Oh my gosh you guys, Tiger King. Tiger King, you guys, oh my gosh. You guys, Tiger King, oh my gosh. Most people with a Netflix subscription have seen the absolutely wild documentary following the world of “Big Cat People”, their private zoos, and the people who love them. Particularly, the doc follows Joe Exotic, the titular ‘Tiger King.’
But I’m not here to talk about Joe Exotic. The Big Cat Person I’d like to use my limited time on Earth discussing is Carol Baskin. Now despite being arguably the least problematic Big Cat Person we meet in the docuseries, Carol seems to be the biggest topic of conversation following the series’ success. And the conversations surrounding Carol all center around this one question: Did Carol kill her husband?
Yes, she did. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Carol Baskin killed her husband. And basically everyone agrees with me. In fact, I’ve only recently started hearing people defending her, stating that there is no proof that she killed her husband. They are almost correct in pointing this out. If Carol were to be charged and go through a criminal trial she would not, and should not, be found guilty. But that doesn’t mean there’s no proof.
Guilt in a criminal trial must be proven “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.” In Carol’s case, there are a bunch of reasonable doubts! Maybe her husband did run off to Costa Rica. Maybe he did transfer his power of attorney to her, with suspicious and unconventional wording. It’s suspicious, absolutely suspicious. But it does not rise beyond a reasonable doubt. This type of evidence is called “Circumstantial Evidence” as opposed to “Direct Evidence.”
The classic example is knowing it snowed because you saw the snow fall (direct evidence) as opposed to going to bed with no snow on the ground, and waking up to see snow (circumstantial evidence). Circumstantial requires you to make an inference. So when all of your evidence is circumstantial, it’s difficult to eliminate every reasonable doubt.
This was a similar issue I grappled with after another Netflix docuseries, The Staircase. That dude killed his wife. He absolutely did. But the prosecutors did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and Michael Peterson should not have been found guilty.
So, again, did Carol kill her husband? Probably. I’m willing to say she did. But I understand those going to her defense, and I’m glad she has not been convicted based on the evidence we saw in Tiger King. (I’m also glad that based on the popularity of the conversation following the show the Hillsborough Sheriff reopened the case.)
Yet despite this legitimate question of fact, Carol is still the most despised of all those who appeared in Tiger King. There are no questions about the terrible things Joe Exotic or Doc Antle have done. Joe gave meth to young men, and used their addiction to coerce them into a relationship – a typical strategy of sex traffikers. Doc “groomed” the young women working at his zoo – establishing a relationship with them at a young age, so that he may exploit them. And then, like, all the tiger stuff too.
But anecdotal proof, as well as a poll from the Hollywood Reporter, tell us that Carol is still the most disliked person to come out of Tiger King. Why could this be? Aside from our willingness to personally take the circumstantial evidence at face value, probably misogyny. Even if unconscious, we’re all hard wired to dislike, be more critical, etc. of women.
In defense of disliking Carol Baskin, she is a Big Cat Person just the same as Joe and Doc. She runs a private zoo touted as a sanctuary. I’m no tiger/zoo expert, but Big Cat Rescue’s habitats didn’t look much better than Joe or Docs. Carol has people pay her to volunteer and hopefully move up the imaginary and arbitrary ranks of her zoo, a business model similar to Scientology or most Improv Theaters. This paragraph is basically saying Carol is proveably Big Cat Person and a hypocrite. Which, make no mistake, is nowhere near as bad as being a Big Cat Person and a sexual predator.
So, can we convict Carol Baskin of murder? Not yet. Is our disdain for Carol likely stemming from some sort of unconscious and internalized misogyny? Most likely. Does this mean that we need to defend her and believe that she is a good person? No.
If you’ve seen Tiger King and want to discuss, let us know what you think, particularly about the Carol issue. If you think she’s innocent, tell me why! If you haven’t seen Tiger King, check it out! It’s a wild ride wrapped in a somewhat mediocre docuseries that really helps pass the time in quarantine.