“Tiger King” Analysis: Joe Exotic and the consequences of a sinful lifestyle

During this forced quartitine I got the chance to watch the newest sensation on Netflix, a true-crime documentary called Tiger King. As a long-time fan of documentaries, I must say that Tiger King might rank up there as one of the most entertaining, crazy, hilarious, dark, depressing, fascinating and bizarre stories I have ever seen. The documentary, which is only 7, 45-minuite episodes, is quite a complex watch, as this series is one of the best examples of the consequences of living in unrepentant sin. It is both hard to watch, and addicting. Both a sad tale, and a too-funny-to-be true soap opera. To normal America, Tiger King is a freak show. But to those with a discerning mind towards scripture, the show is a cautionary tale of a hellish lifestyle.

Tiger King tells the tale of infamous zoo operator Joe Exotic and his feud with animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin. The show also details the underworld of private zoos and private owners of exotic animals. I found this part to be facionating as the documentary highlights very eccentric characters such as Doc Antle of the Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, Mario Tabraue who served twelve years in prison for a drug-smuggling enterprise and used exotic animals to transport contraband and Tim Stark of WildLife in need. These are some of the many characters Tiger King showcases as nearly everyone that comes on screen is memorable. 

The most memorable of them all is Joe Exotic who, even by TV standards, is highly eccentric. Joe Exotic is an unapolgetic, flamboyant, homosexual who has a mullet, wears colorful leather jackets, and has six-shooter revolvers with him in open carry fashion at all times (and he is not afraid to use them). Exotic is also a hardcore animal lover and big cat lover. At his GW Zoo, a kingdom of outcasts and misfits of sorts, he is the self-proclaimed Tiger King owning many big cats, with his prized possession being a cache of Tigers that he breeds. At odds with Joe Exotic is another highly memorable character. Exotic’s archenemy, Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, who is hellbent on shutting Exotic and his zoo down due to various abuses done by Joe Exotic with his Tigers. Baskin, unlike Joe, is not flamboyant or loud, or carrys six-shooters. Baskin comes across like an animal rights version of Cruella Deville, or some strange rich cat lady. Baskin’s main gimmick, however, is this bizzare sub plot line in the documentary where it is implied that Baskin murdered her ex-husband and fed her to her own Tigers to get his money. Hence the memes that Carole Baskin murdered her husband. It is this rivalery with Exotic and Baskin that form the main plotline of Tiger King and ultimately Exotic’s downfall as he is arrested for a murder-for-hire plot agansit Baskin and is ultimately spending serious jailtime for it at the end of the documentary.

Whether or not there should be private ownership of such exotic animals like Tigers is really up for debate and I don’t believe this is the crux of the story. What Tiger King does show is a very dark community and the extreme nature of a sinful lifestyle and its consequences. Nearly every major character on the show is either shady, or is suffering from mental scars by being around Joe Exotic or the business in general. 

GW Zoo’s employees are almost all misfits or convicted felons that Joe takes extreme advantage of. Tiger King actually showcases some of these characters such as Kelci Saffery, a war vetran who is trans and had her arm torn off by a Tiger, despite that, she came back to work after just five days. John Reinke, who has very cool-looking prosthetic legs and is manager of GW zoo who finally got tired of Exotic’s abuse and left. And Erik Cowie, the head keeper of the zoo and who was hurt emotionally by the killing of a tiger by Joe. Joe Exotic underpays, and has them often living in squalor conditions. What is even more disturbing is the personal life of Joe and his various “husbands.” It is heavily implied that Joe Exotic supplied and controlled both of them using drugs. Nearly all of them testify against Joe during his trial at the end of the documentary.

What exactly is there to learn from Tiger King when Exotic’s life was extra out of the ordinary? The fact is, many, even those who proclaim Christ, are living in lifestyles similar to Joe. We get into very bad and toxic communities with good intentions. Some get sucked up into the love of money, some with the fame and glamor. We try to build our own empires and rule over them. We build Worlds and fantasy lands in our own image instead of God’s. In these false kingdoms we make for ourselves, we almost always suck other people into our own hell and end up hurting and scaring others. Tiger King coyly showcases the consequences from Joe Exotic’s actions on others. Mothers lose sons, marriages are broken, a war vertan loses an arm, people almost lose their lives, parents are taken advantage of, young men and women are fed drugs, a young man commits suicide, people’s lives are destroyed and the animals are grotesquely abused. Above all else, Joe Exotic hurts himself, his own soul and loses his freedom. The veil is torn off towards the end when his own kingdom collapses and now sits in prison.Joe Exotic is no more, and reverts back to Joe Schreibvogel (real name). 

