(Note: This has been written for those that have finished Netflix’s seven-part docuseries, ‘Tiger King’, the story of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Park’s (G.W. Zoo) owner, as the following contains spoilers.)
Joe didn’t care about his staff, his lovers or his animals, and if given the chance, wouldn’t care about you either. So why do you care so much about Joe?
I get it. We’re in a pandemic, courtesy of Rona, and that’s granted us time to escape from the despair that waits outside our doors. Living in the nation’s epicenter, New York, I’ve taken social distancing seriously, hardly ever leaving the home. When indoors, distractions are integral. We all need something to help the day go by.
Many adopted Zoom as their fix to check in on loved ones they’ve been barred from seeing. Others opted to start that book that’s long been sitting on their shelves. DJ D-Nice even gifted us Club Quarantine, a virtual live dance party, in which we can enjoy classic tunes in our house clothes. Last, there’s streaming services, with their countless documentaries that we can dive into and forget about our own reality.
Personally, I haven’t watched too many docs to voice an opinion on which ones are good or bad. Therefore, I’m not saying Tiger King was bad (though it was a train wreck) or that you shouldn’t watch it. My beef, however, is with the public’s response in making a hero out of the obvious villain that is Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage.
From the few documentaries I’ve seen, it is clear that the villain remains the villain even after the doc is over. Such examples include: Michel Rostand (cult leader in Holy Hell, Netflix); Jill Dudley (mother in Tell Me Who I Am, Netflix); Manitowoc County, Wisconsin (Making a Murderer, Netflix); Luka Magnotta (Don’t Fuck With Cats, Netflix); and Robert Berchtold (pedophile in Abducted in Plain Sight, Netflix). None of the aforementioned could be redeemed after watching those respective docs. Nor have they, and for good reason. Their wrongs included kidnapping, drugging, threats of murder, malicious prosecution, animal abuse and the killing of animals, rape and pedophilia, and murder. Joe Exotic, arguably, was guilty of a majority of these wrongs. Knowing this, however, we’ve looked the other way. We’ve gone further, in fact, and placed a metaphorical cape over the 57-year-old, manipulative predator, designating him a hero.
America, throughout its history, has found ways to redeem white men. Some historians today maintain that President Thomas Jefferson had a “sexual relationship” with Sally Hemings (a 14-year-old then enslaved child). Moreover, the Black female body has been held more culpable for the rape of Black womxn than the white men that have violated it. “Rapes of Black women … were not considered newsworthy. Like raped prostitutes, Black women’s credibility had been stolen by racist beliefs in their hypersexuality.” (Stamped From The Beginning) This country has proven that it’s gone lengths to protect whiteness, including the most mediocre white men from the gravest of crimes, and Joe Exotic has been added to that list.
Being Black in America, you learn quickly what you can and can’t do. That guide to surviving life is nonessential for white people because, duh, privilege. The history behind that would take an entirely separate essay to cover. The long and short of it is, when you’re a person of color, your actions represent your entire community but when you’re white, your actions represent you, the individual and not the white community. (e.g: Black people are violent vs. Joe Exotic is one crazy redneck)
So white people can have their cake and eat it too. They can both taunt this repulsive figure and also dissociate themselves from him. A luxury not afforded to non-whites.
Joe Exotic is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for the murder-for-hire of his rival, Carol Baskin, along with 17 other counts, including violating the Endangered Species Act. And yet, this is your hero?
Apparently, he is. All walks of life, recently, have publicly offered their support for Joe. Cardi B stated that she “stans [Joe]” and was going to “start a gofundme account for [him].” Jared Leto encouraged others to listen to his music on YouTube. Talks in Hollywood have already begun that Tiger King will inevitably be turned into a movie. And there’s even a change.org petition launched to have Joe Exotic pardoned. (32,000 signatures and counting.)
A response found on @americahatesus said it best: “[T]hat [documentary] was an exercise on white supremacy, capitalism and sexual predation. Anyone who watched that narrative and came away with laughs or “free joe”, def[initely] ain’t watch it with a critical eye … Fucc Joe, his homies, Jeff, Carole all of them. Benefactors of mediocre whiteness with all kinds of access to land and resources.”
Despite seven episodes, a runtime of 317 minutes and the big ass PSA at the end, which read: “5,000-10,000 tigers live in captivity in the U.S. Fewer than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild,” most of you still missed the mark that Joe was the furthest thing from a hero.
For comparative purposes, I liken Joe Exotic to the career of Barry Bonds, retired baseball outfielder. Before Bonds started using steroids in 1997, he had the numbers to easily be inducted into the hall of fame (HOF). However, because of his steroid use, his entire legacy has been tainted, likely barring him from the HOF. Using the same career comparison with Joe, before the Feds built a case against him, he was a disgusting being. Therefore, how could you root for him knowing he only got worse?
Let’s look at the numbers (before investigation):
– Paid his staff $150/week, while the zoo brought in millions annually;
– Was a serial predator that mentally abused and controlled young men (all aged 19), buying their love with toys, grooming them and supplying them meth;
– Was a misogynist;
– Ran roadside zoos, a practice unsafe for wild animals;
– Fed the animals, his staff and patrons spoiled meat from Walmart;
– Shot and killed donated horses to feed to his cats;
– Believed he had the right to say “N****r” because rappers could; and
– He was a cop
We ask again: Is this your hero?
Among all the wild animals at G.W. Zoo, the greatest predator of them all was Joe. He neither cared about people nor animals but solely about himself. A vote for Joe, in effect, is a vote for maintaining white supremacy.
The coverage that Tiger King’s received has been mostly positive, if not favorable. I plea that we decenter mediocre white men and consider the people they harm instead. Predators should never be applauded. Consider the kind of messaging that sends to survivors of sexual assault and gender violence. That they only serve as props in the background of their abusers. Heralding Joe, or anyone like him, a hero is tremendously damaging.
We pass memes around without considering that “jokes” to you can be f**king triggering to others. Hashtags like #whyididntreport exist for this very reason. Because often “your hero” has the power to both abuse and silent their victims. And they absorb that power from you.
So we ask: Is he still your hero?