WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Given all the hype and stuck in this quarantine, I just had to watch, and yes I was hooked! The way that this riveting documentary was created, is that two filmmakers were filming a flamboyant owner of a big cat zoo who goes by Joe Exotic over several years to make a documentary on the world of big cats. During this time, Joe Exotic was convicted and imprisoned for hiring a hitman to kill one of his rivals, Carole Baskin. She, by the way, is also suspected of killing her billionaire husband and feeding him to her tigers. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up! Along the way we watch Joe run a failed political campaign, see one of his husbands accidentally shoot himself on camera, and meet a colorful cast of characters.
While watching, I couldn’t help but notice the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity throughout the whole show. Joe himself is a gay man in Oklahoma who obviously suffered enormously because of this. When he told his family he was gay, his father made him promise not to come to his funeral, and Joe then drove his car off a bridge in a suicide attempt and broke his back causing years of rehabilitation. He was made to feel to feel like less than a man so he compensated by becoming a caricature of a man. From tigers, drugs, booze, guns, to trucks and more, he throws around his money to create a fantasy land that he can rule.
As the ultimate assertion of dominance, when his entitlement was threatened by a woman, he felt that he was justified in trying to kill her. I can’t help but think that if his main rival was a male that he wouldn’t have been so obsessively vitriolic about the threat to his empire. He constantly talks about “killing that bitch,” and she is the only woman presented in the documentary who is not a passive bystander or prop (Saff is referred to as female, but identifies as a male). He seems to think because she is a woman, she is not worthy of being the world of big cats with him and the other alpha males. Being marginalized for being gay does not in any way prevent him from doing the same to her for being female.
The other men presented in this series are just as cringeworthy. In one scene, a lowlife aptly named Jeff Lowe talks about hiring a “hot nanny” while sitting next to his pregnant wife. It turns out that he did hire a Vegas showgirl for the position, but not to worry! According to one article, he is still looking for a publicist, assistant and maid—applications must include photos and measurements. Another winner named “Doc” Antle also had a harem of young women whom he also exploited for unpaid labor. One of these women talks about how she got breast implants just so she could have a few days of rest from work. Doc Antle also sacriligiously calls himself “Bhagavan” despite not even knowing what it means in a gross example of cultural appropration.
I came across a great article written by a born and raised Southerner which explains this in more depth, and I would highly encourage you to read it!
At least this documentary seems to be raising awareness of rampant animal abuse and exploitation in roadside zoos which will hopefully lead to changes in the way they operate. And hopefully this awareness will not just be a passing fad!