Review of Tiger King (2020)
Seen in 2020.
This review refers to the first season, including the tacked-on retrospective, but not the second season.
The United States of America.
A manipulative, cliffhanging true-crime documentary that is in part about a failed attempt to make reality TV. This show was well described in advance by the sinologist Holmes Welch in the closing chapter of Taoism (1957/1965), where he imagines what Laozi would say about the public relations industry of the USA:
It turns some people into monkeys who do not care what they are so long as everyone knows it. It turns other people into peacocks who do not care what they are so long as everyone admires it. And it spreads like the plague, damaging the character of the Hundred Families. Soon in your country there will be no one left who does not think it right to call attention to what he does. There will be no one for whom mention in a newspaper or appearance on television is not a cause for rejoicing, whereas actually it is a calamity.
Out of all the horrific, self-sabotaging, self-destructive, abusive, degrading, traumatic, literally murderous shit “Joe Exotic” gets up to, the most disgusting is his plan to put discarded Walmart meat for his cats on pizzas to serve his visitors. As in “The Water Museum” (2009), which also features an incompetent budget assassin, the ecocritical points are not subtle: This is animal “rescue” culture at its worst, fully entangled with narcissism. Thankfully, the show’s popularity led to the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act (a bill referenced in the show), by the lower house of the US Congress, in December 2020: A positive outcome of a dark spectacle.
References here: Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic (2021).