"Underneath that veneer of gleefully bizarre showiness....a portrait emerges of a man who's interesting, but not likable," says Amanda Prahl of the Joe Exotic fandom that has been generated by Netflix's Tiger King docuseries. "In some ways, Joe Maldonado-Passage is the kind of figure tailor-made for the social media and streaming age," says Prahl. "He's outré and colorful, with increasingly OMG-worthy stunts; he has a crass, bluntly quotable way of speaking; he's a flamboyant, openly gay man who also plays into country-bro tropes; he has the showman personality down to a tee. It's easy for us to be drawn in by his showmanship, just as we see people within his circle getting sucked into his increasingly bizarre world, and it's easy to want to sympathize with a guy who's an outcast and who doesn't "fit in." Is he a gay man who's been wrongfully vilified for being "different" in the grand tradition of queer-coded villains in pop culture, or is his personality actually fulfilling every one of those stereotypes? The sheer fact that he's the ostensible protagonist of the docuseries automatically tilts the viewer in his favor — and, by extension, casts the people who go up against him, such as Carole Baskin, as the villains. By offering up rivals, the show gives viewers plenty of scapegoats to blame for Maldonado-Passage's downfall and plays into a whole array of tropes that allow viewers to root for Maldonado-Passage as a 'wronged man' standing against a shady conspiracy."
Why Tiger King is a viral sensation: "Netflix’s Tiger King works where so many other documentary series fail because it has access to a bounty of footage, shot by professionals and amateurs and security cameras, and access to a Crayola factory of colorful characters," says Andy Dehnart. "Joe Exotic himself seems like the work of fiction: a tattooed, pierced, gay polygamist with a mullet and an explosive combination of narcissism, paranoia, and ego who runs a sketchy zoo that has become more about him than the animals...Tiger King is just awash in incredible footage. There’s everything that was public, from Joe’s music videos to the footage from his Internet show, like the clip of him shooting a dummy stand-in for his mortal enemy Carole Baskin. That’s the other thing: No one being filmed seems particularly concerned about consequences of what they’re saying or doing, especially Joe. People hurl accusations as easily as they narrate the crazy shit they saw. No one is cautious, though perhaps they should have been." Dehnart adds: "The directors’ worst choice is to spend an entire episode setting up Carole Baskin as a villain and suggesting she’s a murderer."