The Tiger King introduced us to a subculture we were mercifully unaware
By Jon Koonsman
Alright. I admit it. I watched it too.
When my buddy John Tadlock goaded me into tuning in to a narcissistic, gun slinging, tattooed, gay, polygamist, drug addicted, cult leader and political candidate, it would have been hard for me to imagine that this idiot was soon to become America’s most celebrated quarantine-era protagonist.
Seriously. I didn’t see that coming.
Did I mention he also had a few hundred lions and tigers and bears?
Boasting a cast of societal rejects oozing enough skank to kill the ‘rona’, Joe Exotic (the Tiger King) introduced us to a subculture of which we’d been mercifully unaware. Though forced to work ridiculous hours and live in squalor, I found myself remarkably unsympathetic toward Mr. Exotic’s followers. Uncomfortably so.
In fact, had trans zoo worker Kelci ‘Saff’ Saffrey not come along to lend his/her sober perspective, the entire documentary might have been hopelessly lost.
And what did he/she get for his/her trouble?
A tiger chewed his/her arm off and left him/her in a junkyard.
Every lunatic needs a mentor. Enter Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle riding an elephant with harem in tow.
Doc is the straighter (as in heterosexualer) more refined version of Joe Exotic. A doctor of the ‘Mystical Sciences’ (otherwise know as bullshit), Doc seduces young maidens with cuddly tiger cubs and then as their maturity grows imminent euthanizes them in a gas chamber (the tigers - not the maidens) (as far as we know).
Oh. We ain’t reached the bottom.
This documentary reveals the most irredeemable pile of human excrement I’ve ever had the misfortune to observe – and Carole Baskin is the cherry on top.
The millionaire self-proclaimed animal rights activist and alleged (she did it) murderer is the documentary’s unlikely and undisputed antagonist, a feat that under most circumstances would seem impossible.
Carole’s “hey all you cool cats and kittens” podcast intro is among the creepiest sentence fragments that I’ve ever had the displeasure to auscultate – and that eerily peaceful smile while discussing her dead husband is the personification of the cat that swallowed the canary (Don).
It is spectacular television.
But there are things to be learned even in the most unlikely of places and from the most unlikely of characters. Let’s explore what the Tiger King has taught us.
First and foremost - kids, stay away from drugs. Methamphetamine will destroy your life and rot your teeth. Though commonly referred to as ‘meth mouth’, this documentary exhibits a number of advanced cases known as ‘mef toof’.
One of Joe Exotic’s husbands, John Finlay, boasts a spectacular case.
Combinations of drugs often prove even more dangerous. Combining meth and opioids, commonly known as a ‘speedball’, can prove unpredictable and sometimes lethal.
Equally as dangerous yet far more predictable is the combination of meth and tigers - which will turn your ass gay.
Every. Single. Time.
One of Joe Exotic’s husbands, Travis Maldonado, became an unfortunate victim of this potent meth/tiger cocktail.
Sadly, Travis shot himself in the head just off screen, but was fondly remembered at his funeral for the joy he brought to others by randomly rubbing his testicles on them. An act which appears to affect its recipient so profoundly that they sometimes burst into song.
Secondly, you can get anything at Walmart. Even a campaign manager.
Unfortunately, our final lesson is one I’ve written about before.
It is the semi-modern propensity to humanize animals and dehumanize people. It is a mental illness and virtually every character in this freak show is afflicted with it.
The simple act of humanizing tigers or dressing a chimpanzee in a tuxedo seems harmless enough on the surface, but these same people unapologetically take advantage of the weak, exploit their fellow human beings and exhibit a blatant disregard for human life.
This sickness is not only continually illustrated throughout the show, it is verbalized on multiple occasions.
In one instance, immediately after Saff lost his/her arm to a tiger – and after Joe Exotic ran to his closet to don his EMT jacket (that was weird) – his first response was to lament that he may never recover financially from the incident.
Later one of Doc Antle’s wives responded to a question stating that she loved her chimpanzees ‘maybe more’ than her children.
Some years ago, I asked an acquaintance how her grandchildren had been. She responded that she’d not seen them in over a year because her dog didn’t like them. They lived in the same small town.
I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know if these characteristics make you a narcissist? Sociopath? Psychopath? But I do know it makes you a piece of crap as a human being.
I love animals. My dog is laying in my office at my feet as I write this. I’ve been surrounded by horses and cattle most of my life. But love them or not, to allow any animal dominion over the people in your life makes you decidedly less human.
“The measure of a civilization is in how it treats its animals.” Mahatma Gandhi has long been credited with that statement, but it is both a misquotation and out of context.
And it’s a load of crap.
The measure of a civilization is in how we treat each other. Period.
And one more thing:
Carole fed Don’s ass to the tigers.
Y’all love each other.