that conversation, if we started it?


      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        What I find odd is that the premise of all reality TV shows is that the participants present themselves to the public and ask to be judged.

        Whether it is the Kardashians or these folks, the idea is that the participants are filmed and then shown to the public in the hopes that we will find them interesting or clever or charming or outrageous and then they can parlay that into an intoxicating life of celebrity and riches.

        That’s why I thought of the Day of The Locust quote, because then as now they had primitive forms of this; Talent shows and confessional shows and lurid scandal sheets where earlier versions of these people would thrill to see their name in the paper and on the radio even if it was for something awful or stupid.

        So it seems strange to me to hear the complaint that we have judged them, but negatively. That we don’t find them clever or charming or interesting but sad and unpleasant seems like a natural outcome of their request.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          it seems strange to me to hear the complaint that we have judged them, but negatively

          The only complaint that we have wrongfully judged someone negatively that I’ve seen in these comments involve Carole Baskin’s judgments that appear to be based in socially acceptable sexism.

          Pretty much every single take I’ve seen about this show is that it’s similar to a pro wrestling match where everybody is a heel. There’s nobody to root for which means that there’s nobody to really root against. I don’t think that anybody has actually been criticized for saying “they’re all different archetypes of malignant narcissism”.

          Now, I *HAVE* seen people say “Oh… I would *NEVER* watch that show” in the same way that I enjoy saying “Oh… I would *NEVER* go to Wal-Mart”… but that’s a different kind of criticism, don’t you think?Report

        • Avatar InMD in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Base entertainment is a part of the human condition. It kind of sucks at times and can definitely be degrading for all involved.

          Nevertheless I can’t help but see progress in the fact that the participation is voluntary and (most) of the really severe consequences are simulations. Definitely a big step up from life and death gladiatorial games, public hangings, and gawking at people with physical deformities and mental disabilities.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to InMD says:

            I live a block from Pershing Square in Los Angeles. In the square is a low wall with an inscribed quotation:

            My feeling about this weirdly inflated village in which I had come to make my home (haunted by memories of a boyhood spent in the beautiful mountain parks, the timberline country, of northwestern Colorado), suddenly changed after I had lived in Los Angeles for seven long years of exile.
            I have never been able to discover any apparent reason for this swift and startling conversion, but I do associate it with a particular occasion. I had spent an extremely active evening in Hollywood and had been deposited toward morning, by some kind soul, in a room at the Biltmore Hotel.
            Emerging next day from the hotel into the painfully bright sunlight, I started the rocky pilgrimage through Pershing Square to my office in a state of miserable decrepitude. In front of the hotel newsboys were shouting the headlines of the hour: an awful trunk-murder had just been committed; Aimee Semple McPherson had once again stood the town on its ear by some spectacular caper; a University of Southern California football star had been caught robbing a bank; a love-mart had been discovered in the Los Feliz Hills; a motion-picture producer had just wired the Egyptian government a fancy offer for permission to illuminate the pyramids to advertise a forthcoming production; and, in the intervals between these revelations, there was news about another prophet, fresh from the desert, who had predicted the doom of the city, a prediction for which I was morbidly grateful.
            In the center of the park, a little self-conscious of my evening clothes, I stopped to watch a typical Pershing Square divertissement: an aged and frowsy blonde, skirts held high above her knees, cheered by a crowd of grimacing and leering old goats, was singing a gospel hymn as she danced gaily around the fountain. Then it suddenly occurred to me that, in all the world, there neither was nor would ever be another place like this City of the Angels. Here the American people were erupting, like lava from a volcano; here, indeed, was the place for me – a ringside seat at the circus.

