If you have no idea what that title means, then we probably can’t be friends. Look, I’m sure you’ve heard Carole Baskin’s name recently. Or scrolled past some memes about her, and trust, it is as bad as it all seems. “Tiger King” is one fucking hot mess of a documentary, but it is in fact a documentary. I have heard people say all sorts of terrible things about it in the last few weeks, mainly people who have not watched it and refuse to on (insert some narrow-minded excuse here) grounds. But the fact of the matter is, if you are from the midwest, if you are from a state connected to Oklahoma, if you are a someone who has actually lived, a real, down-home, times-are-tough, kinda life, then you aren’t put off by a gay man, living in rural Oklahoma, who owned tigers and bred them for profit while he seduced younger men with meth and occasionally threatened a woman he didn’t know online. It’s just, you know, shit you’ve seen before.
But then again, is it?
The real draw of Joe Exotic is how outrageous he is, for sure. But what has my juices really flowing today is that people on FB are like, “I would never watch that trash!” Then they pop their popcorn for “The Bachorlorette” and I’m like da fuq? Some people are contrary, just to be contrary. Trust me, I know. I went through a really long indie movie phase in college and refused to watch any big-budget production. There are still some really pop-culturally significant movies I’ve never seen from the early 2000s. Le sigh.
Most of the people I know who refuse to watch it are those people who are just contrary. They don’t like to like what is popular. Also most of them are secretly watching it. Some of the people though, like people who live in Oklahoma are refusing to watch it because they say it gives Oklahoma a bad rep. Umm, have y’all been to Oklahoma? I have. I have spent a lot of time there. It’s pretty fucking accurate. I mean, no, not everyone is Joe Exotic, but there are an awful lot of the people like the people who work for him. Recovering meth addicts who just got out of prison, never finished high school, and literally have no other options. Yeah, seems accurate. And Florida? Yeah, the documentary paints Florida pretty right-on too. Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin are literally the epitome of what is wrong in those two states. In this country. And if you can get past the Tiger breeding and abuse (which I know is horrible and actually the worst part of the whole thing) you will see that there are some very important lesson in this documentary. It’s just that the memes are making light of the bigger stuff.
Like, did you know that there are more Tigers in captivity in this country than there are free in the world? I did not know that. Literally had no idea. I knew Tigers were endangered, but it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been to Dirty Myrtle, I had never come across Doc Antle’s place, and would be terrified if I had. But that’s the problem. I seem to be an outlier. People seem to be captivated by these big cats in a way that some will pay $600 to pet a baby fucking Tiger. Which is absurd because you can buy your own for $2000. Did you know that? I did not. How many baby Tigers you think are gonna be bought and sold with these damn stimulus checks this month?
The attitudes toward the animals from most of the people is sick and sad. Make no mistake about it. And yes, Joe Exotic is like a train wreck you can’t look away from. So is Carole, to be fair, who is in no way better a person than Joe. They are both using animals for profit (or were, he’s in jail now), but not about the animals for profit thing. In fact, that parts totes legal. But should it be? Nah, probably not. See the bigger problems we need to talk about here?
This doesn’t even scratch the surface, y’all. Doesn’t even scratch it. The most important thing to know about this documentary, is what is most important to know about all of them, and the reason we like them. This is REAL LIFE. Real life, y’all. This is how people live. What they do to innocent beings (in this case large, exotic cats that should be left in the wild) and to each other. The lengths at which people will go to be seen and heard. To feel like they are someone. To be part of something that is bigger than them. There is lying and manipulation. There is torment (both for animals and humans) and there are a lot of guns (but wait, doesn’t America pride itself on the gun thing?) But if you think for a second that the people in this documentary are the only ones out there, the only ones who do this to Tigers. Who do this to each other. Who plot to murder. Who get so high they accidentally shoot themselves, who lose sight of who they are as a person in exchange for drugs, love, belonging, or limelight, think again. And this documentary, hopefully, will shed some light into those dark places and prevent, protect, and/or altogether stop what is happening in our country concerning endangered animal abuse. Among other things.
I watched “Tiger King” and made Jerimiah watch it, for the same reason that I watch all the documentaries I do, to learn. And I did learn. And anyone who watches it can, if you allow yourself to be empathetic. If you don’t use these lives as fodder. If you really think on it afterward. Really understand that people live lives that are this way. And wonder how you can help. Or at least, not get sucked into it. (Y’all, don’t pay to pet Tiger cubs in Myrtle Beach, for Fuck’s sake, I shouldn’t have to say this.)
So yeah, laugh if you want to. Cry also. Because there is certainly shit to cry about here. Or refuse to watch it because you are “too cool” for that. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that some people are changed by this. Some people see a different side of human behavior they didn’t know existed before. Some people, with deep pockets, are moved enough to take a stand for the animals, for the workers who are sucked into horrendous situations, held prisoner like the cats, and made to think that this is the only way through this life.
But make no mistake, “Carole Baskin is a fucking bitch.” I mean, look at that picture above. Please remember that it’s truly about the animals, and the documentary, while it plays up the craziness of the people at the beginning, knows that, and is seeking to do bigger things. So let’s help it.