‘Florida Man’ is a real thing, in fact and in fiction

In the 2024 White House race, the presence on the campaign trail of not just one, but two Florida residents have, thus far, sparked a resurgence of the popular meme known as the Florida Man.

Google the term “Florida Man” and you’ll get 1.4 billion results in less than a minute. Google “Miami Mayor Francis Suarez” and in less than a minute you’ll get results that suggest we may not have a third Florida presidential candidate after all.

The Florida Man meme became a thing 10 years ago with the launch of a Twitter feed called @FloridaMan. Broadcasters diligently compiled news reports, mostly about crime, in which the circumstances were bizarre, Florida-style.

That same year, Reddit, a reader-edited website, added to the popularity of the meme, but also posted some guidelines: “’Florida man decapitates baby’ is not funny. We’re looking for more of a ‘Naked Florida Man, High On Meth, Attempts To Rob Liquor Store With A Dead Stripe.’”

Will the next Twitter source say: “Authorities in Texas and California investigating Florida man for luring immigrant job seekers onto planes bound for Martha’s Vineyard and California?” It’s not fun either, but he is gaining momentum in court proceedings in San Antonio and Sacramento.

In the meantime, it’s fair to mention that long before improvements to the Internet allowed services like Twitter and Reddit to spring up and waste the time of millions of young Americans, two Floridians had laid the foundation for the widely held belief that Florida is weird. . Very rare.

No, I am not referring to the two presidential candidates. One of them, Mr. DJ Trump of Palm Beach, is a former New Yorker and a relatively recent immigrant to the Sunshine State. Even so, his demeanor often fits the Florida Man meme. The other candidate, the Florida native R. Dion DeSantis, is already widely recognized as a quintessential Florida man.

However, it was two other Florida residents who were possibly the real culprits.

Coincidentally, these two culprits were writers who had a long association with an influential Florida institution that is notorious for gleefully causing trouble by speaking truth to power: the Miami Herald.

One, Carl Hiaasen, is a Fort Lauderdale native who not only wrote countless columns for the Herald before retiring in 2021, but also writes best-selling books. Two, “Striptease” and “Hoot,” were made into movies.

“Hoot” is safe for children to view, unless a Moms for Liberty crusader objects. “Hoot” nicely reflects Hiaasen’s views on Florida’s endangered natural environment, which the film portrays beautifully.

In “Hoot” and many of his other works, Hiaasen uses his sense of humor to lament the state’s hectic pace of growth and mock corrupt politicians who sell out the public for bribes, campaign contributions and consulting contracts.

A less biting form of humor can be found in the output of the prolific Dave Barry, the other Herald writer who has made full use of quirky Florida. While Hiaasen uses satirical humor to prompt readers to think about important issues, Barry mainly uses his own form of humor to make people laugh and then think “Why am I laughing at this?”

Barry, a New York native, moved to Miami 40 years ago to work as a humor columnist for Tropic, then the Herald’s Sunday magazine. His syndicated columns reached a national audience, spreading far and wide the perception of Florida as a place where strange things happen every day.

Barry’s early writing often reflected the experiences of many northerners whose move to a state with a semitropical climate placed them in close proximity to terrifying creatures, from alligators in their swimming pools to giant palmetto bugs in their kitchens.

Over the years, Barry has expanded the scope of his commentary beyond the fish-out-of-water challenges facing new Floridians. The ridiculous elements of the state were well reflected in “Big Trouble,” a movie based on his book of the same name.

Last Saturday, during a CBS news segment on Barry’s latest book, “Swamp Story,” Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and CBS’s Jeff Glor discussed the book during an airboat ride to the Everglades.

Amid the laughs about the state of Florida being a powerhouse of humorous fodder, Barry acknowledged that some of the themes in his new novel were drawn from painful chapters in his own personal life, including his father’s alcoholism and the suicide of his mother.

Humor, it seems, is sometimes a way of dealing with life’s problems, so perhaps the current resurgence in popularity of the Florida Man meme tells us less about the state of Florida than it does about the state of our nation. and our own lives.

In fact, among the thousands of amusing anecdotes portraying the Florida Man as a bumbling thief or hapless superhero wannabe, there is often an undercurrent of empathy for the scoundrel, along with wondering if it was despair, delusions, drugs, or something in between. the water that led one particular Florida man to do something so incredibly bizarre.