Hating Carole Baskin Doesn’t Make You Cool
Spoiler alert, if you hate Carole but are all-for Joe Exotic, maybe you just hate women.
Tiger King is the world’s latest obsession. Being stuck at home with nothing to do is fertile ground for trash TV, and boy is Tiger King the pinnacle of the genre. A cast of kooky characters, a new subculture few of us knew about, and more plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie. However, the online conversation has me thinking I must have watched a different show altogether. Why is that everyone is starting a Joe Exotic Fanclub, but hating Carole Baskin?
In the wake of Tiger King, everyone is suddenly convinced Carole Baskin murdered her husband. It baffles me that people think a 1 hour Netflix episode has made them into Sherlock Holmes. Police investigating the case with all of their resources, time, and expertise didn’t arrest her, and yet the internet seems convinced that she did it. The main ‘evidence’ in the documentary is that Carole’s husband tried to take out a restraining order against her (that was never granted). Yes, it casts suspicion, but it’s only one side of the story.
Since the documentary aired, Carole has come out and given her account of the restraining order debacle. She says: “ He (Don Lewis) would go to Costa Rica during the week I was having my menstrual cycle. […]During the week he was away, I would haul off the property as much of the junk as I could.”. Carole then claims that Don contacted the police to try and stop her from getting rid of the ‘junk’, and they told him the only way to do this would be to get a restraining order against her. You might not believe Carole, but it does raise questions when the entire case against her was led by Joe Exotic, her professional and personal rival. A restraining order that was never even granted, is spoken about as though it’s a smoking gun. Did Carole do it? Maybe, but there’s absolutely no way for us to know from one episode of a very sensationalistic documentary.
Aside from the dramatic ‘Carole Baskin — husband murderer’ narrative, there doesn’t really seem to be any real reason for the hate that’s been directed towards her. She took out a completely valid lawsuit against Joe Exotic, because he violated her intellectual property and repeatedly taunted her. She’s called a money-grabber, but Big Cat Rescue has a 100% score on Charity Navigator for their financial transparency and using donations effectively. She’s criticised for her rescue centre ‘being just as bad’ as Joe’s, but it’s been accredited by the GFAS, who apply rigorous criteria around animal welfare and safety. The small cages we see in the show are part of a feeding area, allowing food and water to be placed into the exhibit without having contact with the big cats.
Do I think she’s an angel? No, obviously not. The show does raise some valid criticism about how Carole actually bred and sold tigers earlier in her life. This is without a doubt morally wrong, and it’s fair that’s she’s criticised for that. But that criticism should also involve some acknowledgement of the fact that people change, and she’s now one of the biggest voices behind legislation aiming to stop private ownership of big cats. People say that this legislation is self-motivated, that she only wants it passed so that she can ‘have all the tigers to herself’ and create a monopoly. Again, this might be true, we can’t see inside her head. But does it matter? She’s providing far superior conditions and the legislation would do some real good, so in my opinion, her motivations are largely irrelevant.
At the end of the day, we don’t know Carole Baskin, we know a character on a show intended to entertain. There are a few things I do know though:
- There is concrete evidence that her current work is benefitting animals.
- There is no concrete evidence that she killed her husband.
- Joe Exotic has successfully turned people against his opponent by being entertaining.
Shooting a blow-up doll of your professional rival in the head is not normal behaviour. It’s gross and sexist and unpleasant to watch. Let us also not forget that he is the one in prison, for trying to have her murdered, and yet he is being treated as the innocent party. It seems that there is nothing the world will not forgive of Joe Exotic. Feeding his tigers (and employees) expired meat leftovers, allowing an employee to have his arm bitten off, and spending so much money on his own political campaign that he let his animals starve. Not to mention potentially setting his own animals on fire and giving a 19-year-old meth in return for a sexual relationship.
Carole Baskin is not entirely good, just as Joe Exotic is not entirely bad. They are both real people, with complex lives and personalities. The avalanche of hatred Carole is facing smells very much like sexism to me, and is almost ironic in the face of the #BeKind campaign inspired by Caroline Flack’s death. We have to remember that these are real people, with real lives, and the things we say about them can have real consequences. As celebrities join the pile-on, it’s a reminder that we should all think first, and tweet later.