Boy was I wrong about this show. Hearing the buzz, I figured this was just another reality TV sensation like Duck Dynasty, where likable characters and a unique lifestyle somehow became mainstream. But, once you finally sit yourself down and watch it, you realize exactly why there was so much hype surrounding it. A combination of insane characters and incredible real life plot twists make this show worthy of obsession. But, on top of it all, I believe that there is another level at play.
One of the things that appears to have made Tiger King a full on phenomenon is its weird relationship to present day American polarization. I’m sure many people who have discussed the show with peers have found that the person they like the most, or dislike the least, falls on party lines. This docu-series is as if someone put up a funhouse mirror to the 2016 election and made the reflection a reality.
This is because the rivalry between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin is Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton on steroids. Now, you might be thinking this is just an exaggeration of two big personalities on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the parallels between how the American public view the two and the 2016 presidential nominees is striking.
To further this point, let’s look at how both Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin compare to their respective nominees, as well as how each are most likely viewed by people by each party.
Starting with the Tiger King himself, I would say the comparison to Trump is more obvious than Carole to Clinton. For starters, as a gay man with a platinum blonde mullet, he’s an outsider, who conservatives would typically not support. He is also the owner of an incredibly sketchy business, who has an unfiltered mouth and a toxic relationship with powerful women. He loves the spotlight and seems to become more unhinged every time the cameras are on him. And, regardless of how he was covered, as long as he was being talked about, Joe Exotic was happy.
On a deeper level, Joe Exotic speaks to the freedom loving, anti-government, anti-establishment mentality that got Trump elected in 2016. The steroid analogy continues, with the tigers Joe owns being a more extreme version of gun rights. Those who believe that the government should stop telling them what to do found a voice in Joe and, unlike establishment politicians, he doesn’t hide how he truly feels. Many who watch Joe Exotic in the states Trump won most likely feel he is authentic, representing the people the government has routinely screwed over. Whatsmore, the sensation of the series gives Joe, and by transitive effect Trump supporters, credibility.
It’s the same media storm that allowed Trump to win the Republican nomination. To some, Trump really spoke to them, while to the rest, he was very entertaining. Moderates and liberals looked at Trump as a buffoon, but saw him to be harmless and made themselves look good by comparison. By continuing to talk about him and the abnormal remarks he made, they continued to keep focus on him, and the more would be Trump supporters heard their own deep-seated desires become mainstream news, and therefore acceptable. Joe Exotic is another buffoon who, fortunately, lost all of his political endeavors, but he’s still one of the most talked about people on social media.
Tiger King has consistently been the number 1 most watched program on Netflix since social distancing began. A new limited series with Kate Mckinnon as Baskin is in the works. Joe himself would like Brad Pitt to play him in the series. Audiences view him as both incredibly entertaining and harmless in his current state, dismissing the intense feelings he’s awakening.
To the many liberal volunteers that work for Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue, Carole is a savior to big cats. She is a flower child who only wants what’s best for Earth’s creatures.
Except, Carole Baskin is a hypocrite. The animals are still in cages, but she just doesn’t call them pets. She still uses them for personal profit, yet doesn’t pay her employees hardly anything. In fact, the volunteers move up the ranks in a similar fashion to Doc Antle’s cult. Furthermore, in her own past, she made videos about the tigers and directly contradicts her later self when she positively talks about treating them like pets. Yet, she still gets fervent support from the left with her followers and is more favorable to organizations like PETA than Joe Exotic’s zoo.
To many that loathed Hillary Clinton, this same type of hypocrisy was what caused a lot of the strife. She was for the war in Iraq, but now says it was a mistake. She was against gay marriage, but now supports it. Trump lies, but Clinton used a private server and has hundreds of missing emails. Trump is a rich elite, but Clinton is a rich elite pretending to be one of the people.
Not to mention, she is highly suspected to have disposed of her former husband who is missing. Whether true or not, Joe Exotic and his coworkers are convinced that it’s true, and it has become the main story coming out of the show, despite the fact that Joe himself went to jail on the charge of planning her murder. Did she likely do some shady things? Yes. Could she have had a role in her husband’s disappearance? Yes. Is there any proof? Far less than Joe Exotic’s crimes. Clinton was subject to similar conspiracies and the more the public heard, the more they thought she was no good.
Despite not being charged with anything, Carole arguably has far less people that like her than Joe Exotic. Besides her fervent supporters, many moderates and liberals still don’t view her in a positive light. She’s just better than the alternative, which is another similarity. Those that do support her, however, go so hard. I saw one post on social media saying that if Carole did get rid of her husband, she was justified.
Whatsmore, as opposed to Joe, Carole has voiced her frustration with the documentary crew, stating that they abused her trust. She has said she will no longer be a part of any future episodes, as they have misrepresented her. Just as Carole refuses to take any responsibility for how the people see her business, Clinton fails to acknowledge many of the flaws in her campaign.
Both Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic are TERRIBLE PEOPLE, yet they have been elevated to the point that the entire country is taking sides as to who was in the right. We shouldn’t even be debating this at all. We should be arguing over people who are not potential murderers, and yet the American public elevates these two individuals to the top.
I can only hope that this obsession allows some of these watchers to understand how they are perceived by the other side; maybe this will help repurpose arguments that translate across party lines, so that Carole and Joe stop being their spokespeople.