S1: The following podcast contains explicit language like.
S3: What’s in the box?
S4: Hello and welcome to Slate. Spoiler special today we are spoiling Netflix’s Wilder documentary series Tiger King. I am Sam Adams, a senior editor at Slate. And I am joined today by Slate’s television critic and Tiger Queen Willa Paskin. Well, hello there.
S5: I don’t know.
S6: I want to read it, but maybe everyone who touches tigers is crazy and tainted. Yes. Did you like kind of just never want to see a tiger again except like in their natural habitat far away for the purposes of private zoos?
S4: Maybe they’ll do that. But how does one describe this sprawling, messy series? The show has everything gay rednecks, polygamist cults, murder plots and lots and lots of tigers. It’s the story to begin with. The man who calls himself Joe Exotic. Nate Schreiber Vogel, who corralled dozens of big cats and other animals into his own private zoo in rural Oklahoma. And it’s about the trouble he gets into when his addiction to fame and not to put too fine a point on it. Meth overtakes his devotion to his animals. We are getting ahead of ourselves, Willa. What did you think of Tiger King?
S6: I mean, it’s almost like you said this in your view, like almost any qualitative evaluation of Tiger. King fails in front of us like it. Just enormity of shit that happens in Tiger King. And like I think part of the reason it has been this huge success as America is essentially quarantined because it’s like it’s so crazy, like everything that happens in every episode that at some point, like it’s not about whether it’s good or bad. Right. It’s just like there is just so much insane things happening. And every single person is like a deranged character who could be the subject of another reality show. But they just pale in like colorful ness compared to Joe Exotic. But I think that there’s actually all sorts of like sordid and creepy stuff happening on the level of it as like a documentary series as well as the sort of creepy stuff that’s actually happening on screen. And it’s captured, you know, in great detail and like applies to every single person that appears there.
S4: Right. I mean, there are people who at least say they are taking advantage of this time and may choose to doubt them in the privacy of their own homes. But there are people who say they’re taking advantage of this time to read war and peace or go through the complete works of Ingmar Bergman. And I just can’t concentrate on anything for more than ten minutes. Yeah, except Tiger. King. This thing is so packed full of stuff that even as I’m sitting there like I feel entirely good about watching this thing, I was just like. Next episode. Next episode.
S6: Yeah. Everyone’s just watching Tiger King instead of doing something good. It is so much about America and like a very real American predicament and like I mean, not how we got in this particular corona virus situation, but it is a lot about how we got into our political situation. There’s all sorts of like resonances and echoes. I mean, if it had been coming out at a different time, we’d just be talking about the way it’s like a reflection of sort of Trump and like the Trump ID and you see that. But then also it’s just like every single episode is like ten true crime broadcasts.
S7: Right? I mean, this story we should mention and it has been told before, there’s a Texas magazine profile from I think a year or two ago, there was an article in New York magazine last year which was also co-reported as I think a six or seven part wondering.. podcast. There is now the seven part Netflix series, which runs about a total of five hours and even just watching the show. My feeling of it is that you I must have been done like sort of in the style of like the Steven Soderbergh series, like Mosaic, which was this kind of choose your own adventure thing where you could just choose to follow a character and watch them for 40 minutes and then choose another character, because it’s like there’s this one minor character who’s this person who works at Joe Exotics Zoo, and you see that he’s on prosthetic legs for the entire series.
S4: And finally, I’m like episode six, he gets around to mentioning that he lost his legs in a tragic zip line accident and then it just moves on and it never mentions it again. And it’s like, can I just click on something and like follow the zip line guy for another hour?
S6: He’s also like, maybe the only person who’s out horrible in the whole show. Right? Although maybe he’s horrible, too, like he thought of the emotional center. And I mean, the thing about the show is so basically the documentary starts. It’s sort of framed like the documentary filmmakers, like we stumbled into this. Right. Like the documentary Where Good he is a conservationist. Like there’s a New Yorker profile him like 2012 about his efforts to, like save turtles. He’s had sort of been doing a documentary about reptiles. And he basically someone rolled up and had a snow leopard in their unair conditions like truck. And he were just like, what is the deal with big cats? And they cat owners. It turns out big cat owners like a psychological condition. I mean, like that’s like the take away from this show. So he gets into the world of big cats. And obviously it seems like he was sort of striking some omnia. That’s right. Like he meets all these guys who have big cats. And Carol Baskin, who also has big cats, which we can talk about a little bit, too, but that Joe Exotic emerges from this motley crew of big cat owners as the one who is like the most irrepressibly, insanely reality TV ready. And then as they’re watching this sort of true crime story unfold. So like, you know, you can see the bits of pieces of their other reporting, like the fact that, you know, there’s one man who owns a lot of big cats who claims to have been the model for Scarface, which seems like fairly reasonable. And like he doesn’t actually really figure particularly into like the plot of the show. But they, like, went and saw him and he’s connected with everyone else. He’s sort of part of like the cat trading world. So they include him and he’s not like totally streamlined, which is fine. It’s a weird world. It’s like a sort of like slice of worlds with a true crime thing in it. It’s not like that discipline.
