A libertarian candidate for the Governor of Oklahoma, a gay polygamist, a gun enthusiast, a meth addict, a private big cat zoo owner, a television personality, a dumpster diver and a convicted felon appear in the new Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. These are all descriptions of the same man, Joe Allen Schreibvogel.
Schreibvogel, better known as Joe Exotic, ran a large, private zoo in Oklahoma and had constant conflicts with members of animal rights advocacy groups such as Big Cat Rescue, ran by Carole Baskin. Other groups and individuals make appearances throughout including Doc Antle – an owner and trainer of many large cats used in Hollywood, Kelci Saffery – a zookeeper who lost his arm in a tiger attack, and even a very short appearance from Shaquille O’Neil, who visited the zoo in the past but denies any involvement in the events portrayed in the documentary.
The premise sounds simple enough: a documentary intended to highlight the issues within the exotic animal trade and private zoo ownership. That is probably what the showrunners were intending to get when they started, and it is what they told Carole Baskin it was about when they approached her to participate.
There is no way to put in words how crazy, wild and entertaining this show is. The premise may seem fairly dull but it is the characters that make the show a phenomenon. The antics of Joe Exotic are a sight to behold. He points loaded guns at the cameraman multiple times and at one point shoots a sex doll dressed like Carole Baskin as a warning of what he wants to do to her. He would later be arrested for ordering an assassination on her.
Carole herself is an Internet sensation for only one reason – no one knows what happened to her ex-husband, and many believe she killed him and fed him to her tigers. It is still unknown what happened to him. All that is known is that he said he was going to Costa Rica and one night he was gone. The evidence in the show points to her killing him but that is likely to be for the entertainment value. There is certainly evidence that the show never highlights. Carole was 19 and her husband was older than 50 when they met. He also had far more money than she did.
This age difference highlights the biggest issue with the show, which is how they handle relationship dynamics. Joe Exotic has two husbands, both of whom identify as straight and both who are decades younger than him. Both were also meth addicts, and Joe supplied them with meth, guns, cars and other things. He entrapped young, vulnerable men and the show glosses over this. One eventually left and the other accidentally killed himself with the gun Joe purchased for him. Carole has been with multiple men who were decades older than her. Doc Antle runs what can only be described as a cult of younger women who are treated as his slaves. Of all these, Doc’s “cult” is the only one that is portrayed as extremely negative.
Despite this, the rest of the show is wildly entertaining. There are certainly aspects that have been interpreted in a certain way for entertainment, but it is a perfect watch for those with morbid curiosity. No matter how crazy events get across the world and within our lives, it is comforting to know that things could be much, much more insane.