If you somehow haven’t seen Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, yet you’re in for a treat this weekend.
If you somehow haven’t seen Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, yet you’re in for a treat this weekend. Though Netflix’s true-crime docuseries often seems to test the bounds of logic, its tale of murder for hire in rural Oklahoma is endlessly addicting. As viewers make their way through all seven episodes, a host of characters is introduced, but no one makes a bigger impression than Joe Exotic. An unabashed showman who serves as both the protagonist and primary antagonist, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, né Schreibvogel, is a big cat-loving, gun-toting, mullet-rocking disaster artist who commands every scene. Perhaps the only person who has been both a presidential candidate and a freewheeling polygamist meth head, Maldonado-Passage is a lot to take in, and the flamboyance of his personal life is matched only by his wardrobe. Filled with animal prints (natch), sequins, and tie-dye, his look is cowboy drag filtered through a lens of bad taste and shrooms. The result is horrible, hypnotic, and shockingly on-trend.
It’s easy to assume that such outlandish outfits come together by accident. After all, there are a relative few boutiques in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and Exotic, with his limited budget and time-consuming feuds, had to work with what he had. Though there may be a “found object” aspect to his look, the intentional nature of his style comes through on several occasions. While prepping for a date, he chooses between five near-identical fringed jackets before settling on the one. A special pizza party at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park is cause to bring out a sequined blouse dotted with leopard spots. In episode five, weeks after the death of his second husband, he primps in the mirror adjusting his mullet to “get the curls out” because every coil holds the secret to his sex appeal. Beneath the beaded chokers, baseball caps, and multiple piercings is a milquetoast middle-aged man, and yet he plans each ensemble to amplify his persona. Even when no one is watching, his fashion choices are extreme—webcast with only a handful of viewers? Time to throw on that neon denim vest!
There is a precedent for Exotic’s sensibility. The inventive anti-fashion of Harmonie Korine’s weirdos—think, Matthew McConaughey’s psychedelic stoner in The Beach Bum, anyone in Gummo—Demna Gvasalia’s Eastern bloc misfits, and the international cabal of ugly-shoe wearers aren’t too far off from Exotic. On the runway, the ten-gallon hats and fringed trousers of Palm Angels’s fall 2020 collection, or Balmain’s glitzy pre-fall leopard bombers would fit right into Exotic’s repertoire. It would take a whole lot of chutzpah for regular folks to walk outside in sparkly chaps, but we’ve been seeing musicians like Diplo and Lil Nas X do it for almost a year. For better or worse, Tiger King arrives at a time when people are primed for outré western wear.
For all his forward-thinking fashions, Maldonado-Passage is far from a model citizen. Each episode introduces you to a new set of poor life choices: his decision to hire a hitman to take out a rival being particularly reprehensible. Still, there’s something oddly compelling about him and his ridiculous clothes. Multiple participants in the documentary speak about his ability to draw them into his world, despite their reservations. While he wouldn’t be the first narcissist to suck vulnerable people into his orbit, his antics make for great television. The Tiger King won’t get to enjoy this newfound influence now that he’s behind bars, but anyone who can have Jared Leto dress in homage to them and leave Kim Kardashian speechless has made a definite impression.
FOR THE MINIS