Warning: This article contains spoilers from Netflix’s “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”
In a highly divisive world, we as a people needed a gloriously heroic figure to stand up, loud and proud, to ring the bells and bring us back together again after self-isolation distanced us. That man, as it turned out to be, was Joe Exotic.
Yes, the self-described “gun-carrying redneck with a mullet” who’s “gay as a three dollar bill” may currently be incarcerated because of a plot to kill his chief rival, Carole Baskin. But from behind the bars of an Oklahoma prison, Exotic has captivated the nation with his eccentric nature, fondness for big cats and batshit crazy music videos (that he unfortunately does not actually sing on).
As the cultural zeitgeist has lifted up Exotic and his cohorts through the Netflix docu-series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, we take a look at what is assuredly the most important aspect of this true-crime gift from the gods: the outfits and fashions statements sported by various on camera personalities. So grab your gun, your flower crown, or your best Oakley hat and observe the swanky styles of big cat owners.
As the doc’s central figure, Joe Exotic presents himself as a natural showman, with his outfits reflecting a man who was born to entertain. Coming off as a cross between John Wayne and Liberace, Exotic’s bleach-blond mullet, sparkling shirts and fully loaded weaponry make him almost as much of a draw as the lions and tigers he collects. The truly tragic arc of Tiger King (apart from the terrible neglect involving various animals) is how Exotic went from a fringe-jacket-wearing, multiple-piercing-sporting, makeup-loving “Village Person” to a jailbird with a fading hairline and a decidedly unfabulous prison uniform in just seven episodes.
A mix of hippie chic and trailer trash, Baskin is the perfect embodiment of what a cat-obsessed Southern woman would buy if she suddenly (and controversially) became a millionaire. Does she indulge in high-quality designer brands? Of course not! To truly show her devotion to big cats (the kind she allegedly fed her second husband to), Baskin takes the crew on a tour of her large collection of animal print clothing, flower crowns and caftans that would give even the biggest tiger lovers pause. Like Baskin herself, her wardrobe is a clash of extreme wealth, bad taste and questionable ethics. The fact that she gives her most disposable unpaid workers red shirts, a-la Star Trek, is just perfect.
I don’t know if it was Finlay’s decision to be interviewed shirtless or the directors’, but it fits Exotic’s ex-husband’s oddball nature. Complete with a number of tattoos dedicated to Exotic and a largely decaying “meth mouth,” Finlay is a scary looking Oklahoman whose outward appearance disguises a mostly soft-spoken character who shares Exotic’s love for animals. Finlay is also in possession of perhaps the best fashion statement in the entire series: a pink camo hunting rifle that he shows off in the fifth episode, appropriately titled “Make America Exotic Again.”
Doc Antle and the women of T.I.G.E.R.S
A character as implausibly strange (if admittedly less trigger happy) as Exotic, Antle runs his own tiger sanctuary with a gaggle of female trainers who he may or may not be sleeping with. Antle supposedly gets to choose what the women eat, do and wear, which varies from Tomb Raider-inspired outfits to straight-up tiger print leotards, complete with tails. Antle himself often wears safari-ready outfits with a remarkable flow of snow-white hair, while sometimes decking himself out in garments that match the guru-like persona he’s crafted. The fact that he often comes off more like Jim Jones than Meher Baba is just another strange turn in a series full of off-kilter talking heads.
A mysterious, supposed millionaire who saves, and then steals, Exotic’s zoo, Lowe is the visual equivalent of a can of Monster and all your most ill-advised seventh grade angst phases come to life. When he’s not sporting a Harley-Davidson leather jacket or egregiously ripped jeans, Lowe walks around the G.W. Zoo like someone who refuses to believe that Ed Hardy went out of style more than a decade ago.
I’ll give Kirkham credit: He’s one of the few figures in the documentary who seems to have any real sense about him. Unapologetic in his exploitation of Exotic, Kirkham recognizes the entertainment value he’s found, creates the “Tiger King” persona, and films Exotic nonstop for a reality show he planned to sell before all the footage is lost in a mysterious fire — just one of the many twists to come out of this fascinating saga. He also dresses like Crocodile Dundee, which is fun.
The long-suffering park manager at the G.W. Zoo, Reinke is mostly notable for his prosthetic legs — which he improbably lost in a ziplining accident and not by feeding fully grown tigers — that sport aggressive art with clowns, cars and, of course, wild animals on them. Because everyone has to be obsessed with animal print, Reinke also has a tiger print revolver that he brandishes in the first episode, which would have been used in a hypothetical Waco-like siege scenario, exemplifying the dark cloud that hangs over much of the superficial goofiness that is Tiger King.