Tiger King’s Joe Exotic is Miss Americana
You have to see it to believe it
Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, Madness is a wildly entertaining, true-crime docuseries that’s a Shakespearean tragedy decked in head-to-toe animal print. A fact presented by its trailer, an unapologetic and chaotic montage of Big Cats! Cults! Drugs! Rivalries! Polygamy! Money! Mullets! ‘Murica! Conversely, the two-minute preview doesn’t reveal everything—it makes you think you know what’s going to happen, but you don’t.
Tiger King’s complex story is laid out in seven episodes; each is mind-boggling as the next. Just when things escalate to another level of crazy, they casually drop another bomb as if to say, “but wait, there’s more!” It’s…a hot mess. To borrow a line from Roger Ebert’s review, this limited series is a “sociological excursion into the minds of eccentric Americans who are addicted to the power that comes from owning tigers aka big cats.” (If you’re wondering, they rated Tiger King 4/4).
Reality TV Producer Rick Kirkham describes Tiger King in 10 words
This surreal tale opens with Joe “Exotic” Maldonado-Passage, who in his own words is, “a gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet.” The self-proclaimed Tiger King is like no other: a former owner of G.W. Zoo, an exotic animal park in Oklahoma, Joe is also a country music singer (!) who ran for public office—twice! The larger than life personality cemented his status as a household name after his feud with archenemy and Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin led to his murder for hire conviction.
Like the internet, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about Joe Exotic and the motley cast of characters that make up its cinematic universe. For the sake of this piece let’s focus on country music artist Joe and the narratives weaved in his on-brand Americana music videos.
Side note: award-winning journalist Robert Moor tweeted on March 23 that “Joe did not write or sing those country songs.” Mr. Moor [checks notes] spent four years working on a magazine story and podcast about Joe & G.W. Zoo and confirms that “it was an outfit called the Clinton Johnson Band. Joe just sang softly over the top of the vocal track.” So if you’re wondering if the vocals in Joe’s music videos are terrible, they’re not.
*tips cowboy hat*
“I Saw A Tiger” introduces us to Joe’s world and his “advocacy.” As he drawls about having a deep connection with these ferocious felines, “I saw a tiger/ and the tiger saw man,” clips of tigers in all ages and sizes softly fade to reveal the flamboyant zookeeper pretend-play the guitar on top of a vehicle and in the middle of a field. What’s more, this country ballad features fits that only Joe could pull-off: handcuffs as a belt buckle, Oakleys paired with cowboy hats, and a sequined button down. Joe’s ex-partner in love and business, John Finlay also makes a cameo in camo.
This is Joe’s first music video that was produced with the intention to “help protect and save tigers from China poaching and tiger farms.” The original music video was posted on JoeExoticTV’s Youtube channel.
Don’t be fooled by its title, “Here Kitty Kitty” is a full-blown diss track. Remember when I mentioned that Joe was sentenced to 22 years in prison on murder-for-hire conviction? This music video is part of the reason why.
Born from his feud with self-described animal rights activist Carole Baskin, we follow a cowboy-priest-Joe as he narrates the alleged story behind his rival’s deceased millionaire husband. The video’s description offers a grim summary, “It is believed that in 1997 a woman in Tampa Florida killed her husband and fed him to the Tigers in order to get all of his property and money.” As Joe croons ~here kitty kitty~ we see Carole’s doppelgänger—in an animal printed frock and a flower crown—laugh maniacally as she feeds hungry tigers with a platter of raw meat. Its unhinged quality has garnered the video, as of writing, 4.9 million views!
Joe Exotic is Mr. Worldwide
What makes Tiger King truly shine is its storytelling. Though jam-packed with characters and series of events reminiscent of your mom’s favorite soap opera (the docuseries was shot over five years), the co-directors and their team of editors successfully pieced together a cohesive narrative without losing the story’s nuanced tone. It’s fun, fresh, and fascinatingly American.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, Madness is currently streaming on Netflix.
Words Mich Sancianco
Art Alexandra Lara