The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

“Tiger King” focuses too much on human drama, not enough on tiger abuse

3 min read

Joe Exotic has exploded in popularity after the release of "Tiger King" on Netflix. (ABC 14)


Staff Writer

Netflix’s original documentary “Tiger King” has become one of the most popular series in the streaming service’s history. With support from millions of fans, including noted celebrities such as Rob Lowe and Cardi B, the documentary has risen to peak popularity. However, one has to wonder, why is this show so popular? Yes, the sensationality of an eccentric man in Oklahoma raising full grown tigers and creating a makeshift zoo to show them off would without a doubt draw attention. Especially when the synopsis of the show is “Meet Joe Exotic, the gun-toting operator of an Oklahoma big cat park. He’s been accused of hiring someone to murder his chief rival, Carole Baskin.”
Personally, I am against any type of personal ownership  or imprisonment of exotic animals, but I wanted to see what all of the hype was about. So following the hype and the fact that my “Watch List” on Netflix was running on empty, I decided to watch the show for myself before casting judgement. Initially the show seemed to resemble that of a backwoods soap-opera, and being a connoisseur of trash TV, I thought, “why not add it to my arsenal?” But it was not 20 minutes into the episode when I had to shut it off and reflect on the vile, morally questionable actions taken by Joe and his merry band of miscreants.
I know this show has become a cult favorite. However, I must take a stand to say that this show is the perfect example of American over-decadence and opulence, all on the backs of abusing and exploiting some of nature’s most fierce and beautiful creatures.
I first noticed an issue with the documentary when it showed these magnificent creatures clumped together in 12 x 12 cages, being taunted for the sake of a show. It went downhill from there. In the third or fourth episode, a mother tiger was shown giving birth to her cub and it was not even a minute or two later that they were separated and the cub was prepped for show or sale. The mother was left without her cub and was surrounded in her tight cage with a number of other tigers. I then wondered what he did with those cubs, just to find out that he was breeding and selling them for profit, all for private ownership in Oklahoma in other states. But it doesn’t stop there. The cubs that he didn’t sell, he would keep under the guise of saying that they were his “family.” But when the tigers would get too big to play with or they became too dangerous, the animals would be sold off to roadside zoos, or worse, they would just disappear.
“I tried watching the first episode and couldn’t stomach it,” said Dominic Rosa, a junior with a double major in business administration and philosophy. “Based on what I’ve seen on the show and America’s reaction to it, I have no interest in giving this man or his show any more attention that it has already received. He doesn’t care about the animals and is doing all of this for the wrong reason. The kind of thing he’s doing would be cool if he was actually helping the animals, you know rehabilitating them if they’re injured and releasing them back into the wild when they are ready. But he isn’t, it’s all about profit for him. I can’t get behind something like that.”
  One issue I have with the show that rises above all is the ignorance of the glaring fact that tigers are classified as endangered species. Our generation is so on board with every pro-environmental movement, except when it comes to exotic animals we have never encountered. I hope that this show does more than create hype around Joe Exotic: I hope it highlights the disproportionate lack of importance exotic animals are assigned outside of roadside attractions and entertainment.