Image Credit: IMDB
The focus of our show today is no other than the self-proclaimed gun-toting gay cowboy who is the owner of the G.W. Exotic Animal Park. Joe Exotic is the main character in the new hit Netflix documentary, Tiger King, and throughout the show we see his very public feud with another small private zoo-owner, Carole Baskin. Their love for tigers in particular starts a feud that proves that there can only be one king in the world of big cats.
Do we learn anything about the exotic animal trade in Tiger King? Is Joe Exotic a good example of a libertarian? How does the show sensationalize the characters?
0:00:00 Natalie Dowzicky: Hey, all you cool cats and kittens. It’s Natalie Dowzicky from Pop N Locke.
0:00:07 Landry Ayres: And I’m Landry Ayres.
0:00:08 Natalie Dowzicky: Today, our show is going full on exotic, Joe Exotic. The self-proclaimed, gun-toting cowboy who was the focus of Netflix newest documentary, Tiger King. Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, Doc Antle, and the rest of the crew don’t just favor cats over dogs, they love their big cats, which creates quite the drama-filled gold mine. To discuss that drama today with us is Libertarianism.org’s Assistant Editor for Tech and Innovation, and host of the podcast, Building Tomorrow, Paul Matzko.
0:00:36 Paul Matzko: Roar, I mean hi.
0:00:38 Natalie Dowzicky: And a staff writer at the Cato Institute, Andy Craig.
0:00:40 Andy Craig: Howdy, howdy.
0:00:42 Landry Ayres: Paul, Andy, is Joe Exotic a good example of a libertarian?
0:00:50 Paul Matzko: Well, I mean, he did run for the libertarian slot for to be governor of his state. So if he’s not a libertarian, who is? We can talk though about whether or not he has any kind of meaningful principled commitment to individual liberty, or if it was all just an attempt at bringing media attention to his exotic zoo.
0:01:19 Andy Craig: Yeah, I think that’s largely right. There’s a scene where Joshua Dial, his campaign manager, who was a Libertarian Party guy, comments that Joe Exotic has no idea what a libertarian is, and he still doesn’t. I was kind of in the interesting position because I worked on Gary Johnson’s campaign. I know a lot of Libertarian Party people. I actually had heard of Joe Exotic before Tiger King came out, and I followed a little bit, the drama when he was seeking the LP Oklahoma Governor nomination. And they show this in the show, they don’t make it super clear this is what happened. He ended up placing third out of three candidates. So yeah, the Libertarian Party was not super thrilled with him, that was one of the… It was kind of fun to see libertarians portrayed as the relatively normal people…
0:02:10 Andy Craig: Which was something that happened in this show. Joshua Dial was definitely one of the more sympathetic, normal-seeming characters in the whole show. But yeah, there is certainly a strain of, we love weird Americana, we love individualism and Joe Exotic is certainly hyper-individualistic. And so that’s not quite the same as libertarian, but you can see where the overlap comes in.
0:02:40 Paul Matzko: I mean we are talking about the party that had a naked man run for the presidential nomination in 2016 or vice presidential nomination.
0:02:48 Andy Craig: No, he was running for chair, but yeah. [chuckle]
0:02:50 Paul Matzko: For chair, okay.
0:02:51 Paul Matzko: Yeah, all I remember is there’s a guy who stripped on the stage, [chuckle] at the LP convention. So there is a certain degree to which the Libertarian Party tends to attract the more unusual among us, but that’s gonna be true of any kind of third party. And again, I think your point, Andy, is well put, which is that he lost, and he lost handily against two, he got third out of three. And we’re not talking about a huge number of voters given the number of libertarians in a single state who came out to vote in a primary contest is not huge.
0:03:30 Natalie Dowzicky: In Oklahoma, nonetheless.
0:03:32 Paul Matzko: In Oklahoma, in a relatively thinly populated state. If you’re going to get some kind of weird outcome, an outlier winning a party nomination, that’s the kind of situation where he should have had a serious shot, just through his personal star power or his willingness to say outrageous things to get media attention. That’s where that would work, and it didn’t work for him. So hey, I guess we can take a break on the LP in this case.
0:04:00 Landry Ayres: Paul, you bring up an interesting idea about how representative Tiger King has been seen as. Do you think that this documentary is good at representing either people in rural Oklahoma, rural communities in general, libertarians, the type of people that they cover? Do you think this is representative of people as outliers, or is this more slice of life, or is it somewhere in the middle? And should we take it as such?
0:04:32 Paul Matzko: Yeah, it’s a good question. I’m uncomfortable. I enjoyed the show thoroughly. It’s well put together. But there is something that in photography and other media studies, folks refer to as gaze, like the photographer’s gaze. What he can see and what he chooses to let you see, the person who he is showing the photograph to. In this case, the filmmaker. The filmmaker’s gaze is apparent. And I think as you start thinking about what they’re doing in this show, it gets a little bit, it gets problematic. The thing that makes Tiger King so interesting is precisely how outlandish their behavior… And by their, I mean almost everybody in the show, really gets. It’s a larger than life story. And that’s why it attracts our interest, and it attracted the filmmaker in the first place. This is not what he and she, the two filmmakers, intended for this documentary to be about. It was supposed to be about the illegal trade in exotic animals. He references that at the beginning of the series. And then it became this interpersonal soap opera, more than a soap opera. Stuff that’s stranger than fiction.
0:05:51 Paul Matzko: But a part of that gaze is that it is very much like, “Oh, look at the weirdo over there.” And it’s not unlike a carnival. It’s not unlike a zoo itself. You go to a zoo to see strange and wonderful animals, to some extent, and there’s always that tension at real zoos between people want to see clever cool animals doing interesting stuff, but the zoo also want to educate the people who come to see the exotic stuff. There’s that constant tension at any kind of zoo you visit. But you can see that tension in this documentary. In theory, there’s supposed to be a didactic purpose, something we’re supposed to learn here about the exotic animal trade, about this real life drama. But there is a very strong element that directors look at those weirdos. And I think that’s unfortunate because where that shows up is often a disinterest in figuring out why these people are the way they are.