S7: No. And that’s another case where all of a sudden you’re watching this series. It’s essentially about like big cat owners. And here’s this guy I like talking about how he kind of got a raw deal from the authorities because he went to jail for the murder of a federal informant. And actually, all he did was hold a circular saw and help cut off the guy’s head after he was already dead. Like that’s his defense.
S5: Right. Right.
S6: And like, the thing is also that in a way, the Katzif is like a kind of a fake out, because while there is a lot of cat stuff in it as it goes on, it really just becomes this sort of like increasingly sordid tale of like various wealthy but corrupt, creepy, like, you know, you feel like you’re literally watching some season of Fargo, you know, like some just like Two-Bit Hustler criminals, like conning each other out of like. A zoo that is like obviously not worth like it just gets more and more sort of and sort of gets further away from the tiger than you, actually there’s a moment sort of at the end where you like to see these tigers getting put into trucks late at night and you’re just like these poor tigers are stuck in this American hellhole. Being like shuttled around like packages with anyone gives a shit where they go. And we don’t actually version that was made by filmmakers who care about conservation. You don’t actually sit with any of the tigers and be like, what? The Tigers life? I mean, the last sort of speech that Joe Gibbs talking about, how he had these two monkeys next to each other for ten years, and then he, you know, finally he gives them to like our ape rescue center and they like within days or just embracing. And he’s like, did I rob them of that? I guess I did. And it’s like, I don’t know. You could have emphasized that he was robbing all of these animals of their lives the whole time. Like they really don’t hit as hard or they kind of like the inhumanity and indignity of what they’re doing to these creatures.
S7: Right. There’s an article in Vanity Fair where AIRGOOD is one of the people interviewed about it. He’s sort of insinuating that that maybe like Netflix kind of pulled the edited away from them a little bit and maybe, you know, emphasize the sensational storyline.
S8: But Netflix is known for telling filmmakers what. Right. Right. We’ll give lots of notes.
S9: Netflix is onlyto to filmmakers is just make it longer. I feel like the original sin of Netflix documentaries is when the makers of making a murderer went to them and said, hey, we have this idea for an eight part documentary series. And the Netflix note was, can you make it 10?
S6: Yeah, like this is too long. Yeah. I mean I’m really butthisis anyway, like it has a lot of connections to a lot of different things, but obviously there is like a Duck Dynasty sort of slumming it in red America aspects to this show that often one shows do that. I mean decades he’s actually exception cause it really wasn’t slumming it. The show seemed like it was coming from the same place. It was like warm and authentic, like right relationship to that family. This, you know, it’s like I mean, there is this way, right, where they’re like, we’re taking you on a tour of the craziest shit that ever happen. I mean, it really is very crazy. So, like, maybe that’s why it doesn’t have that quite ickiness that it sometimes has. When people do that. But it’s just like, buckle up here. We’re going to like really Krass low class bad shit. There’s something about the way the show does that. I think is the thing about this is my issue with the cow Baskins stuff that I find like sophisticated but extremely CENI.
S7: Right. Well, as you mentioned, I mean, we get introduced eventually to this whole kind of network and constellation of big cat owners, some of whom are just like wealthy people who pay. I think the going rate is something like five thousand dollars for a young tiger cub or something like that.
S9: And become a sort of private owners of the animals that probably end up eating their faces off at some point. But then there are also these kind of private zoos that exist all over the US. I’ve been to one in rural Minnesota that has various wild animals that should probably not be anywhere near Sota, big as a Joe fits into this whole network of zoos. His model is a man who calls himself a bhagavan duck and tall.
S8: And who is the creepy? Yes, I’m expecting that person to sue them like he has blood chilling to me, doc.
