Tiger King is back in the news as Carole Baskin made her, er, debut on Dancing with the Stars last week.
Whatever you make of that performance, far more attention-grabbing was the commercial that aired during the program, in which the family of Carole Baskin’s ex-husband Don Lewis — who many believe was killed by Baskin — appealed to the public for information about his disappearance.
This has of course launched back into the public sphere the contentious debate over whether or not Baskin killed her ex-husband. Even if you haven’t seen Tiger King, you might be aware that Baskin made an awkward, OJ-style comment about how one would go about disposing of a body by feeding it to tigers. Cover the body in sardine oil, she suggested.
Egged on by Joe Exotic, the star of Tiger King, the public has all but made up their mind that Baskin is guilty.
As I’ve expressed before, I found the show and the public’s reaction to it quite frustrating. Joe Exotic is characterized as a Walter White type character, with the audience inevitably being pulled in to rooting for him. This despite the fact that he’s been credibly accused of gratuitous animal abuse (on top of the whole literally-operating-a-roadside-zoo thing) and made innumerable threats against Baskin, for which he is serving a prison term as I write this. There is no question that he’s a bad guy.
For whatever reason, we seem to really want to like the bad guy. Moreover, people seem to really want to dislike the animal rights activist. Tiger King, and the public reaction to it, has become quite a toxic mix of these two elements.
I can’t help but see a significant portion of the motivation behind painting Baskin as a murderer as yet another example of projection. The public has a desire to diminish animal rights causes, and one way to do this is to smear them as individuals with loose screws and a faulty moral compass. Actually, you’re the abuser!, the collective guilty conscience seems to shout.
One way this is done is to call the activists the real abusers. Lots of anti-PETA messaging takes this angle. Vegans are constantly characterized as misanthropic, swapping a normal, healthy concern for people with a concern exclusively for animals. I suspect this is behind a lot of the “vegans don’t care about the farmers that pick their food” claims, which usually fail to address horrific conditions for slaughterhouse workers or the fact that farmers still need to harvest food to feed livestock.
I don’t know the way past this. I suppose that most people like to think they care about animals and people, and will eventually acknowledge that vegans, too, care about both. We just walk the walk as well.
In any case, I’m team Carole, if that’s a thing.