0:06:50 Paul Matzko: There’s lip service paid to it. We get a very brief like, “Joe Exotic had a brother, and he grew up here. Carole Baskin grew up here.” But it’s quick. We’re talking about like a couple of minutes out the many hours of the show. It’s not an attempt to understand these people, to humanize them. It is a chance to marvel at how weird and unlike us they are. It tickles, it tickles our ears. It tickles our fancy that like, “Oh, at least I’m not like these crazy whackos.” And the show leans into that. There’s always going to be an element of that in any kind of… These people did do outlandish things, but the directors don’t attempt to show us the kind of human beings and how their actions made sense to them given their setting, given their backgrounds. They didn’t try to help us inhabit their points of view. They just wanted us to point at the… It’s like the carnival atmosphere, point at the bearded lady, look how silly she looks. It’s that kind of attitude.
0:07:52 Paul Matzko: And I do wonder, I’m not an expert in the exotic animal trade, but I do wonder that of all the… Apparently, there are a couple hundred, these roadside zoos all around the country. How representative this handful, Baskin, Exotic, Doc Antle, are they truly the norm, or did we find the freakiest outliers? And we’re painting this entire community with a radical brush, if you will. And so those are my two concerns. I think we’ve got some directorial exhibitionism going on here, and I’m not necessarily convinced that Joe Exotic is the median big cat owner.
0:08:37 Natalie Dowzicky: I also share some similar concerns about how accurately this portrays roadside zoos in general. I personally have never been to a roadside zoo, and I don’t know a lot about their business models ‘cause some are… Like Carole Baskin’s are non-profit so to be a little bit different, but my big concern, and then I found through researching about the show is the filmmakers painted the show to everyone involved similar to Blackfish in the sense that they were going to do this exposé of how tigers are treated. And I think when the directors went in, they found they have a like a gold mine that was more like reality TV than it was about the animals, because I think when you come back and you reassess they way this show, not only the progression of the show, the way the show ends up, it’s much more about the humans involved than it is about the animals.
0:09:30 Natalie Dowzicky: There is some… Obviously, the animals is what brings these humans together and causes their fights and whatnot, but I do think that it’s more focusing, for lack of a better word, on what Paul said, focusing on the weirdos because that’s almost making it reality TV, almost. There’s a very fine line between it being fact-finding documentary and a reality TV crime type show. And I think makers of this show and the producers of this show didn’t necessarily intend for that to be the case, but once they were in there, they quickly realized how big this show could be if they really honed in on how weird these people are. So I think they really accentuated that to their ends.
0:10:16 Andy Craig: I think one of the best descriptions I’ve heard of Tiger King so far was a comment somebody left which said, “It’s like if a Cohen brothers film was a documentary.”
0:10:27 Andy Craig: It definitely has that gawking at these outlandish characters vibe to it. There’s not a whole lot of… I agree, there’s not a whole lot of, imagine yourself in this person’s scenario, because it’s not easy for most people to imagine doing or behaving anything like these people. And there seems to be a very… On the surface, the question is the initial source of the conflict between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin is over this question of animal cruelty. And is this animal cruelty? And for libertarians, does government have a role in preventing and banning animal cruelty? And so… But that all gets lost very quick, and partly, it’s because they delve into the weirdness of the individuals, and that becomes the real meat of the story is all these crazy people in this little community.
0:11:30 Andy Craig: But also part of it was ‘cause I felt like the filmmakers came away with… If they had a message about that at all, it was that everybody here is a hypocrite. Joe Exotic was initially against breeding, and they show old clips of how Carole Baskin was initially for breeding and did it. And there’s all this self-interest tied up in it, and they get caught up in their personal feuds. So it ends up not really… Not only does it not much examine the question of animal cruelty, they don’t really show a whole lot of. I was worried that there would be… I hate, I would be cringing and turning away at scenes of tigers being mistreated or something. And you don’t really get much of that. They don’t even dwell much on the five tigers that Joe Exotic was convicted of killing. He would say, “Euthanizing.” Whether or not it was justified, was it… We don’t really even get the details on why he killed these five tigers. What was up with that?
0:12:30 Andy Craig: So I do lean towards there being a legitimate government purpose in prohibiting outrageous animal cruelty. If somebody’s torturing their dog, I don’t mind the cops going and taking the dog away. But I was left uncertain about whether or not all these private zoos and the rest of it are really cruelty, and if they are, where they fall on that line. And you’re right also, that we don’t know how representative these examples are. It got portrayed as fairly representative, at least in the terms of the business model and the practices. But there are hundreds of these things and we have no idea. These might just be like the fringe craziest worst ones, or who knows.
0:13:19 Paul Matzko: Yeah, I tend to agree with you, Andy, which is that I did not see anything in the show, anything like I was kind of expecting to going into it. I was expecting it… I guess, I’d been primed by seeing YouTube videos of PETA, undercover videos of force-feeding geese, and I don’t know, animal cruelty videos. I was expecting, even if that wasn’t going to be the point, I knew that going in that it was more about the humans rather than the animals. I was expecting to see a little bit more, very little that I saw looked like animal cruelty for its own sake. I suppose that one’s stance on that is gonna come down to whether or not you think that tiger ownership or big cat ownership in and of itself is inherently cruel or not. I don’t tend to think so. If you think that wild animals should always live in the wild and should never be held in captivity period, well then, just the mere fact that there’s a documentary that could be made about the private ownership of animals is enough proof of cruelty for you. I don’t necessarily, I don’t share that assumption. I don’t think zoos are unethical, I actually think they can do a lot of good, both for conservationist reasons, for awareness-raising, for fundraising.
0:14:39 Paul Matzko: And so on that spectrum, I think this belongs somewhere in the realm of potentially, ethically okay. Now that doesn’t mean just because there’s nothing inherently unethical about owning a tiger, or displaying a tiger, or keeping a tiger in captivity, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily so. If he is… There’s a scene there, or there’s a section they really talk about how they were under-feeding the tigers ‘cause they’re running out of money. Well that’s, you know, if you’re starving tigers, that’s cruel. Or cycling through them and shooting them when they’re inconvenient to you. So you can make an argument, if it’s not inherently cruel to own tigers, it can be cruel in how you do own them, and I think that you could make an argument for that from this piece.