S6: Andl. It’s basically like it seems like he’s maybe like the premier, sort of like the most well-respected big cat private zoo purveyor in the country. He’s creepy in a whole different way than Joe. Exotic. It’s creepy, right? So he runs a very tight ship. He has. A compound he claims he’s like genetically tested all of his animals. They’re pure, but basically he appears to be sort of running a cult like bhagwat means Lord, like he’s having people like speak to him like he’s their king and ruler. He has. Women come and work. Therefore, he’s he’s a polygamist. They’re all polygamists. They’re all using tigers’ to get laid. It’s really pretty incredible, actually. You know, they actually speak to a woman who worked for him and basically who he kind of strong-armed into getting a boob job. And they don’t even insinuate the implication is he is basically running a cult. And then also he’s breeding these tigers. Tigers basically are only really lucrative when they’re cubs before they can injure anyone. But they’re great to take pictures with and cuddle. And as soon as they get older, they eat more, they become more dangerous and they are a cash drain. So they interview people who claim that he’s euthanizing hundreds of cats as soon as they sort of pass out at this time.
S7: And he is just like a phrase like onsite crematorium is used at one point, I think.
S6: Right. The guys are all savvy in their ways. Right. They’re all like reality TV. Ready? There’s a scene where the documentarian is talking to him. He’s like, oh, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say, I’m a cult leader. I I’ve heard it all before. He’s very rare. He’s like pretty authoritarian and scary. He’s a creep master. He’s like slicker. He’s just slick.
S9: Yeah. There is, as you mentioned in the piece that you wrote about it, there is kind of a class dynamic at play here. They tell you one point that Doc Antle spends something like, you know, ten thousand dollars a month, maybe you’d like per tiger feeding them or something. So it just runs to millions for all these tigers. And then we find out the Joe Exotic basically features animals by kind of going to Wal-Mart and pulling expired meat out of dumpsters and giving it to them. And that’s like only three thousand two. He’s kind of trying to do like a Doc Antle Zoo on a Joe exotic budget.
S6: But all of these places, Doc adsl2 are like basically not paying their labor. They’re having people work there in doc case cases, a number of women who are in love with him or are trapped in his situation and are working like they don’t get any day off. Like they work, work, work. And in Joe’s case, he’s hiring all these sort of ex-cons and drug addicts who are going to have a hard time finding other jobs. And he makes a community where they are like welcome. And they live in incredibly dilapidated trailers with very little resources. But they have like sort of these jobs and they have each other. But they’re also expected to work for basically nothing. I mean, you do just think they should all be shut down like this shouldn’t exist, any of it. It’s not good for the animals. It’s not good for the people.
S7: Right. Ducking and sort of in the middle of this continuum in the sense that he seems to be like, you know, prospering significantly from this thing, that it’s still, you know, not baby the kind of person you’d want to, like, spend too much time around, let alone. I haven’t go over to your house. Now there’s sort of like, you know, nice, you know, respectable alternative home is a woman named Carol Basken, who you wrote about in some detail.
S6: She’s sort of the main foil of Joe exotic, both because she’s really distinct from him, but also because this is like literally what happened in real life. Like this is the true story of what they’re chronicling. Macao, Basken as a woman, a kind of hippie, looking, wide eyed, affectless woman, a little weird, who runs Big Cat Rescue, which like is a non-profit big cat rescue site, basically where other people can no longer take care of their cats. They take them in. But having written this piece about her, that was it was defending her in the scene of the show. But I’m not like some I don’t Carol Baskin themes Halloway or to you know, in the frame of the show, the shows are puts forward Joe’s own arguments, like his own insults of her as like the argument against her as basically she’s really no different from them. She just has a better scam going on like she’s a better cover story and she’s no different because she also cages all of these animals and she makes money off of people coming to see them. And she has volunteers working hours and hours, Christmas with them and the quotes and volunteers for no pay. And basically he’s just like she’s full of shit. Jones Attic is like, she’s just doing exactly what I am. But she. It’s all respectable and stuff. I mean, the truth is she’s not doing exactly what he is. In the sense that she’s not breeding tigers for money and for petting. But you may not be a paragon of decency and virtue.
S10: Right. So we know from the beginning the series is a kind of unusual thing where it tells us there’s sort of like a little three minute Arrow Morrissey prologue at the beginning where it basically tells us where the story is going to end up, which is with Joe Exotic in jail as part of a conspiracy plot to murder Carol Baskin.
S6: He hired a killer. It’s technical, right?
S9: Yeah, because she is showing up onscreen fairly early in the series. You have a pretty good sense that that did not succeed. So you could sort of relax a little bit there, which makes it more watchable. But before he got the idea to hire this man to go and killer Joe’s main mission was to discredit her. The principal way he did that was by pushing this theory that she murdered her first husband, the one whose money has then kind of gone into found a big hit rescue. And I’ve fed his body to her pet tigers, which the documentary ends up devoting. It’s basically the entirety of its third episode to this theory. Right. And a lot of people are convinced by this.
