From the Left



Watching 'Tiger King' a bit like a Trump vs. Clinton rematch

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Why is "Tiger King" on Netflix the biggest hit so far for the vast audience created by the coronavirus lockdown? For starters, it contains every weird and therefore addicting trope that tabloid TV ever imagined.

It also seems to connect in unexpected ways with the side of America that ever since childhood has wanted to run away and join the circus.

Or at least, that's what I thought until I was talked into binge-watching a few episodes by Grady Page, my millennial and highly opinionated (where does he get that?) son.

Why, I asked skeptically, should I spend hours of my life watching a show about a gay, gun-toting, mullet-wearing, half-showman, half-conman private zoo owner who wages a war against an obnoxiously zealous female animal rights advocate who is trying to put him out of business?

Just watch, said my son. "It's really about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump."

Ah, isn't everything?


But politics aside, the show already had caught my interest, mostly as a punchline among late-night comedians. After it premiered on Netflix on March 20, "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" quickly became the most popular new show on TV, according to Rotten Tomatoes, which gave it a 97% critic's rating and a 96% audience score -- and No. 1 on Netflix's own Top 10 shows list.

The show, billed as a true-crime series, has more colorfully oddball characters than an Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen novel. The star of its narrative is Joe Exotic, formerly Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, and several other names who, before the world went sideways, claimed to own more tigers than anyone else in North America.

Spoiler alert, although it doesn't spoil much: Joe Exotic ends up in federal prison serving a 22-year sentence for violating the Endangered Species Act and plotting to carry out a murder-for-hire plot against his arch nemesis in this story line, rival big cat owner and animal welfare activist Carole Baskin.

I later learned that my offspring was not the first observer to perceive a Trump-Clinton connection. Among other critics, feminist author-commentator Jill Filipovic blasted the series on CNN's opinion site as a "victim-blaming" example of "how misogyny in America is alive and well -- or how we elected Donald Trump as president."


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