0:15:31 Paul Matzko: I mean, it is complicated, though. I don’t know, the show doesn’t delve into this, so that’s part of the problem. But what counts as tiger cruelty? Does putting them in a cage, does holding them in captivity where they’re not free to roam, is that fundamentally cruel? Or is the fact that, when they’re out in the wild, they have shortened quality of life, shorter life expectancy. A wild tiger only lives 10 to 15 years on average in the wild. They live 16 to 20 in captivity. So they have a quarter more higher life expectancy. When they die in the wild, usually they get injured and they can’t hunt, and they starve to death, so that itself is cruel. So there’s a kind of a nature red in tooth and claw angle here. And so even if we think it’s sub-optimal that these animals are living in captivity, that might be from our perspective rather than from the tiger’s perspective. And who knows, so I don’t know who gets to make that decision. Should we, should lawmakers, should zoos, accredited zoos versus roadside zoos, should animals rights activists, should Congress? I don’t know. But again, the show doesn’t really try to answer that question. So I’m kind of left with more questions than answers after watching it.
0:16:52 Natalie Dowzicky: If anything, the show makes it a bit more murky about what is and isn’t cruel, because there’s obviously the tension between Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic because they have very different visions of what is and isn’t cruel for the tigers. And obviously, they’re going at each other, and trying to send visitors to take pictures of how each other is treating tigers, and they’re arguing whether or not breeding tigers is okay. I think, if anything, this show, in terms of cruelty that it showed, I was kind of expecting it to be more down the line of another Netflix documentary called “Don’t F With Cats”.
0:17:30 Natalie Dowzicky: And I was expecting it to be more, not quite as gruesome as that show, ‘cause there are quite a few times that that show I had to look away and it was very disturbing, but I thought that was more the angle it was going to take, and there weren’t any scenes like that at all from my opinion. And I know that there was at one point in the show, that Carole Baskin was saying that Joe going around to the malls and letting people take photos with the tigers was cruel, and I think she used that exact quote that allowing people to take selfies with the tiger was cruel because it was perpetuating how the tigers are being treated.
0:18:04 Natalie Dowzicky: I didn’t necessarily view that as cruel. Did I think that was a little like kinda sketchy, and like meh, like would I go see a tiger in a mall? Probably not, just like I probably wouldn’t go see a tiger that’s been kept in a small cage for the circus. But I didn’t necessarily see anything that was outlandish. And I think they both had arguments as to why the other roadside zoo owner or big cat owner was being cruel. So I kinda had a question to open up to everyone is, who was worse in your opinion, was Carole Baskin worse or was Joe Exotic? Because we saw multiple, not only in their personal lives, but we saw multiple times where one could argue that they were treating their tigers, or they were mistreating their tigers.
0:18:49 Andy Craig: I’m not sure which one I feel was treating the tigers worse. It was very ambiguous, with the evidence presented in the charges back and forth. One thing that, of course, as this all goes on, it escalates from the charges of animal cruelty back and forth to lawsuits, and then ultimately criminal charges. I was not sympathetic to Carole Baskin’s defamation lawsuit. I was struck, thinking of… One of the things I agree with Murray Rothbard about is I take a very skeptical glance of whether defamation law is worth having at all. And this seemed like… I mean, yeah, the things he did were outlandish and the social media following they both cultivated was weird and cultish and he did things like shoot a blow up doll that he dressed up to look like her and did all these trash-talking videos back and forth, but in a sense, this was at least all these ostensibly tied to a matter of public controversy. They were debating what the law should be.
0:19:57 Andy Craig: They were… She was making accusations against him. And so when it eventually spiralled out of control into this maybe murder-for-hire or maybe not, I mean, we maybe talking about how people feel about those charges, but the reason it got to that point was this lawsuit where Baskin had been awarded like a million dollars in damages and was trying to retake all his property and that’s where I was most sympathetic to. I felt like Joe Exotic is kind of getting screwed here and none of the… His YouTube videos joking about her killing her husband or saying she doesn’t do a good job running her cat sanctuary or whatever should not have resulted in legal damages like that and all the rest that followed from it.
0:20:46 Paul Matzko: To Andy’s point, and your mention of Don’t F with Cats, Natalie, it’s instructive that… Almost, I would argue it has the inverse message of Don’t F with Cats, which is a show about the power of internet community, of the very online to pursue mob justice when the law, when the formal law can’t do it or fails to do it on its own. It’s like the power of the internet to pursue justice on the behalf of cats in this case and well, and they catch a serial killer or help. This is in a sense, it’s the same kind of basic theme, which is the power embedded in there, especially with Carole Baskin, the power of the internet to excite interest, to arouse anger over injustice, but in this case, it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with actual extracting justice or doing something that the… I mean, Carole Baskin has a very large social media following that she uses to go after Joe and arguably does kind of equally defamatory things, albeit less like not taking a gun and shooting a blow up doll of Joe Exotic. That’s him, but he’s also doing that for an audience, right?
0:22:09 Paul Matzko: He’s doing it for his self-taped internet show that there’s aspirations of turning it into a cable TV show, but it’s just initially for the internet. They both are appealing to kind of the what we would call the internet mob justice. He, rallying folks to take on this hypocrite Carole Baskin, her, rallying folks to take on this animal-abusing Joe Exotic. They’re both trying to harness the internet mob to punish their rival. And I’m not sure either one of them… The irony is I’m not sure either one of them… They both kind of fall foul of the Don’t F with Cats thing, depending on your perspective. If holding cats in captivity is a problem, then both of them are effing with cats and yet they’re using the internet mob to take on their business competitors.
0:23:05 Landry Ayres: One thing that I was thinking of as this discussion was sort of happening is so far we’ve discussed the sort of flaws and framing that the filmmakers used when creating and producing Tiger King, and how that sort of skews the gaze of the people that it is trying to represent, as well as the flaws and morality of the people that it is covering namely Carole and Joe, but one thing that Paul, you were starting to get at and you kind of mentioned, but neither the film nor us have really, really begun to scratch the surface of is the morality inherent in viewing this type of story as an entertainment piece. Like you said, there’s inherently or there is supposed to be or an attempt a hope that there is a didactic purpose to a story like this, that we should learn something from the murder madness and mayhem that is Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin’s feud over the years, but a lot of people, initially, there was this big social media sort of rally around the show like, “Oh, this is exactly what we need in this time.” And then there was a bit of a backlash, I thought, as Carole Baskin came out and sort of gave her side of the story about how it was going to be portrayed. There was a lot of people beginning to write a little bit more about the indulgent as kind of self-serving nature of gawking at these people, like you were hinting at, Paul.