S6: There’s other things. Right, which is that it’s like a slow motion car crash. Right. So basically, Carol Baskin and Joe meet each other because Carol Baskin is trying to put Joe out of business because she tried to put all of these small zoos out of business that are in big cats to try to shut down his mall tours, starts to do copyright infringement. Like because our Google searches are so good and it escalates. I mean, Joe’s just like he’s totally unhinged. Right. And this is why he’s charming. He just does things other people wouldn’t do. He firstly has made himself star in his own reality show. He’s like creating a reality show himself that goes on the Internet all the time. And then he just talks from andshould about her at the main line, as you say, is that she killed her husband. And the thing that’s interesting about what the show does, basically, is that the story of what happened to Don Lewis, who is how Baskins disappeared first husband is so weird. There’s so many strange lacuna in it. Like it is a crazy story that they interview Don Lewis, his ex-wife, his children, his secretary, his handy man. All of these people are like this story doesn’t make any sense. We think Carol Baskin killed him, basically. And it’s very compelling to have a show, make a case for an hour why she killed this person or why this situation is extremely shady. And the situation, by the way, seems extremely shady, like he completely disappears. His will shows up like after she’s broken into his office and literally says, in the event of my disappearance, like no one’s will says, that is totally insane story. Maybe she killed him and did things lose body membership? You know, the show is just so it’s like the one thing that show doesn’t know for sure. And they’re like, we’re making this argument. Meanwhile, they have literally all these people confessing to like absolute wrongdoing all over the show. And they’re like, let’s try to see this empathetically. It’s like the fact that Carol won’t admit it to them on camera. They’re like, we’re coming for you. You know, I’d like she just is not a good reality TV personality in that way because she’s not forthcoming. She seems like she’s lying all the time because she is always like laughing too hard and doesn’t ever seem to have an authentic reaction to anything like she guffaws about like Joe shooting a blow up doll. I still look like current head. And she guffaws about whether or not she killed her husband. She always like, well, what are you going to do about it? Just she seems very fake. She’s not compelling. It starts to feel to me that it’s like actual crime in the world of the show. It’s just that she’s not willing to turn it up to twelve. You know?
S9: Right. Because even I mean, Joe gave them kind of extraordinary access, although, you know, career, the uses to which they put it in. Doc Antle seems to kind of lack the self-awareness to keep them out. But yeah, Carol seems very like conscious of representation in a certain way, but also completely like a babe in the woods when it comes to thinking about like how this is going to be edited and how you want to project yourself on camera. That sort of thing.
S6: If she doesn’t incriminate herself on camera, what is incriminating is that like she’s not very likable. I mean, that’s the live wire word, but it’s like that’s what’s going on. She’s really unlikable. And Joe, for all the terrible shit that he does, is actually extremely charismatic. And his willingness to be himself, which is like this very unique figure, just so completely. Is really interesting to watch, even though also he’s obviously like like mentally ill might not be the right term to describe his relationship to his own ego and fame, but it is like he seems like he’s basically like in a manic fugue for years and years and years where he wants to be. This is like an aside, but like when Britney Spears shaved her head, Jabat real incident, and I was like, oh, if you were having like a psychotic episode and you were Britney Spears, like, you would think everyone in the world was paying attention to you. But if you’re Britney Spears, everybody in the world is paying attention to you. How do you like Square? What is really crazy for someone else with like your experience? And there’s a way that Joe like it feels like that. It’s like he has his will to fame and celebrity. He just wants to pay attention to him. And he controls both a reality TV crew who then did she burns basically when his voice has been to incriminate. And that’s what the show suggests. And this documentary crew to document his every movement. And he is someone who’s paying attention to a loss. It’s like for someone like him, where attention is the whole point, you’re just like, oh, like it’s working for you. Your insanity is like very successful. And the show contributes to that. That’s the thing. Like someone like that. How can a documentary be anything but gasoline?
S9: Right. I mean, I’m so curious to know, like, how he’s reacting to it now. I mean, one of the things that I find the most revealing about kind of who Joe Exotic is one of the characters who shows up fairly early on is the producer of this reality show that Joe is supposedly making. That, of course, never ended up getting made. But the producer says, OK, when I came to Joe, you know, here’s this amazing character. You know, he was obviously trying to get himself out there. He had these like nightly web broadcasts where he would put his stuff out there on YouTube. And the producer says, well, when I came there and looked at him, the viewership for these things was like 80 people were watching them. So there’s a man who was this incredible like I think he would himself would describe it as like flamboyant personality.
