“Tiger King” is prestige trash: narratively ambitious but self-aware. True crime is far from journalism. (Exotic’s history was more thoroughly investigated in a New York magazine story by Robert Moor.) In the series’ final episode, Exotic, sentenced to twenty-two years on charges of animal abuse and attempted murder for hire, is beamed in from a county jail. His empire has fallen; he has learned, he says, that it is wrong to cage a living thing. Online, viewers have passionately debated Exotic’s sentencing. Was he framed? “Tiger King” provides no sense of closure. After bingeing on the seven episodes, I felt hoodwinked, hungover.
So what was it all about? I’ve sat with a few theories—that “Tiger King” is a takedown of the libertarian ethos, a dispatch from the last frontier of white colonialism, a Trumpian fable. (In late March, Exotic asked the President for a pardon.) The only observation that feels true is that “Tiger King” is what we watched two weeks into our isolation. Comfort television wasn’t working; we needed something uglier. For the past four years, we have trained ourselves not to laugh at the antics of bad men; our collective embrace of “Tiger King” speaks of a renewed craving for the crass, the politically incorrect, the culturally insensitive—an outlet for the id now that the ego is under siege. In any case, very briefly, it was the other thing that everyone talked about—and for that reason we were grateful to be horrified.
Doreen St. Félix, “Wild Things”, The New Yorker (13 April 2020), 81.