0:24:49 Landry Ayres: And for instance, Kate Knibbs wrote for WIRED at the end of last month, “Tiger King’s moral repulsiveness remains central to its dark appeal.” And I think we can decide whether we think that moral repulsiveness is on behalf of the subjects of the story or the people that are sort of observing it, us as audience members, but she goes on to further say, “To pierce the madness of the current moment, it needed sharp claws.” The madness of everyone being in a sort of shelter in place, a social distancing quarantine-like scenario, this type of story is the kind of thing that could get through to people. It’s both indulgent, but also so dark that it cuts through everything. You also see it’s sort of counterpoint in that you’re seeing both a story like this, but also unabashedly positive content, that it’s just trying to give hope to people in a dark time. I’ve been seeing a lot of this, John Kasinski’s Good News segment where he got the cast of Hamilton together to sing songs for this little girl. Do you think that these types of polarized emotions and media are what’s going to succeed in this cultural moment and what do you make of that?
0:26:20 Paul Matzko: Well, so what’s interesting is that at the end of “Don’t F with Cats” the film… The documentarians they turned the attention of the show to you. They break the fourth wall and say, “Hey, you’ve been marvelling at how weird this situation is.” Kind of this grody titillation of… “We’re not gonna show you the cat murder videos, but we’re going to… ” You can’t look away and that is what the serial killer or the wanna be serial killer at the heart of that documentary, that is what he got off on, was the idea that he could have this audience. He started with cats, escalated to human beings because it was a way of building his online fame and notoriety. That’s why he did it. And without an audience, and this is what the documentarian is suggesting at the end of that series. Without an audience he wouldn’t have had a reason to do that. Therefore, you, the viewer of this documentary, the fact that people like you couldn’t look away, you clicked on the news stories about his crime spree, you debated about him on the internet forums and now you’re watching this Netflix documentary.
0:27:32 Paul Matzko: You’re part of the problem. And that’s how that series ended. This show has a similar question that they don’t explicitly address. To what extent does this show, and we, by indulging and watching and sharing about it, and talking it up, are we participating in what is on display? The various kind of crimes and misdemeanors. That’s the question at the heart. I don’t… That goes somewhat unaddressed, unlike in “Don’t F with Cats”. I actually don’t agree with the premise however. And the reason why is that… The kind of skulduggery that is on display, the bad stuff involved, the literal, the possible crime from murder plot. There’re like Andy expressed skepticism, over whether that was real or not, or just entrapment. But in general, just everyone being terrible to everyone else. The hypocrisy, the sketchiness of black market sales. This was all… You’re not supposed to sell tigers in this manner, distribute them, so they would pretend that they’re donations. So there’s a lot of underhanded illicit activity going on.
0:28:51 Paul Matzko: In as much as we’re participating in that, we can only participate in that because bad regulatory policy encouraged all this behavior. This behavior didn’t happen from a clean slate. This is not some just like a rising from the state of American nature, American society. We got Carol Baskin, Joe Exotic and this duel between competing roadside zoos, possessing big cats. It is an artifact of bad government policy and lax enforcement. So in as much as… It would be as if… I’ll continue with in this vein, which is that we are… In as much as there’s criminal activity occurring on the show that we can’t look away from that is bizarre. That criminal activity isn’t happening because of us, the viewer. It’s happening because of the incentive structure put in place by governing authorities. And what I mean by that is, we have a situation in which the government has made a set of demand, has made demand legal, that demand is for access the tigers. Apparently, I’m not a big tiger person, a big cat person. I’m not the kind of person who would pull over a road-side zoo just look at tigers, but a lot of Americans are. And that’s fine, that’s a legal.
0:30:13 Paul Matzko: It is legal to be interested in tigers. It is legal to even pet tiger cubs. All of that. In fact, even the ownership of these tigers, not all tigers, but these tiger with are known as generic tigers. There’s like a little loophole in the law. Ownership of these tigers is okay, but what’s not okay is the supply of those things. So we have a legal demand being matched with the government saying, “Uh uh uh uh uh, supplying that demand is illegal.” The distribution and sale of the tigers. That is a classic problem. And the corollary in American history is prohibition. So during prohibition, you have a huge demand for a good which is liquor. So folks want to drink. Lots of demand for liquor. And prohibition did not ban the consumption of liquor, of alcohol. That was still legal. You could consume all the alcohol you wanted during the prohibition. What you could not do… So you have legal demands, but what prohibition did, was it made the supply of that demand illegal. So you couldn’t sell or distribute or manufacture alcohol in the United States during prohibition, unless you got… Again, there were legal loopholes. Just like there’s a generic tiger loophole that these folks are taking advantage of up until 2016.
0:31:38 Paul Matzko: There were exemptions to prohibition for the production of sacramental wine and medicinal wine. Suddenly there was a massive boom in sacramental wine production during prohibition. So again, what that ends up doing, when you match legal demand in illegal supply, you’ve just created rules that encourage the market to go underground. It encourages it to go from above board, open, easy to regulate, easy to provide oversight by governing authorities. And it shoves it underground where it’s harder to regulate either through the market, and of course the market disciplines bad actors through reputational hits, bad PR if you do bad things on the market, but black markets you don’t have the market-based discipline, and in the black market, it’s below the sight of authorities. It’s harder to track down. It’s harder to regulate, harder to control. So, that was true in prohibition and that’s what happened. The black market in the production and distribution and sale of liquor. That attracts organized crime. So rather than good actors, good faith above board legal actors producing alcohol like they did prior to prohibition, suddenly that production goes into illicit criminal hands, encourages the production of illicit supply chains of…
0:33:07 Paul Matzko: Turns it into a criminal enterprise. You can see that going on in the show as well. You have… In fact, Joe Exotic himself is an above board good actor at the beginning of his career, but over the course of the show he starts getting involved in criminal activities, in fraud, in illegal sales. You can see his kind of trajectory into, maybe not organized crime on the scale of Al Capone, but organized… I mean Jeff Lowe is a sketchy, shady criminal and he gets in bed with… Again, so you have this organized crime element starting to creep in, into this community. So, just like that, that worked in Prohibition, you can see it on display here in Tiger king. And you should expect that. The way supply and demand and economics works you should expect that to happen. So, that’s why I don’t like beating myself up too much about enjoying this or watching and enjoying the show is because it’s not we who created this problem, it’s bad government policy that created the incentives that led to this particular situation.