S1: He describes himself a kind of gay gun carrying redneck with a mullet really is sort of unusual, unique character, but also like totally somehow in the year 2000, whatever, it is completely unaware of how to put himself out there into the world or on social media. But it worked.
S8: It was like he had 80 people for like a minute. They found him.
S6: I mean, the fact that he’s in jail is all this is happening is like irony. That must be very hard. Like it’s finally arrived. The thing he’s wanted his whole life, which is like he’s a straight up famous person in America right now.
S1: Right. And. He’s in John Carroll basking in the duck and tokin credit basket it and he is still doing however many years he has left on his sentence.
S6: They’re not basking like that’s a thing is as bad as Joe is.
S11: Merely Cardi B loves Joe. We are and Joe. It kind of got really complicated and weird and I started to feel weird about him when he decided to run for governor. Like basically in 2016, after Trump wins, Joe like not wrongly becomes convinced. Like, why couldn’t he win? And then he actually comes in third. He gets 18 percent of the vote. I mean, it’s really dark. It’s a dark thing about like what people want. Like, if he ran for governor again, he’d get more. He’s way more famous.
S7: And one of the things that the series does that I don’t know whether to admire or disapprove of, it seems to have a very conscious kind of hand on the throttle insofar as like how much of that to give you, how much of that darkness to expose you to. It does seem like the real story is far darker. The movie actually get in the series, you get a whole like first husband who got sick and died that the series doesn’t even mention. There’s just so many more like tragic layers to this thing that it feels like it just gives us the kind of, you know, juicy, like freaky stuff on top so that we can just go, oh, my God, this is so weird and not actually crazy. Like this is actually really fucked up.
S6: One of the really saddest things that happens in the show is that one of his husbands who is seems to be fairly unhappy, fairly trapped, to be addicted to drugs, may be suicidal. But in this instance, it’s not like jokingly pulls a gun to his head and doesn’t believe there’s a bullet in it and shoots himself in the head, murders himself in front of other people. And like they little show you the footage of the guy watching him do this. It’s so horrible. And like it’s just like another insane thing that happens. They have people saying this when Joe really lost it and he sort of gets it together by like two months later marrying a much younger man. But I guess maybe it’s better to see that Joe is just like so insecure and desperate to belong to somebody. But the show’s not helping. It’s not helping. I mean, not that that’s what it has to be doing. And these guys are shady. They deserve it. They’ve made their own bad. But like, you’re just like, oh, I am complicit in this really. GROSS world.
S9: Right. I don’t know what your experiences of the kind of other people watching it or if you’ve talked to like friends or other people who’ve seen it.
S6: But I’m recommending the. But I’ve been recommending it just like fully and like we’re in a really weird moment and it is fucking distracting. Yeah. You know, like I don’t know that I would recommend it having finished it. But like at episode 2 and 3, I was like, oh, this is insane. Like, everything is insane. It happens. It’s like I’m into a subculture show, you know? But the thing is also that Carol Baskin, she’s sort of set up early on as Joe’s nemesis in addition to this episode that’s sort of devoted to her perhaps having murdered her husband or disappeared her husband. You know, their conflict is like the engine of the show. But as the episode go on, Joe’s real enemies are the people that he chooses to align himself with. Like these are the people that actually are the reason that Joe goes to jail. The show basically makes the argument that Joe did something wrong, but like he didn’t do it alone. And all these much shadier guys, his sort of business partner, Jeff Liow, like should be in jail with him, which, by the way, seems totally true. But that guy, Jeff Lowe and the others sort of like honestly, like Two-Bit criminal character that like Joe compares to someone from The Simpsons very convincingly. The documentary crew actually goes undercover, like they wear a button cam to talk to to find out what’s actually happening with the feds. And then you’re just like, why are you trying to get secret information about what the feds are doing, a Joe documentary or like the whole thing starts to get like very out of hand. And those guys are so gross. Jeff Low is like so shady. He’s so corrupt. He, like, brings tigers’ in suitcases to Las Vegas just so he can have sex with as many women as possible like they have show a scene of his wife being pregnant. Ray talks about when she’s gonna lose the baby weight and how he had to make sure and hire a hot nanny. He’s the scum of the earth. And like his right hand man, is the person that Joe has been convicted of hiring to kill Carol Baskin. He’s up to his neck and like he’s the real enemy. And the shows, it’s like he’s also too boring, you know. And it’s too complicated. It’s hard to just feel gross to me when I was like hanging out with those dudes. Those are interesting in the sense of like hearing these like rich American sacks of shit who can like just do whatever they want. But I really hated them. And then there was a lot of them.
