If you have yet to watch Netflix’s newest docuseries, Tiger King, I could not recommend it enough. While most of us are all cooped up thanks to COVID-19, there really is no better medicine than laughter. Tiger King follows the feud between two exotic animal lovers Joe Exotic & Carole Baskin.
Exotic is introduced in the series as a redneck, openly gay, polyamorous exotic animal lover. For a number of years he had operated his own private zoo with hundreds of tigers and lions, which he had bred, in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. From the very beginning of the docu-series, the conflict is upfront and clear: Exotic despises Baskin and wants her dead. At first, you’ll honestly laugh at how ridiculous it sounds but as the story progresses, you’ll see how this sarcastic comment cost Exotic his business and his life.
Carole Baskin operates Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. She is proud of Big Cat Rescue as she brands it as a sanctuary for endangered species as opposed to being a zoo. Just like Exotic, she too allows customers to pet the animals and take pictures.
I guess the only difference between Exotic and Baskin is that, Baskin does not pay her hundreds of volunteers.
Besides the ongoing feud between Baskin & Exotic, we are introduced to another advocate in the exotic animal saving business – Doc Antle. Antle opened The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina back in 1983. He too considers his institute as more of a sanctuary than a zoo although all three of them (Baskin, Exotic, Antle) allow customers to interact with the animals.
This series did not go in the same direction as a story like BlackFish did. According to the series, there’s been up to 10K privately owned tigers in America versus the no more than 4K currently residing in the wild worldwide. That is a pretty shocking statistic which is why, I was surprised the documentary didn’t focus more on the alleged animal abuse.
There was more focus on emotional and physical abuse towards people than there was the animals. After watching Tiger King, I cannot help but to believe there is some unspoken cult associated with exotic animals.
Baskin, Exotic and Antle share a love for the animals as well as a love for admiration.
Let’s start with Exotic…
Exotic wears many hats in this series. He ran a presidential campaign in 2016, supposedly recorded up to seven country albums, broadcasts his own online television series and pursued a polyamorous relationship with two men who confessed to not identifying as gay. He was able to maintain these romantic relationships long term by providing his lovers with firearms, vehicles and hard drugs. Through his television series, he shared his thoughts about Baskin and simulated killing her multiple times. It’s not clear what demographic of a fan base he was looking for but, he was in desperate need of something.
Doc Antle also pursued polyamorous relationships with the women he hired at T.I.G.E.R.S. According to an ex-employee who is interviewed in the series, Antle would have control over his employees’ outfits, breaktimes and even their names. The ex-employee recalls Antle encouraging her to undergo a breast implant surgery; she doesn’t remember agreeing to it but in retrospect, she didn’t mind the days of rest away from Antle’s institute.
For anyone who has watched the whole series, there is an ongoing debate over if Carole Baskin killed her first husband. Whether it happened or not, she resembled a cult leader at Big Cat Rescue. Let’s just talk about the hierarchy of t-shirt colors her volunteers were required to wear. When one of her volunteers was explaining the t-shirt color policy, it reminded me of the work I put it to get my black belt in Taekwondo. What’s the appeal? Possibly getting mentioned in one of her social media posts? Getting a blue t-shirt?
Forget if she killed her husband, I think she is as controlling and out of her mind as everyone else featured in Tiger King.
I was enthralled by this story and finished the series in under three days. Again, I was shocked the alleged animal abuse was not the main feature in this series. I believe I watched more snippets of country song music videos than any ‘behind the scenes’ zoo footage. Although Exotic and Baskin have a love for these animals, I think they have a stronger obsession over each other. Exotic wants Baskin dead and Baskin wants Exotic’s business gone forever.
As the saying goes – when the cat’s away the mice will play. I definitely witnessed mice play… and saw a lot of rats too.