Documentary series delves into lives of tiger owners


Photo by Public Domain

Unpredictable “Joe Exotic” poses with a large tiger.

Lions and tigers and gators, oh my! The story of the infamous Tiger King seemingly holds the world in its hands during the challenging times of quarantine, but what sets this show apart from the thousands of others that the quarantined citizens of the world could be watching?

“Tiger King” is a documentary miniseries that follows the chaotic downfall of a cowboy boot-wearing, eccentric, mulleted man known as Joe Exotica now former owner of an animal zoo with over 200 tigers and other big catsand his eventual arrest for allegedly hiring someone to kill his nemesis, who was dedicated to shutting him down and ending all big cat ownership in America. The documentary takes the viewer down a deep hole of endless surprises with plot twists and incredibly unique characters to keep you guessing the entire time. The Netflix series is the culmination of over five years of filming, which may explain some of the chaotic and hectic developments over the course of the show since nobody could know what was going to happen next, even while filming the show. 

“We wanted to do a piece that looked at the ethicacy of keeping large wild animals in cages,” directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklan said in an interview with Netflix. “We never thought it would have ended up in this crazy true crime direction.” 

Even though the show can be very dark and unsettling at most times, that hasn’t stopped the internet from showcasing the surprising amount of meme potential present in the documentary. Most of the memes that have cropped up take a stab at the so-called “fake innocence” of Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue, a woman dedicated to stopping animal owners (such as Exotic) and who allegedly killed her rich husband Don Lewis for his money. Throughout the length of all seven episodes, Baskin is very enthusiastic and repeatedly makes jokes in response to claims that she killed her husband by feeding him to the tigers kept at her rescue. One of the most popular memes focuses on a point in the series where Baskin says that if you wanted a tiger to eat somebody, you would have to put something the tiger wants to eat on them, such as sardine oil. This sparked much curiosity and concern involving the 1997 cold case of her missing ex-husband, so much so that the Florida police force have now reopened the file and are asking for any tips that could lead to a break in the case. 

Though the characters featured in the series are definitely not the best people on the planet, that is exactly what has drawn the millions of people around the world to binge the show. 

“We wanted to humanize people, even if we completely disagreed with their actions,” Goode and Chaiklan said. “We also didn’t want to make a didactic documentary where we were telling people what to think and feel.”

“Tiger King” is also drawing interest on social media. On TikTok, the sound “Savage Tiger King Edition” — a parody of “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion — has been used in videos 2.3 million times. On Instagram, Joe Exotic himself (@joe_exotic) has just over 482K followers. With Tiger King’s popularity on social media, it’s no wonder why the Netflix original is racking up the views. The documentary has been watched by over 64 million households and has racked up over 5 billion minutes watched, which is almost 2 billion more minutes than the second-most-watched Netflix show, “Ozark.” It seems that the chaotic series of events that occur throughout the show reflects the current state of the world as it struggles through a global pandemic, which could explain why millions instantly flocked to the documentary upon its release.

“I was intrigued by the premise of the show and the trailers and clips barely introduced me to the story, so I wanted to see what happened in the rest of the show,” said Heights resident Heather Levitz. “It’s a crazy story, and I think people have been so interested in the series because it’s so far outside the norms for a show.”

While the now-imprisoned Joe Exotic serves his sentence, the legacy and the downfall of the Tiger King reigns supreme for the world to see in all of its glory and immorality.