Why Exactly Does Everyone Hate Netflix 'Tiger King' Star Carole Baskin But Like Joe Exotic?
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In a genre that's saturated with horrific tales of murder, bloody crime scenes and grainy court footage, Netflix's latest true crime hit Tiger King feels like a breath of fresh air.
Viewers are still treated to a jaw-dropping story line - following America's big cat subculture and the bizarre rivalries among its key players - but, unlike your typical true crime doc, they can rest easy in the knowledge that no one was actually killed or hurt (as far as we know).
It's part of what's made the seven-part series so phenomenally successful - and consequently, the public's reaction to Tiger King's colourful cast of characters has been nothing short of pantomime-worthy.
We root for humble John Reinke, the former zoo manager with no legs; we stare wide-eyed at Doc Antle and his harem of young wives; we cheer for John Finlay and his new set of gnashers; and - most problematically - we laud the larger-than-life Joe Exotic as some sort of mulleted anti-hero despite his questionable ethics, misogynistic and violent language - to name just a few.
Conversely, no one has fitted more neatly into the role of pantomime villain than Carole Baskin.
When the documentary first hit screens, WhatApp groups across the globe blew up with cries of 'she definitely did it', referring to unfounded allegations that the animal activist killed her former husband Don Lewis.
The disappearance of Carole's husband was explored heavily in the series and the theory that she murdered him and fed him to her tigers was central to Joe Exotic's relentless hate campaign against her.
Since, the flower headband-wearing sanctuary owner has become prime meme fodder for lockdown. Who amongst us isn't guilty of liking and sharing the slew of funny TikToks and celebrity impersonations mocking the 'husband killer' that have been doing the rounds lately?
Shockingly, Carole has even admitted to receiving death threats and multiple abusive calls from strangers who have somehow obtained her number since the show went out.
Meanwhile, Joseph Maldonado-Passage - aka Joe Exotic - the mulleted, gun-toting, polygamist and prolific big cat breeder who ran an infamous zoo in Oklahoma, has somehow come out of this as a kind of legend.
The public seems prepared to overlook Joe's (pretty heinous) crimes for his entertainment value. We get excited over his upcoming radio show, speculate who might play him in the film adaptation (he wants Brad Pitt) and eagerly await updates from prison.
One recent headline gushes, 'Tiger King's Joe Exotic is the hero we need right now' and there are several more like it on the Internet.
The problems with this love/hate narrative with Joe and Carole aren't hard to see.
Joe has a serious conviction. He's currently serving a 22-year-prison sentence for (unsuccessfully) arranging the murder of his rival Carole, as well as multiple wildlife violations, including trafficking endangered animals and killing tigers to make more room in the cages at his roadside zoo.
Aside from this, Joe frequently uses misogynistic and violent language towards the activist ("that b*tch Carole Baskin" was one of his most-used phrases), while we watched shocked as he mocked actual violence, such as shooting a blow up doll - an effigy of Carole - in the head with a handgun.
Carole owns Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Florida. Despite all the theories presented in the documentary (which are admittedly compelling), there is no proper evidence that Carole killed her husband Don Lewis, who disappeared in 1997, nor was she ever made a formal suspect.
Of course that's not all of it. I'm sure you could argue with Carole haters all day about the dozens of ways she's presented as less-than-innocent in the series (that she allegedly withheld inheritance money from Don Lewis's ex wife and daughters or that she supposedly used to breed tigers, are just two examples), but the point is she isn't actually that bad. *Hides behind pillow.*
Let's not forget most of the majority of big cat owners who hate her in the show - which forms a lot of the narrative - hate her because her non-profit conservation efforts and lobbying for the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act would see most of their zoos closed.
So why is it Joe's achieved low-level celebrity and Carole's become public enemy number one?
When throwing this question to a group of Tiger King fans, one line of argument that kept returning was the contrast between Joe and Carole's ownership of their flaws.
"Perhaps it's so much easier to 'warm to' Joe despite his flaws, because he's so forthright and there's no mystery there," one said, while another explained: "The general public hate hypocrisy. Joe is horribly flawed but he is clear about what he is."
The suggestion here is that while Joe is unashamedly himself - in all his chaotic, unhinged, self-sabotaging glory - Carole pretends to be more innocent than she is, unwilling to own up to her own shadiness.
Carole has been called out for breeding and selling tigers in the 1990s, keeping her animals in small cages and not paying her staff, while being accused of profiting from her sanctuary (it's actually been non-profit since 1992 and is well-rated, not that anyone seems to care).
As a result, the public have put their detective hats on and cast a sceptical eye over Carole's operations, questioning everything from her ethics to her eyes ("she's dead behind the eyes," one fan offered).
Could it be that the public are willing to overlook some of Joe's misdemeanours because at least he's honest? It seems so. "Honesty goes a long way," another fan summarised.
Isn't it also a fact that humans tend to root for the underdog? Joe, trying naively to get one up on Carole by stealing her branding for his zoo road show, ending up landing himself in a copyright lawsuit which resulted in him having to pay Carole's sanctuary $1million.
Joe's childish attempt at poking at his rival ended up bankrupting him, standing no chance against Carole and Harold's well-funded team of lawyers.
"She has money and I think that automatically irks the public who want to support the little man," offered one viewer interestingly. "The narrative carefully constructs Joe as the and everyday man trying to make it whereas she is portrayed as the state / those who are wealthy/ that can buy their way out of anything."
To Carole's fans, the fact she doesn't shout about her wrongdoings (as to not put herself in the same company as the likes of Joe Exotic) and that she's got money may seem like flimsy arguments to hate her. Isn't the real factor at play here gender?
Isn't Joe Exotic already winning the popularity game simply by being a male? It's a sad truth that men aren't held to the same standards as women, meaning Carole - who is self-assured, measured and dignified - has to work harder simply because she's a woman.
TV psychologist Emma Kenny agrees, telling Tyla: "Women always get a hard narrative.
"We don't like strong women. We don't like women who don't pedal the normal female cycle of being needy.
"Women in any media tend to be given a whole set of variables that make us acceptable; we tend not to be outspoken, we tend to be quite submissive and if we're domineering we tend to be given a role that makes us quite bossy and unlikable."
She added: "It's very rare you get women like Carole who just know themselves, are powerful, refuse to bow down and have belief system that's strong."
The way Tiger King filmmakers framed the narrative is also crucial to how the public has perceived Carole. As is the same with any piece of television, the edit can change everything.
"The edit will always depict the way that people see you," Emma explains. "If you put a woman in a light that makes her look suspicious, or if she is seen to have characteristics that are not nurturing or loving, then you edit it in a way to make her seem a bit callous or bitchy or sneaky, then the public will follow that narrative."
Showrunners Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin arguably tried to pedal an anti-Carole narrative in Tiger King, but they could never have predicted quite how much vitriol it would stir the public.
Ultimately, as with all good stories (real or fictional) audiences can't resist wanting a 'villain' to project our angst onto.
So whether you're convinced Carole ground up her husband and fed him to her menagerie - or find her to be a pretty pleasant woman on the bad end of some choice editing - our own role in painting Carole as the baddie is hard to deny.
Topics: Tiger King, TV and Entertainment, TV News, Netflix