By Julia Pizzuto
Assistant A&E Editor
On March 20, the documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness” was released on Netflix. The seven-episode series follows the story of “Tiger King” Joe Maldanado-Passage.
But the so-called “Tiger King” is better known as Joe Exotic, who describes himself as a “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet.” Exotic ran the G.W. Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla., where he housed over 200 tigers and other big cats and offered “cub-petting” opportunities since 1999.
“I thought it was a wild show, and the characters were a different tier of crazy,” said sophomore Ryan McHallam.
The focus of the show is Exotic’s zoo at first, but it also chronicles the drama between Exotic, his several husbands, and other owners of big-cat zoos and “sanctuaries” — including Carol Baskin of Big Cat Rescue, who Joe repeatedly states his hatred for in the documentary.
The cub-petting that made Exotic most of his money is opposed by groups such as PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals). PETA backs Baskin, though there is controversy over whether Baskin’s “sanctuary” provides better habitats for the tigers, as they are kept in cages there as well. Joe was found guilty of involvement in a murder-for-hire plot to kill Baskin, and is now serving 22 years in prison.
For some, the documentary has served as a distraction. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the extension of social distancing guidelines until April 30, and people are encouraged to stay home across the country.
“The coronavirus is certainly making the world seem crazy, but ‘Tiger King’ was reassurance that the world has always been wild. The more I watched, the more normal I felt,” said sophomore Paige Brown.
The documentary has gained social media traction, with everything from #freejoeexotic appearing on Twitter to TikTok videos of people dressing up like “Tiger King” characters, to the creation of Instagram accounts like @joeexoticmemes.
“I think it did a pretty good job of distracting me from everything that’s been going on,” said McHallam.
According to the Associated Press, the documentary has also resulted in the reopening of the unsolved murder case of Jack “Don” Lewis, Baskin’s second husband, who disappeared in 1997. “Tiger King” explains that many speculated as to whether Baskin was responsible for Lewis’ disappearance, and Joe is vocal in his belief that Baskin is guilty.
“I just wonder how this backyard big-cat zoo phenomena has been happening for so long and I am only now discovering it,” said Brown.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.