0:34:14 Natalie Dowzicky: There are also two kind of points that I resonated with there, Paul. One, I think this show did a good job of kind of highlighting and acknowledging or at least made us hyper aware of that this black market exists. ‘Cause when I first started watching the show, I was like question, I was like, “Is it legal to own big cats as pets or what is it?” And then I actually, I personally Googled it and then later when I was doing research, it actually, the number one question on Google from a week and a half ago when the show was more in it’s hype. It came out on March 20th, and today is April 8th. But the number one question Googled was, “Is it legal to own tigers as pets?” So clearly… I mean yes, we’re living in unprecedented times in the sense that people have more free time, they’re stuck at home, they’re not going outside, they’re not doing their usual social gatherings or things of that nature, because of the pandemic going on, which I also would bring me to my second point that I think this show would not have been in… Mind you, this is all speculation, but this show would have not have been as successful had it not been released during this time period. And I have… I have kind of a few reasons why that might be. Me personally, I don’t necessarily note out that much time for new shows.
0:35:32 Natalie Dowzicky: I follow a lot of my similar shows, but this show got a lot of hype, not necessarily when it first came out, but it was about four to five days later, once people had watched the entirety of the show. And then people obviously went crazy and it was trending on Twitter and what have you. But I think, during this particular time period in our lives was kind of which Netflix couldn’t have predicted. They had Tiger King being released in this time period for quite some time now. But I think they really hit on a note where people… One, we’re looking for darker material and this is certainly dark. And two, had the time to watch other things that they may not have otherwise. And that’s why I think partially why the show was so successful. I still think it would have got garnered quite the viewership, but I don’t think it would have gotten quite as much hype and notice had it been released during a different time, when other movies were coming out, other new TV shows. Pretty much there’s a hold on pretty much every new movie that’s coming out. They’ve been either delayed or their recording and filming has been delayed, so there’s been specific height on new things released in this time period that we probably otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. I don’t know if other people feel that way but I think that they got more hype from being released during this time period rather than less.
0:36:54 Andy Craig: I think that’s right. I mean, definitely I saw somebody posted a meme that was, “14 days without” or “Day 14 without sports. I’m watching a gay zookeeper seduces husbands with meth.”
0:37:09 Andy Craig: So, there’s certainly been an element to this vacuum of new cultural stuff, and a lot of people’s attention that otherwise would have gone to other new things coming out or sports or what have you, has instead kind of, it struck this moment. And I think there’s… On that corner of criticism of the viewer, that struck me as similar a the strain of elite criticism of pop culture that we see a lot of which is, “Oh, the unwashed masses and their high demand for trash like this. It’s why you get Jerry Springer or you see it in another context, aimed at McDonalds or Walmart a lot of the time.” And I don’t really go for that as much. For one thing, I think Paul was right. The policy failures produced the story, it wasn’t the demand for Netflix documentaries that produced all of what Joe Exotic and the rest did. But there’s also part of me that just says, “Hey, this is a weird story. These are people who all voluntarily, for whatever self-interested publicity-seeking reasons they had. Everybody who was interviewed for this series, did so voluntarily, and wanted to be… We certainly, Joe and Carroll and several of the others wanted to be famous.” And the people who are watching it are enjoying it. They’re getting a laugh out of just kind of a weird slice of humanity type story.
0:38:43 Andy Craig: “Hey, here’s these crazy people doing weird stuff,” and it’s helping to pass the time and it’s providing entertainment value. So I don’t… I definitely I would defend that, and say there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. People want their entertainment and this is filling their need for their entertainment, and so long as it’s all voluntary interactions. And if you don’t like it, don’t watch it. I think that should be… That’s kind of more my attitude about it. I don’t go for the somebody in the New York or the Atlantic poo-pooing the trashy tastes of the masses.
0:39:23 Natalie Dowzicky: I saw someone describe this show as, and I put in quotes, “So American” why do you think they described that show in that way? Do you think it represents rural America at all? I don’t see it being a definition of America, but I was kind of wondering what you all thought.
0:39:40 Landry Ayres: I think it’s important to note, and I think that both Andy and Paul sort of hit on this, and I think it’s important is so far as I can tell, a lot of the criticism, especially what we were hinting at was we inherently sort of assume that these people are sort of critiquing what we would probably consider or use the term of something like coastal elites gawking at rural Americans at that point.
0:40:06 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.
0:40:06 Landry Ayres: So far as I can tell, I haven’t seen any research or statistics about who is consuming Tiger King relative to income or the place that they live. So as far as we know… My family’s from Texas, just a couple hours south of where Wynnewood Oklahoma is and they loved it just as much as I did and said like, “Oh yeah, there’s people like that that we know.” And there’s my cousin who lives in an even smaller town in Texas really enjoyed the show but he texted me and was like, “You gotta talk about this.”
0:40:41 Landry Ayres: And I have sort of my own thoughts about how rural Americans are portrayed. So I think it is a little presumptuous of people to assume, as Andy noted, that it’s sort of this gawking inherently sort of mocking viewership of these kind of people. But I think what Natalie was sort of hinting at, it was just kind of interesting, ‘cause you immediately said rural Americans, I do think that there is something… I don’t know if it’s inherently American, ‘cause I think that it’s a little American exceptionalists to think that liberty and freedom is an inherently American idea when in reality, those ideas have been around and are far more globalized than we ever sort of presume them to be in many ways, but there is sort of an American flavor to the way people like Joe or some of the other tiger keepers in the show, do talk about their right to own these tigers and these big cats and everything.
