Thursday, December 2, 2021

Joe Exotic Channels the Spirit of America’s 19th-Century Tiger Kings

Joe Exotic murmurs, the subject of Netflix’s “Tiger King” documentary series, “I’m never going to get over this financially.”

Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, after one of his employees is brutally crushed by a tiger, utters the line mercilessly, making him seem comically indifferent to the man’s suffering.

This lack of compassion is not unique to The Exotic. As a self-proclaimed “gun-toting gay redneck” and former operator of a dilapidated wildlife park, he may seem like the furthest thing from a cutthroat capitalist.

But I study 19th century showmen like PT Barnum, and as I rewatch season one of “Tiger King” to prepare for the new season, I move between my research subjects and the larger-than-life world of Joe Exotic. impressed by the equality. ,

These impresarios also had money in their minds. And like Joe Exotic and other flamboyant big-cat aficionados of “Tiger King,” he was no stranger to fierce competition, threats, and bizarre drama.

lying about lions

In “Tiger King”, viewers learn that Joe Exotic is part of a larger network of Big Cat exhibitors who regularly trade and sell animals to each other in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The groups include characters such as Lord “Doc” Antle, the elephant-rider, the polyamorous owner of Myrtle Beach Safari Wildlife Park, which is currently under indictment for serious wildlife trafficking. There’s also Jeff Lowe, who bought Joe Exotic’s zoo and is also facing charges of keeping exotic animals in Las Vegas without a permit. Carole Baskin, a fanatic of Joe Exotic, aims to take down this network of breeders and traffickers in order to ban the private possession of big cats.

In the 19th century, when the total number of exotic animals in the country was small, big cat exhibitors did not have to smuggle cubs. In fact, at the time, the Big Cat business network actually consisted of legitimate scientific institutions.

In 1895, the Barnum and Bailey Circus’s James A. Bailey was involved in a dispute with Frank Baker of the Smithsonian National Zoo over the trade of two lions.

From Baker’s telegram to Bailey, it’s clear that Baker felt the showman had betrayed him. When a representative of the circus arrived at the Smithsonian with the feline cargo, Baker was “very surprised to learn that he had not brought a lion with him. [Bailey] Agreed to give me but a smaller one.” Baker felt cheated and demanded that they trade back, but Bailey refused, accusing Baker of giving him a lowly lion.

James A. Bailey struck a tough deal with the Smithsonian National Zoo.
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Despite Baker’s relentless demands, Bailey did not budge, and in their final letter of exchange, a desperate Baker folded—but not before writing in a pleasantly passive-aggressive 19th-century manner that “I would like to exchange I agree to accept” Singh despite the fact that you have tried to impose it on me without my consent. ,

Education, entertainment or exploitation?

The circus’s association with the Smithsonian prompts another parallel between the 19th-century circus and today’s wildlife exhibitions: both attempt to blur the line between entertainment and education.

Claiming that they are not merely entertainment, but opportunities for knowledge, animal exhibitors have sought to legitimize their business and distance themselves from allegations of animal abuse.

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Joe Exotic, “Doc” Antle and Carole Baskin all claim in “Tiger King” that their work is really about educating the public about endangered species—that, deep down, their primary motivation is to boost conservation efforts. have to give. They all try, with varying success, to use the veneer of education to distance themselves from the stereotype that their roadside zoos are seedy and full of abuse.

In the rapidly growing capitalist society of the late 19th century, promoters such as PT Barnum wanted the circus to attract as many customers as possible. So he and his teammates began to emphasize the educational potential of their show. It was not just a display of juggling animals, they insisted; It was declared, as an advertisement for Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, “better than a college for rare knowledge.”

Back in the day, Barnum even went as far as to call his animal keepers “Professor”, a title similar to the dubious “Doctor” Antle.

petty fights and fraud

Joe Exotic was a traveling showman for some time, taking a small exhibition of tigers on tour to local shopping malls and other small venues. Amusingly, Exotic called the venture Big Cat Rescue Entertainment, an apparent reference to rival Baskin’s organization, Big Cat Rescue Corporation.

The small move from Exotic is once again something that could have come from the Gilded Age showman’s playbook.

Nineteenth-century entertainment impresarios often published notices in trade papers, warning others on the lookout for fraudulent companies in the name of another well-established show, such as the popular Sales Brothers Circus called Sales-Floto Circus. taken to court. Despite having no owner in that name, the latter used the name Sales.

In one case, a rival circus put together an entire pamphlet full of insults directed at Bailey, including “J.A. Bailey, you are totally exposed, guilty, stunned, beaten, desperate and a mad fraud.”

And in an insult that looks like it may have come straight from the alien’s lips, the pamphlet states that even Bailey’s “performing lions are screaming, crawling, deceiving.”

If these people had access to Facebook Live, I can only imagine the content they would create.

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While I have yet to find any archival information suggesting that my research subjects were involved in any murder-for-hire plots – Exotic is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for trying to kill Baskin. I have accused rival companies of literally burning bridges to disrupt their competitors.

Describing the competition between shows as an “opposition war”, a business partner of PT Barnum, WC Coup, once wrote that he was suspected of destroying a bridge over a rival circus so that his train could take his gig. to prevent them from arriving on time. Although he had no evidence, Coup wrote that he “knew”. [his competitors] were driven in desperation and were able to resort to any such outrage.”

This is just a small sample of the amusing and sordid anecdotes that can be found in the archives dedicated to Gilded Age show business.

Maybe it’s time for the circus to get the Netflix treatment.

A bizarre cast of characters involved in the exotic animal trade in ‘Tiger King 2’

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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