I’m assuming that by this point, you’ve seen the Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Mayhem, Murder and Madness. If you haven’t, stop reading this and go watch it. Right now. All seven episodes. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, it’s worth it. Go on- I’ll wait for you.
Alright, you’re back? Let’s jump right in.
There is a lot, and I do mean a lot, going on in the world of big cat breeding/conservation/captivity/whatever the hell Jeff Lowe went to jail for doing in Las Vegas. Here are just a few of the questions that I had while watching Tiger King, and each one of them is worthy of a dissertation:
- Is it okay to run a yoga sex cult if you’re upfront about running a yoga sex cult?
- Where on the Kinsey Scale of Sexuality does one place “not gay but easily seduced into marriage by the promise of tigers and meth?”
- Is wearing a shirt a regional thing?
- If you hire an unreliable contract killer and he never commits the murder, shouldn’t he be expected to return your deposit?
- Does even one person exist in this world who owns an exotic pet and isn’t batshit insane?
I considered all of these topics for this week’s column, but ultimately I realized that there is only one question arising from Tiger King that people really want to talk about right now:
Did Carole Baskin kill her husband?
Now, you’re probably expecting me to say that I think Carole Baskin murdered her husband and fed his body to the tigers. But you’d be wrong, because I don’t think that Carole Baskin murdered her husband and fed his body to the tigers.
I know that Carole Baskin murdered her husband and fed his body to the tigers. We all know it. You can find a hundred articles recapping all the blisteringly obvious evidence that demonstrates that Carole Baskin got away with murdering her husband and feeding his body to the tigers.
But consider this: it doesn’t actually matter.
Watching Tiger King and caring about who killed Don Lewis is like watching Twin Peaks and caring who killed Laura Palmer. It just isn’t the point.
The point of Tiger King is, in my estimation, a psychological deep-dive into the mind of Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic is the Tiger King. Everyone else is just a lens through which we see him, Carole Baskin included.
Through the lens of Carole Baskin, we see Joe Exotic as an enemy, a tormentor, and a would-be murderer. He decided that this woman was a problem for him, and then he went off the fucking rails trying to find a solution for that problem. And Joe Exotic’s justification for this, at least in part, was that since Carole Baskin is a murderer, it’s fine to villainize her and even mete out karmic justice by murdering her right back.
We’re supposed to see this situation as another opportunity to understand what’s going on in Joe Exotic’s mulleted head. We’re not supposed to get all caught up in whether or not Carole Baskin is a murderer. In Joe Exotic’s mind, she is. That’s her role in this story.
It really, really doesn’t matter whether or not Carole Baskin murdered Don Lewis, or whether he wandered off somewhere while suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, or whether he decided to move down to Costa Rica with another 19-year-old girlfriend.
It matters that Joe Exotic tried to murder someone, and then got us all talking about how actually she’s the murderer. That is masterful. That crazy son-of-a-bitch is a magician. And we need to realize that if you’re trying to figure out how a magician does a trick, you don’t do it by looking where he tells you to look.
Carole Baskin didn’t like the way that Joe Exotic ran his zoo, and she tried to get him shut down. In response, he tried to have her killed by a guy that did part of his interview from a goddamn bathtub for some reason. This is a fascinating aspect of Joe Exotic’s psyche and we’re not even paying attention.
So I implore you: don’t let the only thing that you take away from Tiger King be that Carole Baskin murdered her husband and fed his body to the tigers. We know she did, but it’s not something we need to care about. It detracts from the big picture, and we’d all do well to remember that it was 23 years ago and we never even knew the guy existed until he became a C-plot in a docuseries about how much meth it takes to host a three-way gay wedding in an Oklahoma zoo. He’s not Natalie Wood or JonBenét Ramsey, okay? You don’t give a shit about justice for Don Lewis and neither do I.
And neither does Joe Exotic. Don’t let him convince you otherwise.