‘Tiger King’ is a True Cult Classic Born from the Ashes of Trashy Reality TV and True Crime
This is the story of a policeman, a breeder of tigers and lions, a gay country singer, and a man who ran for President of the United States. I’m not talking about a cast of eccentric characters from some bizarre Hollywood tale; I’m talking about a single man who was all of these at once. His name is Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage or “Joe Exotic”, as he likes to be known around the animalist circles. As of today, his story is one of the most popular streaming content on Netflix’ ranks.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (2020) may be considered the first cult TV show born from the ashes of trashy reality TV and Netflix original true crime shows, which in turn have always been the flagship content of the Californian streaming platform. It’s as if Jersey Shore’s cast and crew had left their usual snug locations by the beach to experience the arid landscapes of the Sun Belt, play with a bunch of tigers kept in captivity, and shoot guns at random. And it hurts me to say this, but it’s fun. It’s awfully fun.
This docuseries, directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, focuses on the freak show that is the small yet outrageously rich industry of big cat rescuers, breeders, and collectors in the United States. In this environment, madness is not only a consequence of the scorching temperatures, but it rather seems to be a way of living and prospering.
It’s as if Jersey Shore’s cast and crew had left their usual snug locations by the beach to experience the arid landscapes of the Sun Belt…
This is also a story involving animal rights activists even crazier than the collectors. Joe Exotic was one of the latter, and his associates included a circle of con-artists of all kinds, among which is a guru with a harem of wives who shows up in public on an elephant, and a man willing to commit homicide for only three grand. The target of such bloody crime would have been one of the biggest cat rescuers, Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, who’s depicted as the antagonist of this no-holds-barred war along the Sun Belt.
Joe Exotic, who back in the day claimed to be the most prolific breeder of tigers in the United States, today is a convicted felon. He is facing a 22-year sentence resulting from 17 federal charges of animal abuse and, last but not least, two counts of murder for hire.
Tiger King has taken the world by storm with a thick feeling of pure madness that crosses the whole narrative. Its popularity has been so big that some of its ambiguous subject matters can’t be stressed enough. That’s why actor Joel McHale, upon finishing the highly-acclaimed series, immediately collaborated with Netflix to release another episode in which he would get up close and personal with the same eccentric characters of the show one more time in order to get a better sense of the maniacal events that unfolded.
But why has this show been so groundbreaking in terms of visual storytelling? Well, to answer this question we should look around ourselves and ask, “aren’t we already living the extreme consequences of a clash between man and nature?” The predicament we’ve found ourselves in, the wildfires in Australia, the coronavirus pandemic – these are all reactions against our exploitation of mother nature in its broadest sense. Joe Exotic’s story is not that different. It’s a story of animal abuse after all.
On the other hand, this is also a piece of trashy entertainment that aims to take our minds off of the miserable moment we are forced to live in. Joe Exotic is an absurd human being who seems to take the shape of a wild animal. His story, whether you like it or not, overturns the entertainment landscape and gives us a glimpse of a part of the United States that we often tend to forget.
To put things into perspective, if you are still reluctant about watching a piece of trashy content like this, then I’ll top the bid by saying that, if nothing else, you will be able to catch a glimpse of why people like Trump became the President of this country. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness is not only the story of Joe Exotic. It’s a story about white trash, rage, and intolerance. It’s a story that concerns us all.