I will admit one thing right off the top: I only watched one episode of the Netflix Series The Tiger King.
Because coming out of that first episode I only felt relief that I didn't have to spend any more time in the caustic shit-show world of Joe, Carol, or the producers and directors that cobbled the show together.
I won't return to the show for a number of reasons (the homophobia, exploitation of animal suffering, cultural tourism), but mostly it's this: sensationalism and truth are mutually exclusive. And The Tiger King, from the outset, traffics in both. Viewers are compelled to keep going because it's all so unbelievable — and yet it's all (apparently) true. It's been widely viewed that its success is due to our unbelievable times. But it's not enjoyable to me because the that first episode left me feeling hollow at best and dirty at worst. In other words, I wasn't amused.
Because I love the documentaries and filmic essays of Errol Morris, the Maysles Brothers, Trinh T. Min-hah, Holis Frampton, and Jonas Mekas. These are directors whose works are about their subject but they also meditate on the truth. They turn the very documentary form back on itself. That is what drives forward the narrative.
And you may argue, as many have, that The Tiger King isn't supposed to be viewed like that. You may say, "lighten up — it's not meant to be The Thin Blue Line or Salesman. It's supposed to be a ride." True, it is, after all, the strange chimera known as the docuseries. But it's the "docu" (truth) that clashes with the way a "series" works -- get-to-the-next episode antics that are meant to drive binge viewings, ratings, and shareholder value.
Nothing I've read by fans or detractors has lead me to believe the show gets any less sensationalistic. And when you deal with "you won't believe this" you stray far from truth, which is where I start feeling really sick.
Because laughing, cringing, and memeing our way through an off-kilter, reality-show star's self promotion at the expense of the truth, is exactly how we got our current president. And our own complicity in giving that showman so much attention for our own entertainment is something we should all look at.
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