Tiger King: Meth, Murder, and Misogyny
One of the only topics of conversation and culture to potentially rival the ongoing lockdown and Covid-19 Crisis as a source of mainstream discourse has been the Netflix original documentary Tiger King.
The lurid and frankly bizarre account of zoo owner Joe Exotic, and his ongoing rivalry with Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin (who's missing husband forms one of the shows more enduring mysteries) has dominated mainstream conversation.
Few communities have taken this slice of camp melodrama to heart quite like the queer community. In the days and weeks following the shows release, memes, appreciation groups, and tributes popped up online, often fixated on the titular Tiger King Joe Exotic and his struggles with "that bitch Carole Baskin" (Joe's words not mine).
In a matter of weeks Joe became some kind of queer folk hero, his over the top nature, lack of taste or manners, and ultimately his bizarre attempt to have Baskin murdered all becoming part of his legend. And yet, at no point during this has there been any consideration of a difficult truth about Exotic, for all his outrageous behaviour and camp value, Joe Exotic is not a good person.
Read that again, Joe Exotic is NOT a good person.
In the rush to celebrate the shows excess and melodrama Exotic's behaviours have been overlooked, often in ways that leave women and abuse victims left out of conversations. Throughout the show there are repeated examples of Exotics misogyny as he attacks Baskin, verbally threatening her, referring to her as a bitch, and in one particularly upsetting scene placing her visage on a sex doll then stuffing a dildo in her mouth and firing a weapon at it. This coupled with the fact that Exotic proudly boasts of using methamphetamine to lure straight men into relationships should herald him as a misogynist and predator.
And yet in spite of this the reaction to Exotic has been to largely eulogise him as a wacky figure of camp and fun with drag performers donning outfits imitating him and remixes of Exotic's verbal abuse of Baskin shared with glee. Frequently we see Baskin demonized online for a supposed litany of crimes, all of which she is accused of by Exotic, with little to no evidence backing these claims.
All of which leaves me with several worrying questions, firstly and foremost,why we as a community have decided that our reaction to misogyny and predatory sexual inclinations has been one of celebration and humour.
By all means there is a place to find humour in excess and the grotesque, and when it's done correctly this kind of humour is a backbone of queer culture, but it is vital that that humour doesn't sway into celebration. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, how did a woman who is abused, harassed, has her sexual assault simulated on screen, and ultimately set up to be murdered become the villain of this piece?
I'm not saying that we shouldn't delight in the camp excess of Tiger King, nor that we should treat it with poe face horror and outrage. But what I am saying, is that the lines of where we appreciate that camp and outrage, and where we start to celebrate and validate the behaviour within, are increasingly blurred in often worrying ways.