Tv Review: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness

Tiger Documentary Is Meth Fueled Madness

Dan Pennington
5 min read
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
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There’s no proper way to introduce this. Not in a million years could anyone have properly prepared us for what Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness was going to be. Yet here we are, trapped at home and waiting for any kind of good news, and Netflix—kings of streaming—decide to drop the documentary that proves things can always be worse. Maybe you’ve seen the memes and been on the fence. Maybe you’ve had a friend tell you that you’ve got to see it and they can’t tell you why. Maybe seeing Joe Exotic literally everywhere has piqued your interest enough to just lose a whole work day of viewing time to see what the mullet is about. Here’s why you need to watch Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.

There’s never been a more easy sell to a network for funding before, that I know of at least, other than saying you want to make a documentary about three different people who own tigers in the USA but that they are all complete deranged psychopaths, almost mirroring different aspects of what you can point to as wrong in society. Joe Exotic, the gay, gun-toting, mullet-wearing, couple hundred tiger-owning, country music-singing, web celeberity magician is our sin of vanity and ego. I know, mullets and vanity shouldn’t ever be in a sentence together, but that’s just how it goes. Carole Baskin, a woman of ill-repute and our antagonist (or antagonized?) has a few skeletons in her closet, representing hubris and pride. Finally, we have Dr. Bagavhan Antle, the sex-crazed cult leader who is our lust. These three form a foundation of bizarre interactions in the wild world of the tiger industry in the United States, one many of us were blissfully unaware of until last week. It’s hard to tell you why you should watch this. At the end of the day, it doesn’t improve our lives. We don’t become more aware of a problem we can actively fix or change in the world. We just know that three people are out there, being pure trash and yet it is the most welcome thing right now.

Directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, we are taken through the lives of these three owners who prove that money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy tigers, which is equivalent. The goal of the filmmakers isn’t ever explicitly clear. It’s a welcome approach, as we’re not told what to think or feel, but rather given a laundry list of events about how their lives have interceded, mostly focused around Joe Exotic. By the time we reach our big turn, the surprise hidden at the end of the documentary, the audience isn’t sure what to feel or think. Not a single character featured is what would be considered a good person, and the ones you want to root for are all minor pieces in the backdrop of the three and their drama. You’ll pick sides, no doubt, but you will question what part of you had to be given up to back them in reasonably good faith. Even moreso, it leaves you with a larger overall question on morality. Are these sanctuaries, whose “mission” is to protect tigers, doing more harm than good? At what point is exploitation more damaging than protection? Do more tigers living in captivity in North America than in the wild in their natural habitat show an abuse of a system? It’s an underlying message that is slyly strewn throughout the documentary, yet never really coalesces as a thought until the end. In a documentary about tigers, they feel like props compared to the story being told about their owners, mirroring their treatment within these sanctuaries.

Would Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness be a success without the self-isolation we’ve been in? It’s hard to say, but ultimately, it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing that would be relevant if life was going on as normal. Watching trashy people do trashy things was a highlight of early aughts television, but has faded into obscurity as better media has been made available. But right now, at this moment, the world needs Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. One of the most important things you get out of watching anything is to be taken away from the here and now, to live a different story for a short period of time. The story that covers this seven episode documentary is so drastically different from anything you’ve ever seen before that it’s hard not to let it take you in. It’s the perfect distraction from the chaos around us.
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