S9: Right. And they kind of the screw Joe out of the ownership of the zoo because he’s in a position where at one point Carol Baskin wins his trademark infringement suit against him. And then so she has like a multimillion dollar judgment. And in order to kind of basically get out of having to pay that are being totally financial ruin, too. It just signs the entire zoo over to this guy, Jeff Lowe, who is this sort of, you know, Vegas wheeler dealer type.
S8: And all of that just makes Joe seem like he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing. Right. Like, he’s like, I’m going to go in my gut. This guy seems OK. And you’re like, what? Yes. Terrible idea.
S10: I think that the series is kind of hamstrung by either the need to find a sort of likeable character at it when it seems like the true story is this should be like Jim Thompson novel or someone where just everybody in it is like total like seedy scum, wheeler dealer or maybe just picking the wrong person. And maybe Carol Baskin, you know, should be kind of the hero of the story.
S6: And they just can’t bring themselves to do that for and they can’t do it because like she isn’t charismatic enough to be the hero of the story. They would be better to do like a tiger world omnibus. What the show really is doing is it starts out as a subculture show and it is a subculture. You’re in this weird world of big hats. Something about tigers, right? It’s obviously bringing out like egomania. Like she’s known all this weird stuff and people. But then it just turns into like not at that time, something so much more pedestrian. Right. That’s much more just like a sordid show about gross Americans who think they can just do whatever they want and get away with whatever they want and can be horrible to each other and animals. And like maybe I’ll get famous for it. I mean, that’s what’s compelling about it is it’s like, oh, you think it’s a slice of life and then it like blossoms into just like this is the seedy underbelly of the whole thing.
S10: There is an element to the story, too. You mentioned Joe kind of, you know, gathering all these sort of outcasts together, these kind of, you know, no hopers, last chanters. He’s kind of giving these ramshackle housing to and basically having work sort of indentured jobs for him, but because they don’t have any better options. But I mean, you get the sense that he is sort of one of those people as well. I mean, he’s this really interesting character.
S9: He is, you know, this rural, openly gay, redneck, self-styled kind of country star. Although it turns out this isn’t even in the documentary. Literature is out. He didn’t even write were saying any of the songs that he is pretending to lip-sync in these videos. But there are these weird like mainstream country music videos, but they also have these unabashedly gay references like they’re not, you know, coded or ambiguous. This is like a man singing love songs to another man in a mainstream country song.
S4: And it’s just like maybe it’s just that he can’t be anybody else if he tried. But there’s something really kind of like poignant and interesting about that, about this guy kind of trying to carve out a space for himself in the world that doesn’t exist. Yeah. That he’s also this guy who is the show seems to go kind of light on the extent of animal abuse that’s probably going on in this place. And the fact that he’s basically his husbands seem to basically be straight guys who are kind of trading sexual favors for meth or financial charity or something else.
S1: It’s just, oh, this big cauldron of.
S6: You know what? He is very compelling like and his willingness to just be himself and let his freak flag and fly and not just like be himself to be like I deserve a reknown attention. And like, we like that. And people we’ll reward that. Right. I was like, I am just myself and I deserve to be recognized.
S10: I mean, it’s like if they’d actually made the reality show and he had been the reality TV star, that he clearly could and should have been like 10 years ago. You know, maybe there wouldn’t be this documentary series and he wouldn’t have avoided this.
S9: He’d probably just be another like kind of scummy reality TV show star, but at least he’d be out of jail.
S12: Right. And that’s his point of view, almost seems to be like left to his own devices. He never would have done this. He would have, you know, harassed Kow Baskin indefinitely online. He wouldn’t have gotten it together to, like, hire a killer. You know, everyone who works for him seems to think that that sort of struck me. Got it. In an interview, you said, you know, Joe is full of all these crocodile tears. Right. Like he’s always lamenting something he did wrong, but it lasts for like one second. I don’t think they think he’s like just a good guy, you know. But I think they think he’s sort of hapless and like so self-obsessed that he wouldn’t he’s not like a schemer.
S10: Right. Right. I mean, he’s like, you know, there is especially when he is kind of ranting about Carol Baskin, he’ll be doing these little what seem to be like promotional videos for the Web craze, kind of talking about his zoo and walking around the tiger enclosure and just talking about the cats and how much he loves them. And I’ll be like, yeah, that bitch, Carol Baskin wants to come in here and ruin all this. I was like, dude, you’re ruining the mood. Like, you just want to be great. Cats are.
