Netflix's smash documentary series Tiger King is many things: an exercise in unhinged American exceptionalism; an indictment of our flawed criminal justice system; a manic look at the types of deranged personalities that gravitate toward private zoos and big cat ownership. It's all there, in glorious (and gloriously uncomfortable) detail.
The show, which racked up an astonishing 34 million viewers in the first 10 days after its March 20 premiere, has become a cultural phenomenon. It's inspired memes, a true-crime miniseries sequel, and has a dedicated cadre of high profile fans — including, apparently, President Trump's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
In the weeks since the show first aired, Trump Jr. has peppered his already-cringeworthy Instagram account with the sort of Tiger King "jokes" and references you'd probably expect from someone who thinks being born into immeasurable privilege counts a having a personality.
This, in and of itself, isn't a problem per se. Trump Jr. is no stranger to posting cringe, and at this point, we probably shouldn't expect much more from his social media presence than we would from, say, a tween hopped up on Red Bull and DOOM Eternal. In this, as in all things Trump Jr., the bar is set extremely low.
However, Junior's Tiger King obsession becomes troubling when it breaks out of his navel-gazing Instagram account and lands in the middle of a televised presidential briefing on a global pandemic that's killed thousands of Americans, and will almost certainly kill tens of thousands more.
That's exactly what happened Wednesday evening, when New York Post reporter Steven Nelson used his precious time during Trump's nightly coronavirus burlesque to ask the president of the United States if he would consider pardoning Tiger King's ostensible star Joe Exotic, who is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for his role in allegedly planning a murder-for-hire plot.
That Nelson would use a global pandemic as an opportunity to ask the president about a true crime TV series is embarrassing enough. The fact that Nelson prefaced his question by describing Tiger King as "one of the biggest rating hits of the coronavirus, aside from these briefings" is absolutely worse. And the fact that this whole bizarre exchange was inspired by the president's 42-year-old son and his compulsive Tiger King fandom is worst of all.
In asking his question, Nelson told Trump that "your son" had "jokingly said he was going to advocate for [a pardon]" for Exotic, which prompted Trump to immediately guess this was all Trump Jr.'s doing. Because when it comes to pop culture ephemera intruding on national business, Junior's brand is strong, apparently. (For the record, Trump's answer was this: "I don't know, I know nothing about it. ... I'll take a look.")
On Instagram, Trump's oldest son lapped up the attention his shitposting had inspired, describing the exchange as "pretty epic" and "a nice light moment in an otherwise always difficult and serious press conference."
That same day, the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic officially topped 14,000 people. But hey, at least Trump Jr. made his daddy laugh.