0:41:53 Paul Matzko: Yeah, I think when I think about it as kind of exhibitionist gaze, it’s not so much the coastal elite thing, though you can make the argument for it not based on who’s consuming it but most of the critiques are coming from who’s writing for Wired? It’s not someone in Wynnewood. Who’s writing for The Atlantic or The New Yorker or Slate or any of these pieces that have done think pieces on the topic. That’s because our media elites tend to be clustered in a handful of locations that aren’t central Oklahoma. What I mean by that is that… And whether it’s not, it’s a kind of gawking at Americana and there can be a degree of that, like someone in New York City being like, “Oh, these crazy rednecks out there.” I mean, you could argue that there’s a hint of that or you could argue against that, I could be persuaded either way. But it’s more that the directors aren’t interested, again, it’s that they’re not interested in humanizing these actors.
0:42:57 Paul Matzko: So for example, take Joe Exotics sexuality, right? So he’s a gay man who has at least two long-term relationships, he marries two straight men, at least one of whom he… Self-described straight man. At least one of whom he keeps with him by keeping him addicted… Being his drug supplier, supplying him with drugs. So there are layers of like… You could talk about what opioid addiction and drug addiction is like in America. You could talk about what it’s like to be a gay man in a country that during Joe Exotics youth certainly wasn’t accepting of gayness and especially particularly not I imagine central Oklahoma by comparison to other locations. And they pay a little bit of lip service to that. They talk about how he drives… He drove his car, what, off a bridge and that’s where he gets his limp from. But they don’t… They don’t really dig in and give you any kind of analysis of what’s going on there. But you know that’s gotta be huge. Whether or not Joe Exotic how much he’s willing to talk about that, I don’t know, maybe the directors weren’t able to get him to speak about it though it somewhat beggars… Beggars belief that they couldn’t get him to speak about… He seems willing to speak about anything.
0:44:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Right.
0:44:15 Paul Matzko: Just ask him. But dig into that more, to what extent did his experience growing up as a closeted gay man and now running a zoo in a very conservative state, what role does that play in his identity as someone who is an outsider, someone who’s willing to take on authorities? Again, all that kinda goes unexamined. The simple fact of his gayness is frequently noted. So a lot of the pieces, tweets and articles are all like… Or even in the show, they show a… I think it was a Colbert clip, or no, I think it was a…
0:44:55 Natalie Dowzicky: I think it was Colbert.
0:44:56 Paul Matzko: Was it Colbert who?
0:44:56 Landry Ayres: There’s Colbert and John Oliver.
0:44:58 Paul Matzko: And John Oliver. I mean, they always mention gay zoo keeper in Oklahoma and yadda yadda. So the fact of his gayness is always mentioned. But the meaning of his gayness, like what it is like to be a gay man in that situation is completely unexamined, or almost completely on unexamined. Which would annoy me if I were gay. That’s just dropped as a category of analysis. So that is how it’s exhibitionist in my mind. That’s one example of it. Again, you could do the other thing with like… They nod towards the fact that a lot the workers at the zoo and Joe exotic himself, why do you think he sniffs? Dude’s got a drug habit. His exes or his husbands have self-described drug habits like. This? So, there’s drug use constantly. This is a window into a particular set of American sub-cultures, and it is noted but never analyzed. And that’s why it’s… That’s how it’s exhibitionist, like, “Look at that weird thing. Aren’t you thankful you don’t do meth,” is the implicit, is the kind of tacit unsaid thing about a lot of these issues. So it’s more of that though. I’m not gonna rule out that there’s… I’m sure, listeners or watchers are gonna bring to it, what they wanna bring to it. A filmmaker can’t always control that. I remember once I went and saw the Heath Ledger Batman movie. Was that Dark Knight Rises?
0:46:27 Landry Ayres: That was dark knight.
0:46:28 Paul Matzko: Dark knight, Dark knight. And I’m in the theater, it’s in Philly packed house like opening night, and clearly, the filmmaker, that scene where the the Joker, or Heath Ledger does the disappearing trick with a pencil, and it disappears up the hoodlums eye, the criminal’s eye, that’s clearly meant to be like, “Oh!” Right? The theater erupted in laughter. They thought was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. So there’s always a dis-juncture between what the filmmaker intends and what the audience takes from it, and there’s only so much you can control with that. But in this case, I think there was a degree to which directors are like, “Fine. We’re just gonna lean into this, not try to help the listeners understand it or humanize the actors.” To your earlier question, Landry, and I’ll stop with this, who do I think is most sympathetic? I don’t really much care for either Baskin, or Joe or Doc Antle or Jeff Lowe, he’s probably the worst of the bunch, they’re all pretty despicable in their own ways, and the filmmakers are very clever getting them to expose each other’s hypocrites.
0:47:38 Paul Matzko: The thing that… They’ll interview one who alleges a thing about the next, and then the next will expose the next, and the next will expose… It’s just this circle of exposed hypocrisy. The people who, I think, come out looking the best are the poor workers, like the various amputees who work at the zoos. They are, and this is the interesting angle which is that you have these rescued tigers ostensibly, rescued tigers, who are undervalued by society, and these zoos or sanctuaries take them in to provide them with a second chance at life. Well, in a sense, the zoo workers are operating the same way. A lot of them talk about their social problems, their drug problems, problems with the law, and how Joe Exotic or whoever gave them a second chance. So they’re the ones who I’m sympathetic to. And they have more common sense among them than any of the actual zoo owners appear to.
0:48:40 Landry Ayres: Yeah, and I think the show does a pretty good job towards the end of giving them a little bit more screen time. Specifically once the case is winding down and sentencing happens that we finally get… I kind of wish we would have gotten a little bit more of their view. They’re featured throughout, but we don’t get a real focus until the very end. And I think if we’d gotten a little more sense of that journey, I would have appreciated it a little bit more, but I definitely agree with you there, Paul.
0:49:06 Andy Craig: And I’ll just add definitely on the cultural angle, I grew up in Arkansas and I’m gay, and I was expecting that they definitely did… I agree they gawked at that and made it something they always mentioned, “Oh, ha-ha, he’s gay.” But they did not explore some archetypes that were recognizable. And I’ve seen some commentary to this effect from gay writers and people who kinda cover that bit of this is a case of the closet kind of driving somebody to the fringes, and certainly into drug addiction into these very unorthodox and arguably pretty unhealthy relationships. I mean Joe’s husbands are 30 years his junior and his last one I think is 19. He marries them and then shortly thereafter goes to jail. And there’s the drug addiction angle that fuels into all that. And so that was very recognizable to people who’ve come up in that experience, but it didn’t touch on that.