S9: But I mean, there’s a guy who’s idea of like covering his tracks is like going in front of a webcam and like a blow up doll writing her name on it than shooting in the head with a real gun. This is not a guy who has subterfuge in his makeup.
S6: Totally. Totally. So the show sort of makes all these sort of detours. But the through line is this sort of feud between Carol and Joe, which sort of climaxes when he pays someone three thousand dollars to go kill her. The person he pays actually doesn’t do it. And barfs off to another state and doesn’t do it. But when the feds who sort of are investigating this actually find out and who have gotten in touch with Joe about you story, trying to set up another hit to sort of arrest him when they find out that he paid this guy, they swoop in and Joe ends up being arrested, going to trial, where he tends to bisons on behalf and getting sentenced to jail for twenty two years where he still is. You know, the show interviews him throughout all this process and has a number of interviews with him on the phone in jail. They make the case that, like, he certainly didn’t act alone. And that was always people that had immunity for cooperating with the feds were probably were more culpable in this situation out of the investigation actually might kind of be ongoing. But yeah, the show sort of ends with Joe in a cage, as many people on the show say, and sort of like underscoring the irony of that. Did you like feel dirty afterwards?
S4: A little bit. I feel like I mean, I’ve seen like so many kind of, you know, Vernor Herzog movies and stuff that by that standard, this is like not even that weird. But I did feel like I didn’t like what the filmmakers were doing with the material or like how they were presenting it to me. Like, I felt like it was teetering on the edge of kind of like it just a gawk at the freaks kind of presentation in places.
S12: Yeah. I mean, that’s what’s sort of interesting about it, right? They hold on to like just enough classiness that it actually is what makes it feel worse because you’re just like, oh, you’re doing just like let’s gawk at the total crazy situation, but you’re giving it like this patina of like. Some higher mindedness, some meaning, some like. Something classy, something, you know, intellectually interesting. The show is doing like what they sort of are accusing Carol Baskin of doing. Right. What they hate about Carol Baskin is that she’s like putting on airs. She won’t like cop to being just down in the dirt with all these guys. And that’s what makes her a hypocrite. It is that she’s rich and she knows how to work the system. And that makes her think she’s different from them. And that’s what’s so odious. She’s the same. But the show seems like it’s basically pitched at the Carol Baskin’s of the world. Right. And has some, like, judgment about these guys. Like it’s actually a reality show.
S9: She is the one who has like the money and the influence to go to Congress and lobby them to pass. It’s like being a big cat rescue bill and stuff. But then like Dark Angel also has the money. And this march to kind of bring these tiger cubs to these Congress, people are going to vote on this deal and they get them to take selfies with the tiger cubs. And it’s like, oh, now you want to pass a law outlawing the thing that I just took a picture of you doing insinuated in the show that that’s like why this legislation hasn’t passed yet is because he’s kind of got these selfies of them with Tiger Woods.
S6: And like one of the things that I didn’t write in my piece that I thought the show was a little weird about was they’re very clear that all of Joe’s video harassment stuff of Carol is not illegal. And I’m not saying it’s illegal, but they’re so blithe about it. Like if there was a person with making a Web series like every day or they were like, I’m going to kill that bitch and you were that bitch, you would really unsettled and freaked out about that person, even if Carol Baskin had actually expressed that on camera. And the idea that like after she wins that copyright infringement suit, it’s so beyond the pale that she was trying to close the zoo, the zoo that’s doing this thing. She doesn’t believe in ethically. And also this guy who’s been literally harassing her by threatening to kill her, even if it’s not real for months, is like that’s not really like a fair. Like the fact that they sort of suggest that her and her husband’s eating oysters and shrimp flip when they find out Joe is going to jail is like so reprehensible, all of them.
S11: And just like guys, he he tried to kill her. Right. He might not be the only one, but he didn’t do that. Like if someone tried to kill you and they went to jail, like you can eat shrimp.
S5: Yeah, that’s OK.
S6: That’s if you would be like, OK, I’m glad the guy who tried to kill me isn’t like out there. Like, that’s where I was. Like, it tips over too much if that’s what was doing that to someone on Twitter. You’d be like. I’m so sorry. Like you were just doing it for weeks and weeks and weeks and months and years.
