Of Animal Love and Abuse: Exploring Ambivalent Human-Animal Relationships in Tiger King (2020) during the COVID-19 Pandemic
On March 20, 2020, Netflix launched a new hit. The true crime documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness became the streaming provider s most successful show to date and served as one of the most popular distraction measures for people locked up in their homes due to the corona pandemic. This contribution examines the controversial show ... through the critical lens of human-animal studies. While primatologist Jane Goodall flags the pandemic as a wake-up call to change our relationship to animals, the show painfully exemplifies what is at stake when human and nonhuman animals cohabitate. Despite its shortcomings from an animal and human ethics perspective, I argue that Tiger King s ambivalent staging of human-animal relationships offers fruitful insights into how animal love can go awry and cross the line to becoming animal abuse. Particularly as exotic pet-keeping and roadside zoos might embody the wet markets of the US, I wonder whether the show s mass appeal could benefit the perception of animals as it highlights human-animal kinship, entanglement, and relatability. In the light of COVID-19 as a zoonosis that intensifies the discrepancy between human-animal distancing and attempts at human-animal bonding, questions on how to challenge anthropocentric thinking to live well together grow louder.
Original publication in
On_culture: the open journal for the study of culture 9 (2020)