A Close Read of the Tiger King’s Country Music Videos

Photo: Netflix

While we have plenty of suggestions for what to do (masturbate) and eat (beans) as we shelter in place, there’s always the matter of what to watch. And if you — like me — are on the hunt for something so outrageous you won’t be able to think of anything else, it’s my pleasure to suggest to you Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix.

Tiger King tracks a colorful cast of big-cat-loving characters and the various misguided ways they advocate for them. There’s Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a polygamist who pays a group of women — some of whom are his legal wives and/or sexual partners — $100 a week to run his wildlife preserve in South Carolina. Then there’s Carole Baskin, a Florida animal advocate who wears flower crowns and is best known for the suspicious disappearance of her millionaire husband, a man 22 years her senior who vanished without a trace in the nineties (she denies any involvement or wrongdoing in the show). And of course, there’s the titular Tiger King, Joe Exotic, an Oklahoma zoo owner, polygamist, mullet-wearer, and erstwhile country singer.

I’m sure you’re curious about the polygamy, murder, and mullet of it all, but today I’m going to focus on Joe Exotic’s music career, specifically what Rolling Stone calls the “high-concept, low-quality” videos he’s made over the years. The videos, while low-budget (visually, they are evocative of amateur porn) are nevertheless compelling — and I believe, worth analyzing — from an aesthetic perspective, and after watching several I’m quite sure there’s nothing else like them on God’s green earth.

I’ll begin with the most innocuous: “I Saw a Tiger,” which is a straightforward political ballad about preserving wildlife. It features Joe in pleather pants and handcuffs, romping around with baby tigers. During the chorus, we see him standing atop a white emergency vehicle with a backdrop of animated storm clouds:

The intended artistic expression of the clouds is unclear, but my sense is that they signify Joe’s own “stormy” feelings about the animals he professes to love. I say stormy because Joe was recently found guilty of killing several of his own tigers (he says because they were sick, but this is unclear). This January, he was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for the crime, in addition to a laundry list of other animal abuses, as well as murder for hire.

Next up is “Because You Love Me,” an upbeat love track filmed during peak visiting hours at his zoo. In the video, Joe does his best to play a gracious showman, hugging and high-fiving guests, and picking up babies while lip-syncing. That said, most of the onlookers seem uncomfortable at best, and terrified at worst.

The tone of the song is ostensibly sunny, but the video itself leaves you with a sense of deep unease. I wonder, in spite of Joe’s attempts at buoyancy, if guests picked up on the feeling of malaise that plagues our hero and permeates the the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.

From here, things become truly bewildering with “Pretty Woman Lover,” a song about Joe’s irresistible sexual effects on women. The song is a little bit perplexing, given that Joe is an openly gay man, with not one but two husbands. Perhaps the tension between the song’s lyrics and his actual sexuality is why we’re again treated to the CGI storm clouds from earlier videos:

In lieu of “Pretty Woman Lover,” I’d recommend “My First Love,” a heartfelt country ballad about Joe’s first husband that includes such imagery as a candlelit dinner for one, and Joe singing on the banks of a dirty brown estuary.

Our final and most alarming video is “Here Kitty Kitty” which zeroes in on Joe’s archenemy, Carole Baskin. Baskin has long accused Joe of animal abuse and is committed to shuttering his operation, while Joe just really seems to hate Carole and attempted to pay a hit man $3,000 to kill her in 2017 (he was busted after unknowingly sharing the details of the plan with an undercover FBI agent).

With that in mind, “Here Kitty Kitty” doesn’t seem so bad, but it’s still a fascinating bit of satire, given that the video is a not-so-subtle nod to the rumor that Carole Baskin killed her own husband and fed his body to the tigers she keeps in her wildlife sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue:

As you can see, Joe has employed a Carole look-alike, complete with a flower crown, for the video; fake Carole laughs while feeding meat to a tiger from a tray that is holding a dummy of a man’s head. Joe, meanwhile, is dressed as a priest, which seems to suggest that the hit he ultimately puts on Carole’s life had some sort of divine justification:

Overall, the tone of “Here Kitty Kitty” is, in a word, petty. Its aesthetics are more ham-handed than Joe’s other videos, which with their storm clouds and baby tigers seem more creatively unfettered than this. But that’s just my own taste, which leans towards the subtle; maybe “Here Kitty Kitty” is the kind of campy, overproduced murder ballad that gets you up and dancing, and I certainly can’t begrudge you that.

A Close Read of the Tiger King’s Country Music Videos