S7: Right. One of the things that leaves me a little kind of uncertain how to feel about it is I did an interview last week with this guy, BBG Burrum, who is the singer of the country band American Aquarium, and he is from rural North Carolina originally. And he put up, I think, maybe the first YouTube cover of the song. I saw a Tiger, which figures kind of Joe’s theme song. And I asked him, you know, what is I mean, because I’ve seen people say like this just feels like this kind of, you know, redneck safari thing. And he was like, you know, every town has a person like this. Yeah. Usually it’s the mayor, you know, and they have places like this in the south and they have them in the north. They have them all over the place. And like the accents might be different, but like, it’s like, I know this guy recognized this guy. You know, I have uncles like that, whatever. So. I think there definitely is that side of vicarious like, oh, my gosh, look at these weird people. But I think for at least some people watching this series is sort of like, oh, yeah, like that’s that guy. No, I totally I know this whole story and totally.
S6: But the documentary filmmakers are not those people. That’s what I’m saying. Like they’re not like I know this guy. You know, you can feel that doesn’t mean it’s not a good subject for a documentary.
S9: One thing that keeps going through my mind is I think the logline for this series came out in December or January or something like that. And it seemed like pretty juicy and it seemed like one of those Netflix things. It was like, OK, this might be a thing. Like, you never know. But like, this seems like there’s potential here. But I wonder how much of I mean, the total phenomenon this thing has become usually often over the spoiler specials saying like, you know, should people see this? Should they not see it? But it just seems pointless to even indulge that question, because at this point, everyone’s either seeing Tiger King or he’s decided they’re not some Tiger.
S10: King. No one’s left undecided about this thing. Yeah. I mean, do you think that it would have blown up in this way if he weren’t all confined to our houses 24/7?
S12: I mean, I think it would have been a big thing, but it went to this kind of big thing. It’s just this funny thing about all Netflix and like all ratings stuff, it’s like, what would it have meant if it felt like it was a big thing before? Now you’re like feel like it’s a big thing. And probably the numbers are actually enormous. You know, I don’t know. I mean, it’s pretty crazy. Yeah, it has all the markings of like a Netflix true crime. I mean, to make a murder was a thing.
S10: It’s like I mean, it’s crazy. It’s like binge a bowl. It is like meme worthy. It’s all those things. I think the fact that it has like almost nothing to compete about, I mean, that there hasn’t been like a movie released for weeks and there might not be one for at least four months. Definitely like help in that respect.
S6: But it is like the most pure, uncut reality TV. Shit. I think that’s clear to everyone watching it. I think that’s clear everyone in it. I think it was clear to everyone making it were just like, oh, this is like the diamond grade, like this is the distils. This is like what happens when people like you grew up watching reality TV and want to be on reality TV, like do that like back and forth and it like it’s purified every single time. And so suddenly you’re like at type and that’s what it feels like. It’s just like the most potent slingshot at a premium grade crack. Yeah. You know, like that’s the show.
S9: So 20 years from now, what will it? People who grew up watching Tiger can become.
S8: I do think the subculture stuff does matter because sort of more pedestrian reality shows like thinking about like a regular reality show to do or like they make a whole episode about someone throwing a table like that’s not going to cut it. Like someone throwing a table. Like there’s like 10000 tables around that Romick editing room floor like that to nothing to this show.
S6: You know, it’s sort of like it just so far above the sort of like manufactured drama of most reality show.
S5: There’s probably like a bizarre and every look with broken tables on jozu somewhere. Yeah, no. I don’t like them.
S6: Just for example, in that New York magazine story, the guy was making the reality show about Joe. He had all this footage. It was on Joe’s property at some point. This alligator barn with all this footage. Someone commits arson and it has blown up tiger. Makes the case sort of without quite saying that, Joe. Probably this person who burned it down.
S7: The footage had burned down because it happened on like the one night that he happened to be out of town for something else like website.
S6: Everyone basically seems to think Joe probably did it. Sentai job. There’s belike that guy’s house was lit on fire six months later with him inside of that like he survived. Well, you’re just like, oh, that didn’t make it. I mean, that’s the kind of show Tiger King is like. The follow up within a year, his home not there. It’s arson. That can’t make it. That’s Tiger.
S5: That is Tiger King. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Paskin for joining me for this discussion. Thank you, Sam.
S13: That’s our show. Please subscribe to the Slate Spoiler special podcast Feed. And if you like the show, please rate and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcast. If you have suggestions for movies or TV shows, we should spoil or if you have any other feedback you’d like to share. Please send it to spoilers at slate.com. Our producer is Rosemary Bellson for Willa Paskin. I’m Sam Adams. Thanks for listening.