Lunchtable TV Talk: Tiger King + The Family + Ozark

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I’m a long way behind the curve in saying anything about the improbable Tiger King phenomenon, and there isn’t much to say about it except… well, there are idiots everywhere — some of them manipulative, some of them manipulated — and all of them thoughtless and selfish. I can’t stand watching or thinking about animals being mistreated, and under no circumstances could one claim that animals weren’t mistreated at the facility where Joe Exotic bred these creatures. No point describing this further except to say that this reflects the worst of society, its selfish streaks and disregard for life and nature.

I am nevertheless (briefly) bringing it up now largely because of the strange way that totally different programs end up having a surprising thematic overlap. What, then, does Tiger King have to do with the documentary, The Family, and by extension, Ozark? On the surface, absolutely nothing. But if you watch them one after the other in short succession, you will find a theme of destruction of one type or another, brought about by the selfishness, self-preservation, ugliness of what people can do and become.

The Family focuses on a conservative, right-wing, religious organization/cult that influences American politics heavily. Not a fantastic documentary, but it does chronicle the toxic and insidious influence an ultra-right-wing “religious” group has on American politics, and by extension, American life. I put “religious” into quotation marks because I find these interpretations and manifestations of faith to negate true spiritual or religious belief. Anything that excludes, vilifies and targets people with hatred and discrimination — or official government policy or law codifying hatred or discrimination — is not qualified to be anything but a power-hungry cult in my estimation. The Family illustrates the destructive nature of hypocrisy – how it can profoundly benefit small groups (particularly white men) and have a deeply destructive, corrosive effect on everyone else. And even those privileged by this system can be burned by it if they fail to follow its rules or if the “movement” demands a scapegoat.

Meanwhile, in Ozark, the conversion of Marty and Wendy Byrde from fearful accidental money launderers to active crime lords isn’t without its parallels to The Family — power and money corrupt, and the constant threat of violence or the long hand of the law on either end of the spectrum make for similarly destructive potential… the destruction of the family, the destruction of individual moral fiber, the destruction of a sense of right and wrong. Eventually, again, hypocrisy comes into play — as one gains more power and influence, the perception of what’s right and legal seems to shift. One of the early schemes in Ozark is Marty and Wendy’s attempt to bankroll the building of a fundamentalist church – which felt worthy of the snake-oil salesman “religious” orientation of the people in The Family. It felt equally slimy and misleading… sliding rapidly down the slippery slope.

Life is, for some, a performance: a marriage of performative religion and stupidity. A PT Barnum three-ring circus of people buying exotic animals, having no idea how to care for them (this is central to Tiger King but also appears in Ozark, in which Ruth’s two relatives buy two bobcats or something — thinking they are a male and female who will breed, but turn out to be two males), digging deeper holes for themselves, bending or making entirely new rules for themselves. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned things were in the beginning (there were probably good, if misguided, intentions driving each of these three stories before they went full circus. Fiction or non-fiction, there seems to be no immunity to the most destructive impulses.

Photo by Mark Williams on Unsplash

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