Tiger King, the documentary series about Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a Joe Exotic, captured audiences thanks to his big cat zoo and eternal feud with Carol Baskin. There may have been millions of people who tune in to Tiger King, but not everyone binge-watched the Netflix series. And there’s a good reason why.
‘Tiger King’ features brutal moments
Maldonado-Passage wasn’t kind to humans or animals. As depicted in the Netflix series, his treatment of big cats was just slightly above that of his employees. The docuseries briefly showed Maldonado-Passage oppressing his animals. It also exposed how he shot and killed several big cats during his ownership of the zoo.
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Editing is what makes ‘Tiger King’ so captivating
Aside from the subject matter, part of what makes Tiger King so appealing is the storytelling. “It is an exquisitely put together thing,” Robert Thompson, the Director of Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told CNN. “One of the reasons it’s captivated so many people is the way it is edited. You get to know these characters, and they wait one episode, two episodes, three episodes before they drop, like really major, major bits of detail.” Editing certainly played a role, but much of the appeal came from Maldonado-Passage’s over-the-top personality. His vendetta against Baskin helped, too.
‘Tiger King’ didn’t need the pandemic to become as popular as it did
Several people believe Tiger King became so popular because of the stay-at-home orders caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Thompson thinks the docuseries would have obtained uber amounts of popularity regardless. “I think this would have been one of those things that every now and again breaks through the incredibly fragmented pop culture environment,” Thompson said.
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Part of the appeal of Tiger King was wanting to belong. With many people tuning in to learn more about “Joe Exotic,” some people watched so they didn’t feel left out. “Whenever anything gets the kind of attention that Tiger King has [gotten], there is an automatic built-in backlash with this American sense of superiority,” Thompson explained. “There are some people who figure that if that many people are so excited about something, it couldn’t be very good.”
There is nothing wrong with not liking ‘Tiger King’
If you didn’t enjoy Tiger King or refuse to watch it, you’re not alone! Many people won’t watch the docuseries, including Howard Stern and Larry David. Discussing Tiger King on his talk show, Stern said it left him feeling so “bummed out,” he couldn’t finish it. David told The New York Times Tiger King was “disturbing.” Instead, he tuned in to other Netflix series like Ozark and Unorthodox.
Thompson justified why some audiences might “despise” a documentary series like Tiger King. Firstly, some viewers “don’t want to spend time with these characters.” This is especially true of audiences who are sensitive to stories about animals in captivity. “These investigative stories may not appeal to you at all in the first place,” Thompson added. “I think there is nothing wrong with the many, many people who just don’t like [docuseries]. Like some people don’t like sitcoms, I think there’s nothing inherently wrong with someone who doesn’t like Tiger King.”
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