0:50:17 Andy Craig: It didn’t explore. I don’t think it hardly even mentioned except maybe in passing that this was a very religious conservative area. It didn’t focus on that, it didn’t have scenes of… This was not like a boy erased or something like that, exploring homophobia and religion in the South. It was certainly portrayed as rural, but it didn’t focus much on it being Oklahoma or being the south, or any of the broader cultural context and in particular, what would have kind of driven Joe’s development. It’s a very cursory treatment of their back story for all of them. And you particularly kind of feel that gap missing with in Joe’s case.
0:51:05 Landry Ayres: So while we all have a lot of ideas about what we can take away from and the merits of viewing this type of media, and there’s certainly a lot of nuance that goes on with that discussion, I think one area that we can all agree is worth diving into for just a little bit more. Is Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado-Passage’s amazing country music career.
0:51:33 Paul Matzko: Oh yeah.
0:51:35 Landry Ayres: And I know we’ve all watched it, and we’ve really dug deep into this show to try and get the most out of it but I wanna see how deep you’ve dug. So I prepared a a little game for everyone. Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna put two minutes on the clock. And I am going to go through as many song titles as I can, and you have to tell me whether it is a Joe Exotic song or if it is by somebody else. And you can all do this together. You can say Joe Exotic or Joe or other, and I’ll let you know. Alright, two minutes on the clock and here we go. Dance with the Tiger.
0:51:45 Paul Matzko: That’s gotta be Joe.
0:51:45 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, that’s our final answer.
0:51:45 Landry Ayres: That’s a Rosanne Cash song.
0:52:26 Landry Ayres: Tiger by the tail.
0:52:27 Andy Craig: Oh, I think I’ve heard of that one before. I don’t think that’s Joe Exotic, I think that’s somebody else’s.
0:52:32 Landry Ayres: That’s Buck Owens, correct. Guardians of Children.
0:52:37 Natalie Dowzicky: That can’t be Joe Exotic.
0:52:39 Landry Ayres: It is a Joe Exotic song.
0:52:40 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, you’re kidding! [laughter]
0:52:43 Landry Ayres: It is a biker gang song dedicated to children victims of abuse and displacement.
0:52:48 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, gosh.
0:52:49 Landry Ayres: Bring it On, parentheses, Please Unite.
0:52:53 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, gosh.
0:52:55 Andy Craig: I have no idea, but…
0:52:58 Paul Matzko: It sounds like the title of one of those celebrity, like they all get together and sing a song for charity.
0:53:04 Natalie Dowzicky: Let’s go with non Joe, then.
0:53:06 Landry Ayres: It is a Joe Exotic song. Tiger Bones.
0:53:09 Natalie Dowzicky: Joe Exotic.
0:53:11 Landry Ayres: Nope, Joanie Mitchell.
0:53:12 Paul Matzko: Close enough.
0:53:12 Natalie Dowzicky: I’m terrible.
0:53:16 Landry Ayres: Pretty Woman Lover.
0:53:18 Paul Matzko: Is Carol Baskin an option?
0:53:21 Andy Craig: I’m say that sounds like Joe trying to do something that you would think of as a regular country song, but…
0:53:29 Landry Ayres: You are correct. It’s a Joe Exotic song.
0:53:32 Natalie Dowzicky: Wow, you are great at this!
0:53:35 Landry Ayres: Hey, Joe.
0:53:36 Paul Matzko: No, that can’t be.
0:53:38 Natalie Dowzicky: No.
0:53:39 Landry Ayres: Nope, that’s a Jimi Hendrix. I saw a Tiger.
0:53:42 Natalie Dowzicky: Definitely Joe.
0:53:42 Paul Matzko: Yeah, that’s him. Yeah, yeah, they played that on the show.
0:53:44 Andy Craig: I think they used that one, yeah.
0:53:46 Landry Ayres: Pads, Paws and Claws.
0:53:48 Andy Craig: That sounds Tiger specific enough that I’m gonna go with Joe.
0:53:52 Landry Ayres: That is correct. The friendly beasts.
0:53:55 Natalie Dowzicky: Non-Joe.
0:53:56 Andy Craig: Yeah, that sounds like a…
0:53:57 Landry Ayres: Correct, it’s Peter Paul and Mary. Jungle land.
0:54:03 Andy Craig: Sounds like something that’s off a Disney soundtrack.
0:54:04 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, it does.
0:54:06 Landry Ayres: It is a Bruce Springsteen song, so it’s not Joe, so I’ll give it to you.
0:54:10 Paul Matzko: The urban jungle.
0:54:11 Landry Ayres: Yes. Don’t kill it, Carol.
0:54:14 Andy Craig: Oh that’s definitely Joe.
0:54:14 Paul Matzko: Oh, that’s Joe.
0:54:14 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s Joe, yeah.
0:54:15 Landry Ayres: Nope, that’s a song by Manfred Mann.
0:54:17 Paul Matzko: He tricked us, alright.
0:54:21 Landry Ayres: Do you ever wonder what love can do?
0:54:24 Paul Matzko: Joe, sure.
0:54:25 Landry Ayres: That is a Joe Exotic song. Alright. Good job, everyone.
0:54:32 Paul Matzko: What, Landry? No Eye of The Tiger?
0:54:34 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, come on Landry.
0:54:35 Landry Ayres: Oh, like that… That’d be too easy. You think I’m gonna throw you a bone like that?
0:54:39 Paul Matzko: Yeah, I did, yeah.
0:54:41 Landry Ayres: No way.
0:54:42 Paul Matzko: A bone expired… An expired bone from Walmart.
0:54:45 Andy Craig: Oh, right. It’s off the meat truck.
0:54:46 Landry Ayres: It’s on the Walmart truck.
0:54:51 Landry Ayres: And now we come to the part of the show where we get to explore what other media we are all consuming as of late. This is “Locked In.” So Paul and Andy, what are you currently locked into?
