When things get weird, the weird step forward into the spotlight.
For instance, we always thought that CNN’s Chris Cuomo was a tad weird, right? (Anyone who looks at his antics on Instagram is convinced.) Now he and his brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, do this perplexing vaudeville act on CNN regularly. “You’re the meatball of the family,” Andrew told Chris the other night. What is presented as laboriously contrived light relief in these desperate times is just flaky. On Tuesday, Chris Cuomo announced he’s tested positive for the coronavirus, by the way, and we can only wish him well, since the news isn’t flaky at all.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (Netflix) takes us into a weird world and then gets even more outlandish. Just when you think it can’t get more ghastly, it does. No wonder it’s the hottest thing on TV right now. It’s allegedly Netflix’s number-one show in Canada, and a bunch of other places too. Why? Because it fits. It is about a world so corrupt and unsettling, and so filled with people who are freakish curiosities, that it makes this time of lockdowns and sheltering in place that much easier to bear.
If you’re not familiar with the gist, prepare yourself first. The main figure is the Tiger King himself, one Joe Exotic. Joe, a narcissist of Trump-ian aspect, got up in a bleached-blond mullet and in some sort of relationship with two younger men, who ran the GW Zoo in Oklahoma, a dire place teeming with tigers and other exotic animals. Some years back, Joe took exception to the work of one Carole Baskin, who runs Big Cat Rescue in Florida and aimed to close down the Tiger King’s realm because he was breeding and selling exotic animals at a fierce rate. Joe started a vicious feud.
There’s a true-crime story or two in the series. Joe – real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage – is now serving 22 years after being convicted of two counts of murder-for-hire and multiple counts related to the Endangered Species Act. Years ago, Joe Exotic made his own online series about himself, then filmmaker/entrepreneur Eric Goode began filming him in horrible fascination (Goode teamed up with documentary maker Rebecca Chaiklin for the Netflix series), so there’s a ton of footage.
What’s in the footage is an array of characters that make you wonder about humanity, and then feel good about yourself. It would be hard to plumb the depths of the horrific behaviour and deluded egotism of these people. What we’re looking at is a grotesquerie that actually makes you glad you’re in the safety of your own home. For all that we’re anxious about now, there are few things more reassuring than the experience of gazing upon unfettered aberration and walking away or turning it off, with relief.
We gaze upon these people in glum fascination. There is Mario Tabraue, a convicted felon, former “cocaine king” in Miami. A long-time exotic-animal enthusiast, he is alleged to have used 223 live snakes stuffed with drugs, in his day. Surrounded by his huge and dangerous pets, he talks blithely about his henchmen killing a federal agent and using a saw to dismember the body: “I did not shoot him and I did not use the circular saw on his neck. What am I gonna say? I was still there.”
There is Doc Antle, the owner of a safari park. We meet numerous women who have worked at his park since their teens, and he's “romantically involved” with all of them. And that’s just the start of the array of repulsive mavericks.
It’s been suggested that Tiger King is a massive hit because Joe Exotic is a Trump-like figure and the story reflects, uncannily, a set of Trump-era values. No. In anxious, pandemic times, a brief encounter with the truly weird is catharsis, a kind of cleansing experience.
Finally, at the suggestion of many readers, this column continues with a “Stay-at-home-period daily-streaming pick” for the next while. Today’s pick is the third season of True Detective (Crave/HBO). It’s solid, at times very, very good, and done with some of the precision and perceptiveness of the first season. And that’s mainly because it broods again on moral decay, the fragility of memory and the elusiveness of verifiable truths about events that are soul-destroying. It is about a murder case and the aftermath of those it affects, and it is about the corrosion of culture.
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