Tiger King's Carole Baskin is undergoing trial by meme.


When Carole Baskin signed on to appear in the Netflix documentary, Tiger King, she believed she was going to be part of something big.

According to her husband, Howard, the series was pitched to them as the “Blackfish of big cats in captivity”; a “meaningful” expose on the exploitation of tiger and lion cubs by America’s private roadside zoos.

As the founder of a big cat sanctuary in Florida, Carole Baskin no doubt expected to emerge from the project as some kind of saviour, or at least selfless advocate. Instead, she’s emerged under a cloud of suspicion that she murdered her missing ex-husband, minced his remains and fed them to her beloved cats.

Watch: A glimpse of Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness. Post continues below.

Video by Netflix

The sensational theory was presented by a number of participants in the documentary and is now being been bolstered by millions of viewers who, only two weeks ago, had likely never heard her name.

Through Tiger King — Netflix’s most popular show right now — Carole Baskin certainly has become part of something big: trial by meme.


Tiger King’s villain.

Filmed over five years, the seven-part documentary, directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, is a bizarre, hypnotic true tale involving exotic cats, animal rights, polygamy, drug abuse, murder-for-hire and a federal investigation.

It centres around the adversarial relationship between Baskin, and Joe Exotic (real name Joe Maldonado-Passage) — a gay, mullet-wearing, gun-toting, big-cat breeder, private-zoo owner and wannabe country singer based in Oklahoma.

At the core of the series are allegations that Exotic pays to have Baskin killed as revenge over her quest to end the private breeding of big cats. But it’s the allegations presented about Baskin’s missing ex — one of the many, many stunning subplots of the series — that has generated some of the most intense reaction.

That missing man in question is Jack “Don” Lewis, a multi-millionaire last seen alive on August 18, 1997. Lewis’ van was found at an airport in their home city of Tampa, Florida. Beyond that, well, there’s been no trace of him since.

Tiger King touches on certain, purportedly revealing aspects of the case. Like that two weeks prior to his disappearance, Lewis filed a restraining order application against Baskin, in which he alleged she had threatened to kill him. The application was denied. Also, that Baskin believes he was becoming increasingly confused and disoriented and implies that he may have been living with some form of dementia.


As is customary, a judge declared Lewis legally dead five years after he disappeared, allowing Baskin to inherit the majority of his wealth (the remainder went to his three adult daughters from a previous marriage).

The trial begins.

In the series, Joe Exotic riffs off rumours that Baskin murdered Lewis for his money — rumours that she has firmly and repeatedly denied.

He suggests Lewis’ body may be in the septic tank at Big Cat Rescue, points to the fact there’s a meat grinder on the property and even makes a diss-track music video in which a Baskin-lookalike feeds raw meat to a tiger.

Dressed in a priest’s collar and cowboy hat, Exotic sings:

“No bones, no remains, but that won’t change the fact that Don sure ain’t comin’ back
But you can’t prosecute, there’s just no use
There’s nothin’ left but [holds up a handful of feaces] tiger tracks.”

It’s twisted as hell. And, sure, darkly funny.

But that sort of perverse tone that runs throughout the series plays a big role in shaping our reaction to Carole Baskin and our willingness to buy into/participate in the rumours about her.

Of course, a portion of the chatter happening right now is among internet sleuths and amateur detectives, who — thanks to the recent popularity of the true-crime genre — have been drawn out of their niche forums into the mainstream. Many are on Twitter now, dissecting old news stories about Lewis’ disappearance, combing through Baskin’s wording, her tone of voice and facial expressions.


But most of the interrogation that’s unfolding on social media right now is something else altogether.


There's not nearly as much earnestness as there was in the narrative around other Netflix crime series like, say, Making A Murderer or The Keepers.

And God, no wonder.

Deeply disturbing aspects like a missing person, hit-men, fraud, animal abuse and suicide are entangled in comically eccentric and utterly absurd ones — the chap-wearing big-cat cowboy, the cringe-worthy country songs, the rumoured murder method, even Baskin herself with her flower crowns, leopard-print wardrobe and canned catchphrase ("Hey all you big cats and kittens"). It distances us from the reality of it, just enough that it becomes more pop culture than true crime.


Then in come the celebrity fans, from Kim Kardashian to Rapper Cardi B, inviting speculation about Baskin's guilt or innocence.

Even OJ Simpson weighed in with a verdict. Yes, OJ Simpson, as in the man at the centre of one of the most contentious murder cases in recent memory, the man who many speculate got away with killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown.

Simpson posted a video to Twitter this week in which he declared "there's no doubt" in his mind that Don Lewis became, as he so delicately put it, "tiger sashimi".

All these layers stack together to give us a platform from which we feel comfortable openly accusing a woman of murdering her husband in under 280 characters. Maybe even enough to joke about it.

And so, around and around the internet it goes.

Of course, only a few people really know what happened to Don Lewis. But one virtue of the meme-able nature of this whole thing is that authorities are using the flood of interest to call for tips.

This from the Sheriff in Hillsborough County, Florida, where Lewis was last seen alive.

We may get a verdict in this whole thing after all.

I don't think Twitter would cope.

Feature Image: Netflix.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness is available to stream on Netflix.