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Our Youth Advisory Panel talk Tiger King

Posted on 14 May 2020 by Georgia

Spoiler Alert: This blog post discusses events that occur in later episodes of Tiger King.

At the beginning of our nationwide lockdown, Netflix released Tiger King; a documentary mini-series that explores the little-known society of big cat conservationists in America. The show explores a bitter feud between zookeeper Joe Exotic and his nemesis Carol Baskin, as well as a host of other eccentric personalities.

When the show was first released Netflix gave it the warning ‘16+ language’, however we felt that this didn’t give New Zealanders sufficient warning about some of the darker and more complex themes. We recommended that Netflix change their warning note to include ‘Suicide, violence, animal cruelty, drug use and offensive language’. The process for creating this warning note was complicated as a lot of the stronger content is referenced rather than depicted.

Tiger King has been popular with young people, so we were keen to get our Youth Advisory Panel involved in the conversation. We wanted to understand the impact of this series on young people, including how they felt about the treatment of animal cruelty, sexual violence, suicide and drug use. We also wanted to know if they thought our warning covered these themes appropriately.

Here are some outtakes from the conversation…

 What were your initial thoughts on the Tiger King series?

“It was insane. Every episode has quotable moments and twists”.

“It’s an absolute shitshow. It altered my sense of reality”.

What did you think of the documentary style of the series?

“It was definitely created for entertainment”.

“They are real stories. They have a unique point of difference, and audiences can think about how people like that are real and how they actually live their lives in these ways”.

“Documentaries are a pathway for people with an interest in something. Often they’re shown with a singular lens and it’s up to the person to think ‘what is the true nature of this?’ and ‘what else is out there?’”.

“Is it morally ethical to make people so one dimensional and portray them in just one way like this?”.

The series revolves around the exploitation of exotic animals. This includes violence towards tigers when they 'misbehave' and blurred imagery of an employee getting his arm ripped off. How did the cruelty and violence make you feel?

“I didn’t want to watch more than one episode because it was quite upsetting”.

“Joe was so desperate for attention and love from people. It doesn’t seem like the animals actually meant much to him.”

“The cats give him power, and they give him money. That’s not what I would call love”.

“Cruelty to other people is examined just as much as the cruelty to animals. Both groups are exploited”.

“All three of those people have really awful relationships with everyone around them”.

“There’s sexual abuse and cruelty involved. It’s disgusting and awful to know about and watch”.

The UK included sexual violence on their warning note to highlight the way the show dealt with threats of sexual violence and the pervasive theme of sexual control at various stages of the story. What are your thoughts on the underlying themes of sexual violence? 

“The underlying abuse and manipulation is harmful”.

“I found it disturbing because I understood what they were alluding to. I think you need to be older to understand that though”.

“Kids wouldn’t pick up on it too much”.

“Joe is quite predatory. A recurring theme in a lot of media is the way gay men are portrayed as predatory. It’s quite negative towards homosexuality”.

The show contains footage of a man reacting to another employee’s death via a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The series frames it as a suicide. How do you feel about this?

“It was treated poorly. They didn’t mention the circumstances”.

“It was shocking and unexpected. They just show the footage without any warning”.

“It’s also tucked in between lots of funny moments. It’s just a side plot to the main story. It was brushed aside even though it’s a shocking and confronting moment”.

“It’s not super gory or visual but you can piece it together in your mind”.

Would it be misleading to use ‘suicide’ on the note?

“If there’s potential for viewers to interpret it as suicide then they should be warned for it. Especially because of the discussion about mental health and the narrative surrounding it”.

“It could be interpreted that way because of the note”.

Substance misuse like meth, alcohol and cannabis is referenced often. How does this impact on the classification?

“It’s talked about as if it is normal in their lives. But the viewer knows that their lives are far from normal so it’s really not portrayed in a positive light”.

“It’s not educational either. Just part of the story”.

What was the most impactful moment for you?

“Trevor’s death. I watched it three times. I couldn’t process it the first time so I needed to watch it again to take it in. I felt like it needed to be treated with some level of respect, and it was kind of painful to go back and watch it while thinking about how they’d hurriedly brushed over his whole existence”.

“The animal maulings were pretty impactful and shocking”.

How do you feel about the 16+ classification and warning note for ‘Suicide, violence, animal cruelty, drug use and offensive language’?

“16 would attract a more mature audience”.

“It covers reasonably dark things so that’s a good classification”.

“Some of this stuff has potential triggers for certain groups of people so the warnings can help them make that choice”.

“I watched it with my younger sister and it was fine. Initially my dad and I watched it, and then we decided it would be good to watch as a family. We didn’t take it seriously and found it funny. But it might be different if you watched it alone”.

“As 19 year olds my friends and I have taken it as being just a bit of a laugh”.

Learn more about our Youth Advisory Panel and register your interest in joining this group.

Georgia works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.


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