Why I'm Not Laughing At The Creepy 'Tiger King' Dudes

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
The Despicable Men of 'Tiger King'

If you had told me in January that I’d spend the end of March learning about the intricate dealings of a gay polygamous tiger dealer from Oklahoma who makes his own music videos, stars in his own web series, and has been jailed for 22 years for conspiring to kill an animal rights activist, I’d have laughed in your face. And yet: Tiger King.

I know, I know: except for the animal abuse (yes, there’s animal abuse, and we’ll leave that to PETA or we’ll be here all day), Tiger King can be fairly hilarious. There’s always some new low: they tried to kill Carole Baskin with snakes in her mailbox! Well, she tried to kill her husband and feed him to the tigers! There’s a wacky presidential/gubernatorial campaign complete with branded condoms! And who can forget the eulogy that mentions balls?! I mean, this is really taking us out of the pandemic mindset.

Take a step back, friends and neighbors. We’re laughing our asses off at some of the most despicable, misogynist people to ever have a TV camera turned on them.

You know the premise. Tiger King tells the story of Joe Maldonado-Passage (he took the names of two of his “husbands,” both teenagers far younger than his 55 years — we’ll get there, don’t worry), also known as Joe Exotic, owner of the G.W. Zoo (now known as the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park) and his long-running feud with Carole Baskin, operator of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.

In a nutshell: Baskin objects to the breeding and sale of exotic cats, and though she herself once participated in it, she now runs a sanctuary where cats can live out their lives in safety and peace. She also objects to the practice of “cub-petting” and “cub-playtime” where the public is allowed, at the price of $50.00 for two people for 6 minutes at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, to interact with a baby tiger. Joe Exotic opposes her stances in the most vulgar, obscene, and public ways possible (his web show regularly refers to her as “that bitch Carole Baskin” to the point that most of America’s memes now call her “that bitch Carole Baskin”). Exotic also accuses her of killing her husband and feeding him to tigers (or sticking him in the septic tank) — and he writes and mostly fake-sings a country song about it called “Here, Kitty, Kitty.”

Joe Exotic also had a … habit … of marrying more than one man at once, which Tiger King mentions (and shows his extralegal wedding to both John Finlay and Travis Maldonado at the same time). He met those “men” when they were literally just out of high school (icky icky), and allegedly seduced them with tigers and drugs — specifically, methamphetamines. He seems to keep Maldonado plied with pot to stay complacent, even though both he and Finlay claim multiple times to be straight, not gay — to the point that Finlay ends up impregnating another employee. Maldonado dies by suicide.

Not two months after Maldonado’s tragic death, Joe Exotic is “married” to Dillon, another teenager, and has neck-tattooed his name on to boot. By the end, he’s calling Dillon from jail three times a day and crying. Dillon, this is Team Scary Mommy with a message for you: run while you can, baby boy.

We could ramble on about the guns everyone’s always pointing at one another in Tiger King — we haven’t seen this many guns onscreen since an episode of Duck Dynasty. Joe Exotic’s always armed, and always brandishing guns, usually when threatening to kill Carole. He’s always blowing up things with the closest legal thing to dynamite you can buy — and he buys so much of it that he hires the man who sells it at Wal-Mart to run his presidential campaign. This is one mullet you don’t wanna mess with. Talk about toxic masculinity.

And we haven’t even touched “Doc” Antle who’s running what appears to be a tiger sex cult in Myrtle Beach. He attracts young girls — mostly teenagers — pays them a pittance of $100-$150 a week to work back-breaking hours, and if they want to advance, they allegedly have to … sleep with him. Then he changes their names, which is a great way of erasing someone’s identity and tying them into a cult-like situation. In Touch‘s coverage of Tiger King claims Antle is in a polygamous relationship with anywhere from three to four women. Former wife Barbara Fisher says she was encouraged to get breast implants, and that Antle dresses the women in provocative clothing. The wives all have to call him “Bhagavan,” which Fisher claims means “Lord.”

Then there’s Jeff Lowe, which one meme calls a “walking gas station erection pill,” never seen without a black baseball cap over a black bandanna, a leather jacket, and ripped, bedazzled jeans. He’s constantly accused of being the con man of Tiger King, married to the much younger Lauren. They’re swingers from Vegas (Lauren, actually, is from Columbia, South Carolina) who were indicted on charges of bringing tiger cubs into high-end hotels — they were using them to attract women — and weapons charges. As despicable as Joe Exotic may be, Lowe “steals the zoo from him,” Exotic claims, and possibly frames him for murder-for-hire. Possibly. Maybe. It could happen?

Anyway, at one point near the end of Tiger King, Lowe jokes that as soon as Lauren has her baby, it’s back to the gym with her! Also, if she gets a nanny, he gets to pick her out, because he has to look at the nanny all the time. You can’t get grosser than that, folks.

The only man that comes out of Tiger King not looking scary, delusional, and creepy? Carole Baskin’s third husband. Their wedding pictures may feature him on a leash, but hey: they’re seemingly in a happy, consensual relationship.

In the end, corona be damned: we probably shouldn’t be laughing at Tiger King. We should probably be covering all those bastards with sardine oil and feeding them to the tigers.

That’s one way to smash the patriarchy.

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