New seasons of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and Netflix’s “Ozark” are the best fresh shows of recent weeks, but the program getting the most attention, in terms of viewership and commentary, is another Netflix offering, “Tiger King,” subtitled “Murder, Mayhem, and Madness.”
Who could resist that combo?
Or a story that involves big cats – tigers, lions, panthers, leopards, cougars, ocelots – and other undomesticated creatures, such as bears and monkeys – in the hands of private entrepreneurs and features oversized personalities of various stripes, the suggestion that one main figure fed a missing husband to a tiger while another paid to get a woman killed, and a feud that allegedly pits commerce against charity but is really about independence vs. moralism?
The last of these situations is the one that grabs my attention.
Moralism, people claiming to act in the name of good when they really want to control, curtail, or stomp upon the freedom of others, is possibly Number One on my personal list of pet peeves. It’s why I’m always wary of the politically correct.
Moralists know no bounds. They will toot their holier-than-thou horns until they gain the nefarious aim they seek, and they won’t care how many martyrs they tally in their self-anointed, and usually hypocritical, campaigns for their version of what’s right.
No one on “Tiger King” is an angel. Let’s face it. It takes a rare personality to breed, nurture, live among, and display animals that belong in the wild and can kill you with one bite or sweep of a lethal paw.
Heroes on the show are scarce.
In fact, there are none.
But, who is more villainous, people who spend their time training animals to certain degree of tameness and feature them in private zoos, or someone who claims to be preserving the lives and happiness of the animals – as if such happiness could be measured – but does the exact same thing as the people she says are doing harm and need to be stopped?
Only more cleverly.
I can’t see wanting to know or being a big fan of Joe Exotic, the Tiger King of the title, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a go-to guy for Hollywood producers that need docile animals for films, or any of the other cat enthusiasts who tame beasts and make their livings by creating zoos, putting on carnival-like shows, and making a point to have enough cute cubs on hand for visitors to cuddle.
These people often have shady pasts, look as if dentistry is not a high priority, and run their operations by working mostly loyal staffs unmercifully while paying them little. The highest fee I heard was $150 a week for countless hours of labor.
There’s also a lot of bravado and braggadocio to this group. Antle rides through his Myrtle Beach grounds on the back of an elephant. Joe Exotic runs off his mouth and spouts the outrageous for broadcast. Admiration for either man is hard to muster.
On the other hand, Carole Baskin, their adversary, is a moralist. She claims the mantle of being an animal rights activist, trying to protect big cats and other creatures from the clutches of Joe, Doc, or any of the other stooges.
Baskin is more articulate than the people she attacks. She has carefully enlisted the support of other animal rights groups, including the rabid PETA, to lend her case credibility. She has shrewdly hired a public relations person to do the same.
Baskin definitely looks highbrow next to Exotic or Antle. She’s better-groomed and better-spoken. She has mastered boardroom-style expressions that gives her a professional CEO-like air. She claims the role of the do-gooder who is not only looking out for animals but humanity’s responsibility to them.
Baskin is as smooth as a pudding that’s been stirred to perfection, and I don’t buy a minute of it.
In the two-and-a-half episodes of “Tiger King” I’ve seen, it’s clear Carole Baskin is a competitor to Joe Exotic, Doc Antle, and others, a competitor who wants the whole pie to herself and will assume a hero’s role to get it.
She has couched her Florida operation as a non-profit that cares for animals she says might be killed or discarded in worse ways without her. She mentions how she doesn’t get animals for her preserve from the private zookeepers but regularly saves the day for the person who adopts a cute lion cub but can’t cope with the grown lion that inevitably emerges.
Only in this last instance do I think Baskin does a service.
In general, she’s another zookeeper who makes most of the money for her charity by selling admissions to the public to see her charges up close. Unless new information is revealed in an episode I haven’t seen, there’s little difference between Exotic, Antle, and her. The main exception is she asserts the high ground of being a preserver and animal rights activist while she brands her competitors as exploiters and abusers.
Does Baskin come off as more respectable than the others?
Yes, she does. But that only incites me to repeat one of my favorite phrases – Spare me the respectable.
“Tiger King” introduces us to a world that’s gotten little attention.
Joe Exotic and Doc Antle are remarkable for their ability to tame, train, and live among big cats.
