Text Review of Tiger King

Being locked in our homes during the Coronavirus pandemic, many people have turned to streamed content for some form of entertainment. The aptly timed release of the docuseries Tiger King has taken popular culture by storm. While there is a great variety of cultures and identities featured in the show, I will focus on the power relationship between Joe Exotic and his husbands and employees. Joe Exotic being a very peculiar man, surrounds himself with a very specific group of people. Throughout the season, we come to understand that most of his husbands and employees are down on their luck, outsiders. The town sheriff told us that if someone gets off the bus in town and noticeably had no place to go, Joe Exotic will offer them a place to stay and a job at his Zoo. By doing so, Joe gives hope to these lost souls and instantly becomes a provider figure for them. His employees show their appreciation by being incredible loyal to him. This is demonstrated clearly when one employee loses her arm due to a tiger attack and returns to work in less than a week. This dynamic can be related to the Master-Slave dialect. Joe holds a great deal of power over his employees due to their desperate situations and they are subject to his wishes and commands.


Another example of Joe holding power over people in a vulnerable position is his relationship with his husbands. The two that were featured most prevalently on the show both met the middle-aged Joe Exotic when they were only 19. They were not gay but rather entered a romantic relationship with Joe because he provided them meth which they were both addicted to. Again, Joe found people in desperate situations and ultimately benefited from their vulnerabilities. However, it is clear that Joe did not feel that he was committing any injustice. He was providing his employees a place to live, a job, and a group of people who identified with them. This was a great second chance for many people who likely felt that life had given up on them. He also gave his husbands a stable relationship, and provided for all their needs, including a reliable way to satisfy their addiction. Due to their dependence on him for meth, the husbands have become subalterns and unable to challenge Joe in the hierarchy that he built.


While Joe does not see anything wrong with actions, many viewers considered his behavior to be extortionist. By being the sole source of housing, income, and community, he holds a great power over these people. This forces them to accept unsafe working conditions, substandard housing conditions, and possibly unwanted sexual activities. I think that the creators of this series want the viewers to realize how people in desperate situations will endure terrible treatment in exchange for basic necessities and a sense of common identity. However, I think that this series was more focused on sensationalism than invoking questions of power and injustice.

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