0:55:05 Andy Craig: Well, I have not been actually watching a whole lot of new stuff. I’ve been in the mood for comfort watching, when I do have time to sit down in front of the TV. So I’ve been on a little bit of a Coen Brothers movies binge. One of those ones you can sit through and quote by heart because you’ve seen it a thousand times before. We’ve been throwing on, for the same reason, just like Harry Potter, the 007 movies. In this time, when we’re all kind of stressed out and when you’re working from home all day, when I sit down and watch TV, I’ve honestly not been in the mood for much new, it’s been something like that, it’s something old and familiar and just kind of blob out for a little while to it.
0:55:53 Paul Matzko: I’m a hard core Coen stand, Coen Brothers stand. So do you have a favorite, Andy?
0:56:00 Andy Craig: My favorite is probably “Oh, Brother, where art thou?”
0:56:03 Paul Matzko: That’s classic, can’t go wrong with that.
0:56:05 Landry Ayres: Good choice.
0:56:05 Paul Matzko: My favorite is “A Serious Man” But it’s… Their [0:56:08] ____ is so strong that even their worst movies, like I don’t know, “Lady Killers” is often listed as…
0:56:15 Landry Ayres: Oh, yeah.
0:56:15 Paul Matzko: It’s still better than most director’s best movies, so…
0:56:18 Landry Ayres: I can’t do “A Serious Man” It bums me out too much.
0:56:21 Paul Matzko: Oh, it’s a huge bummer but man, the layers of meaning it’s rich. But as far as what I’ve been watching, I actually completely sympathize with Andy that I want comfort food, cultural comfort food right now. So I’ve been… What I’ll recommend is something that I finally got around to watching the third season of… But if you’re looking for a Netflix documentary that is… So just like how Tiger King is a show that if I told you, “Oh it’s a fascinating drama about big cats.” Unless you were a very discreet person, unless you had discreet interests in tigers and lions and the like, you’d probably be like, “that doesn’t sound interesting to me.” That’s not a setting I care about. But if you, of course, once you start watching it, you’re hooked. This is another show like that. So you might think that, “What do I have to do with junior college sports? I don’t watch sports, I don’t care about that at all.” Give this show at try. It’s called “Last Chance You”, and it’s a documentary…
0:57:25 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, I’ve seen it.
0:57:26 Paul Matzko: Yeah, it’s a great, show. Right, Natalie? It’s… And unlike Tiger… So it has just as much ups and downs and drama. No murder-for-hire plots or things like that, but in terms of the human drama on display, it’s riveting. But it does a much better job of humanizing its characters. It’ll show these football players at junior colleges across the South, mostly in the US, their struggles and their misbehaviour. But then it goes and it helps you see why they behave the way they do. It situates them, makes their behavior, it makes you think, “If I were in their shoes, I’m not convinced I would necessarily behave all that differently.” And so, yeah, it’s a less of an exhibition gaze, more humanizing. It’s on Netflix. Go check it out. And the other thing I’ll mention real briefly, my son, he’s five years old, he loves playing Game Pass games on our X-Box. And he discovered a game that’s been a bit of a indie darling new to us though called Pikuniku, and you play as this little blob with legs that goes around, and he loves the fact that you can… It’s all kick-based. You kick things, you can kick flowers and kick stuff and kick people. And so I’m not sure what I’m teaching him other than that you can solve many problems in life via kicking. Which I’m not sure is great parenting win, but it’s very…
0:58:51 Natalie Dowzicky: That’s some great homeschooling going on.
0:58:53 Paul Matzko: That’s right, that’s right. But it’s a great little game, little indie darling and it’s worth picking up, especially if you got kids, but for the kid in all of us check out Pikuniku.
0:59:03 Natalie Dowzicky: For me, I’ve just been, I’ve been keeping up with Westworld. We already did an episode on it and the new season is definitely keeping us on our toes. And that show has actually required me to do quite the homework for the new season, but I think I understand what’s going on and I won’t spoil it for anyone. But in addition to that, I just finished a new book called, Where the Crawdads Sing. It’s been on a lot of best-selling lists. It’s been in Reese Witherspoon’s book club. And it was, essentially, a murder mystery-type book that is about a young girl who was left alone in the marshes of North Carolina to live out her life, and it was very interesting. It was a page turner. I probably finished it in two, three days. It was right around 400 pages. I really enjoyed that. So I’m looking for my next fiction novel. I’m hoping to get through a bunch, especially since I’m finding all this free time. I found that, since I spent a lot of the day working at home on my screen, I’m having a tough time continuing to watch a screen at night. So reading has been a nice break from the screens.
1:00:12 Landry Ayres: I have been… My comfort watch that I’ve been going back to, so far, has been, Arrested Development.
1:00:21 Andy Craig: Yes.
1:00:21 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, classic show.
1:00:23 Landry Ayres: As you know, there is always money, in the banana stand. So I keep going back to it. So that has been really, really nice. I have also found I’ve been cooking a little bit more, not media, but I’ve been consuming a lot of home cooked food that I’ve been making. I’ve made a lovely homemade fajita last night.
1:00:46 Natalie Dowzicky: Wow.
1:00:47 Landry Ayres: Got that Chili’s style sizzle, crackle, going on a little bit. I made some bread. A little plug for, Fit Foodie Finds, which is a website that my fiance has shown to me. So if you’re looking for consumables or something like that, that are both healthy and fun to make, check out that website. I also have been… Oh gosh, what was it that I watched? I also have caught up on a show that our libertarianism.org, editor, Aaron Ross Powell just loves, called, Nailed It, on Netflix. So make sure to tweet at him that you appreciate how much he loves that show, Nailed It, ‘cause I think he would really, really appreciate it and he loves to talk about it so much. So I’ve been catching up on that as well.
1:01:43 Natalie Dowzicky: Thanks for listening. Since we recorded this episode, much has happened in the world of Big Cats. They’ve released an additional episode to the show and Joe Exotic has asked President Trump for a pardon to get out of prison. Do you think Joe Exotic should receive a pardon? Let us know on Twitter at Pop N Locke pod. That’s Pop, the letter N, locke, with an e, pod. Make sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. We look forward to unravelling your favorite show or movie next time. Pop N Locke is produced by Landry Ayres as a project of Libertarianism.org. To learn more, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.