In Defense of Carole Baskin
The other day, I was at a brewery with my parents, expecting to have a nice, relaxing evening, when someone that my parents knew showed up and decided to sit with us. This was fine, because we all thought he would leave as soon as the person he was waiting for arrived. This proved not to be the case, and by the time we finally left, our little table of three had grown by four additional members, none of which we had invited. Now, considering this was a spur of the moment thing, meaning that I didn’t have time to mentally prepare for that much social interaction (I’m an introvert, so preparation is crucial to my ability to socialize), plus the fact that there was alcohol involved (I was the only one not drinking, considering my 21st isn’t for another month) so, it’s safe to say, I was very fucking annoyed by this. But, this is not the purpose of this article. This is merely the context that started my desire to write this. Eventually, during our long winded conversation, someone mentioned Tiger King. I was a little surprised by this, because Tiger King hasn’t been a huge deal for quite a while now, but nevertheless, we started discussing our thoughts on Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin and Doc Antle, and while I had been rather quiet throughout this evening, once people started bashing Ms. Baskin, I felt the need to speak up. I tried formulating my thoughts on why I thought Carole was the lesser of all the evils (by a long shot), but every time I tried to say anything to defend her, I was quickly shot down with “But she killed her husband!” Now, I will not deny that, while there is no concrete proof that can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Carole did kill her husband, but I understand why many people believe that she did. For the sake of this discussion, let’s just say that she did. (That is not necessarily my opinion, but for the sake of my argument, I’ll from here on out assume that she did). In response to this constant interruption, I eventually blurted out, “But he deserved it!” which is not something I truly believe, I was just at my wits end, and was not allowed the opportunity to discuss my opinions in a well thought out way, which made me very frustrated. That outburst sufficiently changed the conversation, as no one wanted to push me further on it, so the topic was quickly forgotten, at least, by everyone else. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened, and started to really formulate my thoughts on Carole Baskin, so that in any future conversation, I can hopefully defend her in a way that is constructive and causes people to think. So, that brings us to this article. I’m a writer, it’s how I best communicate, so I thought it would be helpful to me, and in general just pretty interesting, to write a piece detailing all the reasons why I believe Carole Baskin doesn’t deserve the hate.
Before I delve into my specific reasoning, I’d first like to add a disclaimer. This is strictly my opinion, based on how I interpreted the events that were shown in Tiger King. I in no way know that full story, and I’m not saying that my opinion is the only correct one. I’m simply stating what I think, and why I think it. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.
Reason number one: Carole cared about cats. Nobody can sit through the entirety of Tiger King and claim that Carole Baskin did not love her cats. She ran a refuge, not an amusement park, where she could house rescued cats in a safe and loving environment until they passed on. Unlike Joe Exotic and Doc Antle, who both treated their cats poorly and only saw them as ways to make money, Carole immediately gave me the impression that she truly cares about her cats. They were her whole life. In addition to this, once her husband was out of the picture, she did not breed cats, nor did she allow cubs to be handled in the ways they were in the other two parks. There was ample evidence (or at least some heavy testimonies) that both Exotic and Antle killed tigers for the sake of saving money, and that while the tigers were alive, they were mistreated and kept in terrible conditions.
Reason number two: Carole did not coerce or manipulate people into helping her. Both Exotic and Antle used manipulative tactics to get people to work for them, and in a lot of cases, it was downright predatory. Antle coerced underage girls to come work for him, and once he roped them in, he forced them to live in terrible conditions, work to exhaustion and beyond, and often even forced them to change their names, which totally divorces them from the outside world, and their previous identities. I don’t need to go into why this is predatory behavior, but if grooming were illegal in the United States, I’m sure he’d be in prison. In the case of Joe Exotic, he used drugs and the allure of the tigers to convince two men who previously were straight, and felt they were straight all throughout their relationships with him, to marry and live with him, which eventually resulted in the death of one of them. Carole, on the other hand, only employed the use of impassioned volunteers, who all had nothing but love for her when asked about working on her refuge.
Reason number three: Carole was treated terribly by Joe Exotic. If you are a person that believes that Mr. Exotic was right in how he harassed, threatened, slandered, and abused Carole, then you are not someone who I want to know. Regardless of how you feel about Carole Baskin, you have to admit that Exotic behaved in a way that was totally inappropriate and warranted the legal action that was taken against him. He constantly belittled and verbally harassed her on his internet show, he threatened to assault and kill her on many occasions, and even went so far as to actually hire a hit man to take her out. Not to mention the fact that he stole her entire branding in an attempt to snuff out her business and thus take away her source of revenue. In my opinion, he deserved to get his ass sued and thrown in prison. He was vile to her, all because she had the best interest of the cats in mind.
Reason number four: As mentioned earlier, Carole rescued cats instead of breeding them into captivity. I’m a person who is wholly against the idea of exotic animals being owned by people in the private sector, and I strongly believe that there needs to be more legislation to protect these endangered animals. (By the way, Carole lobbied for this legislation, and is a strong advocate for stricter laws involving animals in the private sector.) So, I think that by breeding animals specifically for the purpose of being used to make money, Exotic and Antle were doing something terrible and, while they claimed to have a passion for cats, it is obvious that they only cared about the money. Carole did not give off that impression in the slightest.
Throughout my entire viewing of Tiger King, I was sitting there waiting for the moment when I was supposed to stop liking Carole. I watched the series a little late, so I knew that a lot of people didn’t like her, but as I continued to watch her prosper through all of her struggles, I just couldn’t understand why. Sure, she’s a little weird in how much she loves cats, but I found her personality to be endearing and, honestly, the only light in the entire show. And sure, maybe she killed her husband, but if you really think about it, that’s the only thing she ever did wrong. And yes, I understand that it is a big thing to do wrong, but I think that it was focused on too heavily, considering that it really didn’t have much to do with the actual concept of Tiger King. The only reason it was really relevant is that some people believe she fed him to her tigers. I also believe that, had the roles been reversed, and it had been a man, who had all the same actions and characteristics as Carole, that had killed his wife, it wouldn’t have been focused on in such detail. Combined with that, I think the creators of the documentary knew that it would catch people's attention (which, to be fair, it did) so they decided to make it a major plot point, that way they could put murder in the title, when in actuality, it supposed to be a show about the wacky world of Joe Exotic and all the private tiger zoos around America, with Carole playing an important role in a lot of Joe’s crazier adventures. The creators had to include some background information on Carole in order to make the audience feel that they were getting a bigger picture of the situation at hand, but I don’t see why making her husband’s disappearance such a big part of the series was necessary. Honestly, I think they could have left that whole plot point out, and, while the tone of the show would have been different, the message would have remained the same.
All and all, I understand that Carole Baskin is not necessarily a perfect person, but nobody is, and in the context of Tiger King, I think she is miles above the other characters in morals, intelligence, and kindness, and I feel that her treatment by the audience was unnecessarily harsh. After all, she was never convicted of anything, and while many people believe that she is guilty, that does not mean that she actually is. I think that Carole handled everything that was thrown at her in such a mature, compassionate way, and for that alone, I applaud her. I can’t imagine the emotional distress she must have gone through, and I honestly don’t understand how she kept such a happy demeanor when dealing with all that. So, next time you’re having a discussion about Tiger King, and the conversation shifts to Carole Baskin, instead of immediately blurting out, “She killed her husband!” instead take a second to think about how she fit into the grand scheme of things, and maybe, you’ll be a little more compassionate. Because, it’s easy to acknowledge that she killed her husband, and to let that be as deep as it goes, but when you start to trudge further, you’ll probably start to understand what I’m saying, and you might just realize that she isn’t such a bad person after all.