Their approaches are similar.
In his latest book, “The Man in the Red Coat,” Julian Barnes writes about a therapist, a monk actually, who calms violent and volatile patients, by being kind to them, by being sympathetic and comforting instead of temperamental and threatening when they act up.
That’s sort of the way Exotic and Antle behave with their cats. They treat them like kittens when they’re cubs, petting them and talking soothingly to them. A woman who worked for Antle said she gave cubs some sway, correcting them as one might a child, but letting them lead and giving them some freedom to be themselves.
The docility of the cats and other animals shown at Exotic and Antle’s zoos, including big cats who people walk around as if they were farm animals, is a testament to what both men have learned about animals and how to treat and train them. Yes, one of Exotic’s hands lost part of her arm to a tiger, but she says the incident was her fault and came back to work for Exotic after a lone week in the hospital.
Baskin says the way Exotic and Antle cage their animals is abusive, but she uses the same restraints.
Think about it? Do you want wild creatures kept close to populated areas to have enough leeway to escape and terrorize adjacent neighborhoods?
It would be naïve to say that some measure of exploitation is not part of Exotic or Antle’s formula.
Again, it’s also true of Baskin’s.
Exotic and Baskin breed animals for training and display. Baskin doesn’t breed cubs, but she displays them. Her preserve is actually a zoo. If you want to talk exploitation, it’s a zoo that doesn’t pay any of its help. Baskin employs a corps of volunteers who, in the name of charity and activism, work for free.
Some activists would say any captivity of animals, the zookeepers’ or Baskin’s, is exploitive. I would cite Yann Martel’s “The Life of Pi,” in which Pi, the child left on a life raft with a tiger, says zoos are humane because they give animals shelter, food, medical/veterinary care, and other amenities people could barely survive without, and make for a pleasant habitat.
To me, the treatment of the animals is moot. None of them are being returned to a rain forest or the appropriate Asian or African wild. They probably would no longer be able to survive there anyhow.
The animals are all well-fed. Since an opening statistic tells us there are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than in the fields of Asia, the breeding Exotic, Antle, and others do might be keeping the tiger from becoming extinct.
The question is one of moralism, and I tend to take Exotic and Antle’s side over that of Baskin, armed as she might be with animal rights allies.
The parts I’ve yet to see deal with some of the juicier infighting. We know Joe Exotic is in a federal prison for allegedly trying to arrange the murder of Carole Baskin. Recent interviews with Exotic often begin with a telephone message telling the recipient he or she is getting call from Oklahoma’s Grady County Jail. I’d like to know more details and find out how far Exotic went towards those aims and whether he should be liable for 79 years in prison.
I’m more curious about Carole Baskin’s missing husband. No one can account for where he went or where he is. I also want to see more about her chumminess with politicians, the most moralistic bunch of all, as she tries to lobby them to legislate away her competitors.
In the long run, “Tiger King” has won me as much as anyone else. I don’t think I can get through a whole season of “The Hunters,” but I know I’ll be drawn to watch more of “Tiger King.”
Free from Xfinity
Xfinity may have come up with one of the best taglines of the current general quarantine – “On the house while you’re in the house.”
This refers to the company making its library of programs from various channels and networks available to all Xfinity, X1, and Flex subscribers for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown.
Networks whose material will be available for free are Showtime (30 days), Epis (30 days), CuriosityStream (60 days), DOGTV (30 days), Grokker Yoga, Fitness, and Well-Being (30 days), History Vault (30 days), Kids Room (30 days), The Great Courses Signature Collection (30 days), and The Reading Corner (30 days).
Xfinity says more channels may be added in coming weeks, and the time frames listed may be extended. Some of the stations may participate on a rolling basis.
In addition to providing so much free programming, Comcast/Xfinity has contributed to the hardships caused by COVID-19 quarantine by opening WiFi hotspots across the country for anyone who needs them.
Channel 10 gets new reporter
Claudia Vargas, who has been an investigative reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 10 years, joins Channel 10 in that same capacity next Monday, April 13.
Vargas, who is bi-lingual, will also report for Channel 10’s sister station, Telemundo 62.
In addition to her investigative work, Vargas has also covered Philadelphia and Camden City Halls for the Inquirer.