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Tiger King Takes the Crown for Sensationalism

Image courtesy of the New York Post

I’m sure we all know by now that the most recent American obsession is the Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. It’s all anyone has been talking about for weeks, and the wacky, unbelievable antics of its titular “Tiger King,” Joe Exotic, seem to be a source of inexhaustible conversation material. However, there are some serious issues with the docuseries that haven’t been discussed nearly as much as whether or not Carole Baskin fed her husband to the tigers. The subject of Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin and her potential status as a murderer would likely never have come back into the spotlight if not for Tiger King. The cold case of her second husband Don Lewis’s disappearance had faded from the minds of many until Tiger King brought her guilt back into question. However, the juicy subplot of Don Lewis’s possible murder was vastly sensationalized in the same way that many other parts of the docuseries were. An article from Polygon describes Tiger King as focusing “on the flashy elements and [leaving] little to be said about the victims.” A large part of this sensational aspect of this docuseries might have been the camerawork. Disclaimer: I am not a film expert, but something that particularly caught my eye was the style of shots that the producers used when featuring Baskin. The slo-mo hair tosses, the drawn-out blinks, the wistful (and maybe even villainous?) staring off into the distance: all of it painted Baskin as someone mysterious and malevolent just from the way she looked throughout the documentary. In Baskin’s own words, all of this added up to make Tiger King “salacious and sensational.” Suggesting that a woman murdered her husband is no small thing to do. Baskin suggested that the show’s directors, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, originally pitched the idea for their show to her as being something akin to Blackfish, the famous documentary about SeaWorld. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, however, Goode and Chaiklin asserted that “it’s not a Blackfish because of the things [Baskin] spoke about...she certainly wasn’t coerced.” Another way in which Tiger King was sensationalized was more fundamental. The abuse and mistreatment of the animals at places like G.W. Zoo or Doc Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina were overshadowed in the docuseries by the truly bizarre and utterly watchable behavior of their owners. Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue was also cast in an extremely negative light, but most, if not all, of the information about the sanctuary came from the mouth of Joe Exotic, who is arguably not an unbiased source for what goes on at Big Cat Rescue. All this drama about the characters was almost certainly highlighted because binge-watching a show about a bunch of kooky big cat owners sounds much more appealing than binge watching a show about big cat abuse. While Tiger King is a thoroughly entertaining watch and something that can hold a viewer’s captivation for many hours, people like Carole Baskin who were in the documentary insist that the initial motivation for creating the show was abandoned in the middle of filming in favor of a more salacious plot. It can even be seen in the show itself that the original aim, to document the cruelty going on in these facilities, was driven off the rails when filmmakers saw just how much they could get out of the human’s stories instead. The sensationalized and often downright questionable information presented in Tiger King ultimately renders it problematic, even if it is still fun to watch. By Olivia Slack, Online Editor


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