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Tiger King: The Glue Holding America Together

Our country, along with the entire world, is in turmoil due to COVID-19. People are confined to their homes, many are dying, the economy is collapsing and our government has failed to adequately prepare for such chaos leaving hospitals short of supplies and citizens disheartened. 

But just as it seemed there was nothing to talk or think about besides the pandemic, Netflix gave us Joe Exotic. Who would’ve thought that in our darkest hour the only person that could keep America going was a gay, tiger-breeding polygamist, internet troll, almost-murderer, former presidential candidate, redneck private zoo owner from Oklahoma? And even more so, the memes that followed.

Netflix’s new docuseries “Tiger King” is seven episodes of pure madness. We explore Joe Exotic’s life and private zoo which houses hundreds of tigers and other large cats. The series explores his rivalry with Carole Baskin, animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue in Florida. Joe Exotic, also known as Joe Maldonado-Passage, is currently serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison for attempting to murder Baskin. 

However, Baskin may or may not have murdered her ex-husband, Don Lewis. He disappeared with no trace in 1997. The case is still open. Exotic claims she fed him to her tigers to obtain Lewis’s wealth as he was about to divorce Baskin. 

It doesn’t stop at Exotic; other standout characters are included. There is Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, owner of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.) and potential cult leader; Jeff Lowe, the sketchy Vegas swinger who took over Exotic’s zoo and Exotic’s campaign manager Joshua Dial. 

The bizarre characters in “Tiger King” have given people a much-needed escape from the reality of our current world. People are hosting Zoom discussions, making memes, having themed dinner parties with family and talking about “Tiger King” everywhere. 

PLNU junior Olivia Sullivan was intrigued by the “Tiger King” series. Sullivan has always been interested in animal documentaries such as “Blackfish” and “Whale Wars,” and series with characters like those in “Duck Dynasty” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” When she came across “Tiger King” on the Netflix homepage, it looked like a perfect blend of those dramas.

“Joe Exotic is the epitome of American entertainment,” Sullivan said. “Joe is weirdly likable and most people I have talked to seem to have a soft spot for him despite all of the crazy things he’s done. We really need to see a sequel just about Doc Antle.” 

Sullivan made a “Tiger King” themed TikTok to pass the time during the quarantine. She says the characters in the show lend, “many different meme possibilities.”

“It is such a great escape from reality and a great distraction from the bombardment of news.” 

University of Washington senior Celia Holland has looked forward to watching “Tiger King” every night with her family. She describes the series as “thoroughly entertaining in more ways than one.” The show has provided Holland a great distraction from the virus. 

“I have not experienced anything like Joe Exotic before,” Holland said. “I would love to work with Netflix to know how they found these people.”

Holland believes the strong characters in “Tiger King” have caused the show to become so popular. Holland says the most noteworthy character in the show is Carole Baskin.

“Everybody has a Carole Baskin in their life,” said Holland. “I think it’s a mutual dislike of Carole that unites people through this show. We feel united when we hate something such as the coronavirus, Trump, terrorists, etc. ‘Tiger King’ is really bringing people together.” 

PLNU alumnus Taylor Langstaff received a text from a friend in the middle of the night that read, “Stop whatever you’re doing. And go watch ‘Tiger King’ on Netflix NOW!” 

And so he did. 

Langstaff describes the series as “Grade A entertainment.” He can’t imagine a more inclusive, more absurd and more raw series. 

“You can’t write this kind of stuff up. Literally every human will be baffled by ‘Tiger King.’ No one will watch that and think it’s even remotely normal. It continues to get crazier and crazier every episode.” Langstaff said.

Langstaff attributes the documentary’s popularity to social media as it was promoted by many people on Instagram. Because everyone is inside and has nothing to do, everyone watches it.

“Joe Exotic memes are what’s keeping America together. It’s closing the gap of social distancing without sharing any diseases.” 

Although Langstaff watched the series at home with only his brothers, he’s been sharing memes with all of his friends. This is keeping everyone in his friend group connected and communicating about something other than the virus.

Times like these highlight the massive influence social media has over our society and people’s ability to cope using humor on the internet. Memes and TikToks about a tiger-breeding redneck may seem insignificant and even shallow to some in this climate. However, it may be the very thing keeping people going. Humor is essential to our survival now more than ever. Being invested in something so ridiculous keeps our minds occupied from the grim reality of COVID-19. 

Sharing memes and having discussions about “Tiger King” has given people a wave of energy and excitement amidst this quarantine. It serves as a way for friends to get together via technology, families to hangout or to be mindlessly entertained alone.

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