Gender Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, and More
Tiger King: Inadvertently Exposes Gender Violence
Tiger King introduces viewers into the unruly world of big cat owners. Showcasing the extreme rivalry between G.W. Zoo owner Joe Exotic and Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin. A rivalry that stems from Baskin’s efforts to shut down big cat parks, and Joe Exotic’s insistance to keep them up.
And, while the series does illustrate the morals (or lack thereof) in owning big cats, or wild animals in general, a lot of the show’s progression reveals some nuanced experiences of gendered violence. Tiger King provides complex experiences of intimate partner violence, gendered violence, and exemplifies the complex ways that these violences can and do take place.
Tiger King could have utilized the opportunity to expand the scope of which most people perceive “typical circumstances” of abuse to occur. Yet, producer and Director, Erik Goode, missed the opportunity to shine a magnifying glass onto the realities of gender violence, realities that seep far beyond the “ideal victim” or the “obvious abuser.”
Tiger King has been called the “biggest documentary in history,” and the sensationalized tone taken to tell the stories of the actors involved is imperative in the show’s success. However, it is this very sensationalization that sacrifices critical representations and moments of education
In doing so, the show never questions or debriefs on the abuse viewers are exposed to. Sadly, the docusiereis takes it one step further, and actively participates in the enactment of violence.
Director Erik Goode Participates in The Show's Violence
With the frequent, graphic and unsettling representations of gendered violence throughout the series, creators of the series have an opportunity to magnify typical understandings of this violence beyond the “ideal victim” and the “obvious abuser.”
As those who have seen the show, there is a general hatred amongst many of the big cat owners towards Carole Baskin. And, while Carole doesn’t seem too fond of her rivals, there is a difference in which Carole and the rest of the cast showcase and perform their hatred. For instance, let’s take a look at the very first episode of Tiger King, “Not Your Average Joe.”
Joe’s performance relies heavily on gendered violence and domination. The show reveals this to viewers as Joe and staff of the G.W. Zoo transporting an entirely nude, female mannequin in the back of a pickup truck to a secluded area in the park, near a lake. Erik Goode, the director and one of the producers of the docuseries, films the muddy and badly beaten doll, saying, “Carole’s taking a nap.”
An unfortunately sad moment of the show where Erik Goode stops solely documenting the violence taking place, but actively makes the docuseries participate in the gendered violence against Carole.
A violence that Joe Exotic has consistently, and repeatedly waged against Carole Baskin. This wasn’t the first time Joe Exotic had staged an execution of a doll deemed to be Baskin.
However, it was the first time it was broadcasted to the amount of viewers who watched the series, and while the series director Erik Goode has provided viewers with expanded representations of gender violence, his participation in the violence is clear, and thus Tiger King perpetuates the very violence the series is exposing.
"Rape: The All-American Crime"- Susan Griffin
As Susan Griffin describes in her article, “Rape: The All-American Crime,” erotic pleasure is rooted in cultural norms and practices, and within our culture, “male eroticism is wedded to power.” Griffin’s analysis hinges on the idea that the current cultural climate is best described as a heterosexual love enacted through female submission and male domination.
However, Tiger King inadvertently expands Griffin’s analysis of who might perpetuate gender violence in seeking power and dominance.
As Joe Exotic is a gay man, he is not seeking a “heterosexual love,” in so far as the violence he enacts towards and against Carole Baskin might be linked to eroticism. However, the violence still follows the same dynamics of power and control that underpin violence in heterosexual contexts, a dynamic that is normalized within our culture.
The docuseries doesn’t do much to question Joe Exotic’s exercise of dominance as a sexualized and normalized action, one that is logical to him, even when this gendered violence is enacted without any ties to romanticism or eroticism.
Simply put, Joe Exotic’s use of gender violence against Carole Baskin has no ties to eroticism as Griffin states, but is utilized because sexualized violence is merely how Joe Exotic, and others in the series, express their rivalry and hatred.
The Normalization of Sexualized Violence: From Series to Audience Participation
As the series documents the continued harassment, defamation, and gendered insults Baskin faces, it, too, participates in her abuse.
The show portrays Joe Exotic as an outlandish figure, whom many of the 34 million viewers have sympathized with him, or even gone so far as to continue the violence against Baskin.
Jackson Katz is an author and activist who speaks frequently on gender violence. In his novel, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, Katz reflects on depictions of violence within the media, and in his ninth chapter, he calls upon research that finds “depictions of violence in the entertainment media create a culture in which such behaviors are accepted as normal, even appropriate to various situations.”
As Erik Goode told the audience that the mannequin was “Carole Baskin taking a nap,” such a statement may seem of no consequence, but it is exactly this perceived irrelevance that speaks to the pervasive nature of gender violence within our culture, and its normalization.
Members of the G.W. Zoo became so desensitized to Joe Exotic’s frequent aggression towards Baskin that many participated, two frequent phrases around the park were “Somebody needs to kill that b–tch,” or “I wish somebody’d kill that b—tch.”
Director Erik Goode, not only documents these frequent verbal threats, but pushes the docuseries to actively participate in the violence as he joins in with Joe Exotic. With a tone of participation, viewers have since created Tik-Tok videos, memes, and even posters with slogans that say, “That B–tch Carole Baskin,” that continue to participate and normalize such gendered violence; even more so, it continues to exacerbate the violence Baskin already faces. The evolution of the violence enacted within the series, and the willingness of viewers to participate, represents just how real Katz’s reminder is.
Tiger King gives viewers a glimpse of the dynamic and real consequences that can escalate through both the explicit, gendered language used to talk about Carole Baskin, as well as the depictions of sexualized violence against her. All of which were not mere jokes, as some of the G.W. Zoo workers thought.
But, We Can't Forget to Talk about Carole Baskin's Place in All of This
Be sure to visit The Shrew next week as we’ll dive into Tiger King’s portrayal of Baskin’s perpetuation of abuse.