            Carey McWilliams Southern California Country, 1946

            Yeah, I guess that’s what I was thinking, that Tiger King could have been made 50 years ago, or a hundred, or a hundred years from now.Report

  8. Avatar CJColucci says:

    Back in the day when we had only a few networks, millions of people watched shows that ended up cancelled — rightly from the network point of view — for low ratings. With all the channels and networks available now, in a country of 300-odd (some very odd) million potential viewers, millions of people will watch just about anything. There’s no accounting for taste, and I don’t much care who watches what, but it does mean that, given a critical, but not very large mass of fans, their obsessing and arguing about marginal entertainments that the vast majority of people don’t even want to be bothered having an opinion about leach into the culture at large and take up the time of innocent bystanders, unlike, say, the disputes among opera fans, which outsiders can easily ignore.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to CJColucci says:

      The thing about the prestige tv or prestige trash is that they are consumed by relatively few people but those that do tend to be professionals with disposable incomes. Plus media typesReport

  9. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Well, you make Joe Exotic sound like a younger, gay, Donald Trump (with a mullet), and that’s just not a great sales pitch for me.Report

  10. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    This type of Reality TV show doesn’t seem that good for the soul of the individual or society. It celebrates the proudly dysfunctional people. The audience either engages in judgment and ends up feeling so superior or lives through the proud dysfunction and wishes they had the courage, lack of inhibitions, and sometimes the money to live like that. Its how we get a President like Trump, who treats everything as Reality TV show rather than something real and concrete with serious consequences.Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Re: fn5. The alleged murder victim was actually Carole Baskin’s second husband, who she met after leaving her first husband. See also, Joe Exotic, who had two husbands before the three husbands depicted in the documentary (and before the Obergefell decision but a little thing like Oklahoma’s Defense of Marriage Act was not gonna slow ol’ Joe down).Report

  12. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    My biggest critique of the documentary is that it gets very heavy-handed in trying to set up Carole Baskin as totally definitely the murderer of her second husband. The skew from the documentarian becomes quite obvious.

    The “sardine oil” comment is played up as weirdly specific but considering the amount of interview time that the filmmakers probably had with her, and the number of leading questions and prompts no doubt fed to her (and whatever else we might think about her, she’s pretty enthusiastic about both things that big cats do and about dislike of Joe Exotic), seem to me to have led inevitably to some kind of sound bite like that being teased out of her one way or another.

    The lawyer reads out some unusual language in a suspiciously-timed purported will. That’s actually the most suspicious thing to me that was out there.

    It slips in that the FBI suspected the husband’s administrative assistant of foul play; we are not told why she was a suspect nor given any hint as to what her motive might have been. But we are given enough information to know that she had the means and the opportunity to have done something.

    We are told the husband disappeared around the time he was considering leaving and divorcing Carole. He seemingly had at least one and possibly multiple much younger girlfriends in Costa Rica and was routinely traveling there to set up some sort of business. The business seems like it was kind of shady and had to be located in Costa Rica for some reason at least adjacent to avoiding U.S. law enforcement. But because of the filmmakers’ need to create a strong moral equivalency between Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic, we are asked to overlook the ought-to-be-obvious issue that dudes who routinely fly to Costa Rica to do shady business things with shady businesspeople and have affairs with multiple younger women there are likely to acquire enemies who are not their own wives.

    None of which clears Carole Baskin of her husband’s disappearance and presumptive murder. But it certainly raises what in the trade we call “reasonable doubt.” So when Joe Exotic asks (repeatedly) why no investigation has been done into Carole Baskin’s septic tank (ewww, why does he know so much about when she had a septic tank put in) that’s why. The authorities who aren’t caught up in all this drama can see that there’s no plausible way to get a conviction on these facts.Report

    • Yeah, I didn’t buy the whole “she totally murdered her husband” thing. They made a bunch of smoke and insisted there must be a fire somewhere. As I understand, they left off inconvenient facts like the timing of the purchase of things that were supposedly used to commit murder.

      Watching that episode, my conclusion was that he got on a plane and crashed into the ocean. Seems like the most straight-forward interpretation. Far more likely than the idea that the somewhat goofy Baskin is a vicious master criminal.Report

  13. Avatar Em Carpenter says:

    When I was out visiting my sister in January before she died, this was just beginning to be a thing and I mentioned it. My sister said “I know him.” And damn if she didn’t then promptly fall asleep without giving any more details. She was not really able to have conversations after that point, so that’s a story lost to the ages. I’d have loved to hear details.Report

  14. Close your eyes and listen to Baskin speak. Whose voice is that? Whose laugh? Exactly.

    Lock her up!Report

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