Escapist Entertainment is Needed Amid Quarantine


"Tiger King" is relatively harmless escapist entertainment. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Ava Lichter, Contributing Writer

If you haven’t heard of “Tiger King,” you might be living under a rock. The Netflix docuseries has skyrocketed in popularity since its release on March 20, especially with everyone stuck inside and bingeing more TV than ever before.

Before this documentary came out, most people outside of Oklahoma had probably never heard of self-proclaimed “Tiger King” Joe Exotic, a zookeeper, internet personality, openly gay polygamist and self-described cowboy. However, his most recent title is that of a convicted felon for attempted murder-for-hire. The show’s massive popularity highlights a key question for modern viewers: Is escapist entertainment with such alarming stars a good idea?

After countless recommendations from friends, I finally caved and watched it all over the course of a weekend. Though I did not have such an intense reaction, it was still wildly entertaining. The show includes debates about how tigers in confinement in the United States should be treated, at least one attempted murder, multiple instances of polygamy, Joe Exotic running for Oklahoma governor as well as president, an FBI operation and Joe’s nemesis (as well as the woman he tried to allegedly murder) Carole Baskin. 

What is most captivating about “Tiger King” is that as you’re watching, you can’t believe that this is real. It feels like the entire plot is something that came out of the brain of Quentin Tarantino or some equally bizarre Hollywood director. 

Part of the show’s popularity may be attributed to the fact that we are stuck in quarantine, and watching a show that seems so far removed from our new indoor lives takes our minds off of things. Escapism is popular now more than ever, and for a lot of people, the greatest escape is watching a trashy TV show. 

This growing drive towards escapism should come as no surprise during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is more than acceptable if you don’t spend your quarantine getting into amazing shape or learning a new skill. This is a global pandemic, and it is stressful. Some people will use this time to fuel their productivity, but others may need distractions, and “Tiger King” can deliver just that. At the very least you can say that you spent some of the quarantine watching a documentary, even if it felt more like reality TV.

With the public’s growing fascination with shows like “Love Is Blind,” or its natural successor “Too Hot to Handle,”  the acceptability of watching “terrible” television is clearly on the rise

 I understand why everyone is obsessed with Joe Exotic; there is definitely a fun element in talking about him because every detail is more outrageous than the next. The problem is that underneath the sequined shirts and dubbed music videos is a genuinely awful human being. He was willing to do practically anything for fame, and although he has it, he is forced to revel in his success while confined in the four walls of his prison cell. It is uncertain if he knows exactly how famous he has become, but regardless, it is frustrating that he has achieved this lifelong goal in the first place, considering the means he used to get there. 

The public fascination with Joe, Carole and the whole gang is completely harmless, provided we maintain a realistic sense of who they are. Joe, Carole and many other individuals featured on “Tiger King” are, at their cores, masters of manipulation. As long as we are cognizant of that, there is no harm in diving into all things “Tiger King.” Although it may not be the most intellectually stimulating series out there, it is giving us something to talk about. It doesn’t seem like the public is going to be letting go of the fascination any time soon, so you might as well stream it if you haven’t already.

Ava Lichter, FCRH ’22, is an English major from New York, N.Y.