The good news is that there is still hope for redemption. As is always the case for humankind. The fact is, we are all like Joe in some way. We need salvation, we need radical heart change, and we need a reborn life. Is it possible for a man to be born again? Not of flesh, but of spirit? As it is written in the Bible, with man, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. Joe Schreibvogel can be reborn, sanctified, and justified, through the blood of God’s only son, Jesus Christ. To know Jesus, His life, death and resurrection, is to know love and to know God. To know he is forgiven and loved by a heavenly Father is worth more than anything that the world has to offer. The fact is, Joe Exotic, by being in prison and his life collapsing because of his sin, still has a chance to receive that free gift of salvation. This is a true mercy by God. Joe now has nothing to lose, other than his own ego. Still, this is often the most difficult thing a man can give up is his own pride. Joe Exotic had plenty of opportunities to give up his pride and escape, yet he continued on. As his empire started to crumble, he started selling more of his soul to even shader characters to save it. Ultimately, his sin leads him into jail where he remains. 

It’s honestly hard to take seriously anything on TV anymore especially reality TV, or documentaries that do not involve pure nature and wildlife. The story of Joe Exotic is almost too bizarre to believe and I am pretty sure the creators took liberties with the story. Joe Exotic himself also comes across as fake and staged. Most of the film and video footage is from cameras that Joe knows is there. Joe also is a showman and is very self aware of his “character.” The lines of reality are blurred and we never really get the sense of who the real Joe Exotic is. It reminds me of the current time we live in where everyone has a camera and we project who we want to be on social media. We craft our own image of ourselves instead of reality, which is often far darker than what we choose to put out. While Joe Exotic wants to craft himself as a rebel who is at war with groups like PETA and Carole Baskin, the documentary crafts Joe Exotic in a different manner, something more bleak. I often asked myself while watching this documentary what made these people the way they are? Of course, many will point to Joe Exotic’s homosexuality as the cause of all his problems and sins. And while that is a major sin in Joe’s life, his problems run deeper and more troubling than that.

Doing research, I found out that Joe Exotic was raped by an older boy when he was only 5. Carole Baskin is also a victim of rape. This is beyond horrible and I can’t imagine what scars that left on Exotic and Baskin. Sin breeds more sin. Doc Antle, Joe’s mentor, is heavily implied to be a polygamist with a cult-like harem of women he leads. He, in turn, influenced Joe Exotic, who has a harem of drug addict men, and a down-on-their-luck staff he takes full advantage of. Sin breeds more sin, it grows, and becomes a roaring Tiger. While we may get a cartoon version of these characters, reality tells us that these are broken and hurt people and no one, but God himself, can peer into the hearts of a human being to see what is really going on. Doing deeper research reveals that Joe Exotic himself is a victim of deep sin that others lashed on him. That he is a broken human, just like all of us. And now he stands in front of his own sins, in a jail cell. 

The question remains, will he take it? Can a man be born again with a new heart and new desires? The question also remains, will we ourselves receive the free gift of salvation? Everyone of us needs to examine ourselves, our communities, and our lifestyles to see if we are acting like Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. The wages of sin are death. It is not only physical death that can be the fruits of sin, but for Exotic’s case, it can be a deep visceral spiritual death. You can develop a reprobate mind, where you have lost all sense of reason or righteousness and your heart is dead to spiritual matters. This is called a hardening of the heart, and at that point, only God himself can soften it.

Everyone sins. Everyone sins everyday all the time and that is why we need a savior. Still, Tiger King should be looked at, with the goggles of the Bible, as a warning against continuing in sinful lifestyles. 
Tiger King is quite an interesting beast of a documentary. We see these grown men, images bearers of God, tame these magnificent beasts. Tigers, Chimpanzees, animals of all kinds. It is truly a testament of man’s rule over the world and the beast of the earth. It is such a shame that while we are more than capable of taming wild beasts and nature of all kinds, the thing we can’t tame is our own dark hearts and the evil it springs forth. Joe Exotic is an example of a man capable of doing incredible feats of taming powerful beasts, yet he is a deeply flawed, evil man who ended up letting his heart and sin run rampant and taming him. In the end, he became a beast and is now locked in a cage.

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