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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Decoding the Secret Appeal of “Tiger King” Joe Exotic

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

By now if you haven’t heard proverbial ‘Everybody’ talking about the Netflix special “Tiger King Murder, Mayhem and Madness” and its titular jailhouse-made “star” Joe Exotic, then you’re not paying attention to the COVID19 lockdown zeitgeist.


In just seven episodes, dating from March 20 and nearly coinciding with Coronavirus pandemic that caged America at home, Tiger King has blown up so much in viewership that even NASDAQ: NFLX stock crested at a near 52-week high of $426.

So let’s focus an "Eye of the Tiger" decoder on the magic of Joseph Allen Schriebvogel. Born March 5, 1963. his real name means “writing bird,” and Joe missed being born in the Year of the Tiger (Feb. 1962 - Jan. 1963) by a hair. (Perhaps gestation counts, in this case.) Meanwhile, Joe Exotic’s balladeer inclinations and bling persona? Look no further than Elvis, Tiger fans. From The King’s bling to the urge to sing, Joe Exotic is a byproduct of the Graceland landlord’s outrageous Vegas charm.

Elvis Presley’s “I wanna be your Teddy Bear” camp classic includes Big Cat lyrics, and encompasses lust, longing, and ultimately “Teddy Bear” even became a byword in the gay community. Quoting a Stanford University source, “in the early 1980s, some gay men (reportedly) began wearing small teddy bears in their back pockets as a way of rebelling against the normativity of the hanky code (Wright 1997a: 21, Hennen 2008: 97).  Thus Joe Exotic’s sexual preference, plus two husbands as depicted in the series, also fits within the Elvis-related matrix. After you watch Elvis and his classic rendition of “Teddy Bear,” his anthem to the plush version of the wild animal kingdom, you’ll view Joe’s guitar-slinging warbling with new eyes. Note even Elvis opines that "Tigers play too rough."

Elvis on Top in Faux-Cowboy Majesty: He Wants to Be Your Teddy Bear


Joe Exotic Sings “I Saw a Tiger”




Next comes the decryption of not only America’s fascination with said Exotic singing animal handler, but the worldwide curiosity ignited by Mr. Schriebvogel. According to Animal Planet, “the Bengal Tiger is the national animal of India, the Malayan Tiger is the national animal of Malaysia, the Siberian tiger is the national animal of South Korea, and the Royal Bengal Tiger is the national animal of Bangladesh.” Consider also in China, the character ‘Wang” represents the word “King” and, remarkably, the marking on the tiger’s forehead can allegedly be resolved into ‘wang’ symbology. Hindu goddess Durge, the female warrior, is drawn riding a tiger; thus the tiger therefore symbolizes strength turned into wisdom, as a wise combatant uses logic and discipline to harness war-like inclinations for victory.

In America, Tony the Tiger came into being in 1952 as the spokes-critter for Frosted Flakes from Kellogg. Millions of American children woke up to Tony’s “It’s grrreat!” sloganeering and imagery. Tony the Tiger is actually 6’3” tall; his favorite number is 10; and he has a star on the “advertising walk of fame,” according to Kellogg’s lore. TonyTheTigerHeightBoth tall and strong, this tiger’s influence is far and wide and extends to this very day, as modern cereal also features the bandana-wearing exotic pet-friend.

Few would deny Tony the Tiger also gave Joe Exotic a built-in audience, however subliminal the connection may be. Not to mention the “Tigger” of Pooh, by A. A. Milne; “The Tao of Pooh” followed by “The Te of Piglet” (Penguin) both by Benjamin Hoff. Tigger is “the impulsive” urge in this Taoist interpretation of the Milne children’s classic.

Between COVID19 lockdown and Donald Trump's era of  the "45" Presidency, Tiger King’s incarcerated star - much like Elvis - has inadvertently taken up the “Deplorables” banner and broken through to both Wall Street and Main Street, USA. Cultural elites are inevitably drawn into in the semiotics of Joe Exotic’s tiger-patterned iconoclastic magnetism. JoeExoticMugshotThus Exotic may be an unlikely candidate for unification across incomes and education, but much like the current populist President, Joseph Allen Schriebvogel has ridden an unexpected wave of pure personality cult with the release of this limited series.

So, in case you feel guilty watching the “murder, mayhem and madness” of this accidental novel Americana viral TV show, remember that its true-crime, pop-cult roots dig deep into the collective media unconscious of your childhood with Tony the Tiger, and through your adolescent coming of age with Elvis from "Jailhouse Rock" to "I Did It My Way" dotage.

If the Tony-the-Tiger-Elvis-Presley alchemy seems far-fetched, think about it. Maybe we just need to watch some hella campy, over-sexed human animals through the bars of our lockdown life right now. Thanks, Netflix.

“Tiger King Murder, Mayhem and Madness” Official Netflix Trailer




Hulu is running a TMZ takedown here...




Enjoy (guilt-free), this is worldwide pandemonium viewing right now. Or you can just binge-fake having watched the entire spectacle of "Tiger King Murder, Mayhem and Madness" because you know things now, lolz.

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

LA Correspondent for

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