“Tiger King” Ethics…If You Can Control Your Gagging

You should watch the current hit Netflix documentary “Tiger King” as an ethics exercise, if you can keep focused. It’s difficult. The seven episode horror show/freak show/ “Well, it’s time for another shower!” thing is rife with revelations about America and its culture as well as the infinite variety of humanity that breeds and mutates under rocks and over them. But it is also so teeming with freaks, sociopaths and morons that it often makes you feel like you are watching “The Anna Nicole Show” or one of the other reality shows that exploits its dumb, attention addicted stars.

Focus, Jack! Focus! There are a lot of ethics issues here, largest among them the icky exotic animals trade.  (Fun Fact!  There are more tigers in the U.S. than in the rest of the world combined. Now: Is that a good thing for tigers, or a bad thing?) There are also clinical cases of  corrupt business owners, narcissism on steroids, marriages that make Bill and Hillary Clinton look like John and Abigail Adams, toxic personalities (once you have met series star “Joe Exotic,” you may never think of anyone as a narcissist again…no, not even you-know-who), astounding hypocrisy, the infuriating twilight world of young, healthy people (well, physically healthy anyway) whose lives consist entirely of getting stoned or waiting to get stoned, abuse of the legal system, idiots with guns… the list is ridiculously, depressingly long.

They are all also either abusing the remarkable freedom provided them in America,  advertising it, or exposing it, depending on your point of view. These are grubby, desperate, valueless shadow people who are part of a large underclass some of us routinely ignore. It’s probably important to force oneself to look hard at it, as nauseating as it is, but the experience isn’t pleasant; the fact that 75% of the scenes include beautiful tigers, lions and ligers is a little like having a lovely soundtrack to a documentary about sex-trafficking.

The documentary appears to be fair, but like reality shows and the mainstream media, you don’t know what isn’t included. There is literally no one in the saga who isn’t grotesque and revolting in one way or ten. I can’t imagine any way you could present any of them that wouldn’t be grotesque and revolting, and the fact that the Tiger King himself, the worst of them all, eventually becomes endearing in his shamelessness gives us cognitive dissonance at its most corrupting.

The documentary-maker, Eric Goode, revealed  some of his biases when he told The New York Times, “In America, there are also definitely parallels between “I have a right to have a machine gun or a semiautomatic” and “I have a right to have a tiger,” a statement of staggering stupidity. The documentary doesn’t reflect that attitude, however, and the way several of the characters misuse firearms–one inadvertently shoots himself, fatally—would turn anyone into Beto “I’m coming for your guns!” O’Rourke.

Over all, “Tiger King” is a troubling reminder that ethically, it’s a jungle out there, especially in the fake wildlife jungles of deepest, darkest America.

15 thoughts on ““Tiger King” Ethics…If You Can Control Your Gagging

  1. We’re four episodes into this thing and my husband has so tired out the facial muscles that make the “Wait..what?” look that he’s exhausted.

    We decided that we might as well watch this train wreck so we could understand the Facebook memes and so we could say we didn’t get left out of the Must-Watch Show of the Pandemic.

  2. Growing up in the heartland, nothing in tiger king shocked me – I’ve laughed, cried, worked with, supped or all of the above with people who could have been in central casting. There’s more of them here – in middle America – then there are of us.

    That being said, hard to say that the zookeeper who lost his arm and the one who lost his legs were anything other than genuine. If there’s a social construct that makes them gross and revolting, I missed it.

    • Well, they are wilful cult members and enablers and facillitators of a place that uses brainwashed labor at far less than minimum wages while mistreating animals, including having non-certified personnel do surgery on the big cats, run by a lunatic who shoots rifles near employees for fun.

      Other than that, yeah, they’re terrific.

      • You think the keepers themselves were brainwashing others as opposed to being brainwashed themselves? You and I then came away with very different conclusions. Those two couldn’t brain wash a fish to like water. I never said they were terrific, but that they genuinely cared about the animals albeit in a misguided way. And they weren’t doing it for fame or money.

        The rest of them – awful. But for me it’s hard to cast any aspersions on those two other than ignorance or susceptible to undue influence.

        • Well, are they accountable for their role in perpetuating the place or not? Do they have free will? The best anyone can say as a mitigation is that they are gullible and stupid. Our criminal justice system doesn’t accept those as defenses.

        • Clarification: I said they were enablers and facilitators of a wrongdoing organization. A secretary at Enron who knew what was going on was similarly complicit in Enron. “I was just doing my job” only works as a mitigation if you are forced to do that job. The woman who lost her hand could have shut down the place with a lawsuit, and I’m sure she knew that. You can’t let her off the hook.

          • Are the members of jim Jones church enablers and facilitators? Geez, maybe, but I guess I ha e a little more compassion.

            • Are you kidding? Are the parents who poisoned their kids because Jones said so enablers and facilitators? How about gang members? Mafia wives? SS soldiers? Read “The Lucifer Effect.” Yeah, people get their values turned around, and it happens a lot, and it happens to good people…but they are all accountable.

  3. There are no “heroes” in this ethics nightmare. The attempt to paint any of the big cat exploitation as conservation is kaboom worthy. The cult like following of any of these ethics dunces is mind boggling. In Joe Exotic’s case the obvious recruitment of people with drug, and other, issues makes some sense. The rest? It’s the allure of the cats.

  4. Why do people watch this stuff? Is it to allow themselves to use idiots as those described as benchmarks that they themselves can be measured.

    I am a big cat fan and had the ultimate opportunity to interact with Tess a 500 pound Bengal who was the European model for Exxon. There was no BS. The cat made the decision when the encounter would end.
    These animals are not pets the are wild animals who are dangerous when harassed or hungry. I spent 45 minutes with her and her trainer. These cats need protection not exploitatation. A restaurant in Cozumel Mx had a lion caged on the premises. Seeing the conditions in which that animal lived was heartbreaking. I never went back and encouraged others to do the same.

    My encounter with Tess was a totally opposite experience. Without a doubt it was the most memorable and humbling experience I ever had and I have dived with giant sea turtles and sharks of all species. Tigers, leopards, cheetahs are probably the most beautiful of all creatures.

    Thanks for the heads up about Tiger King. I will avoid it like the plague.

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