If you have not heard of Florida Man aka “The World’s Worst Superhero,” his twitter feed is below. Enjoy.
Here are his mugshots:
Florida Man stories come up almost daily, each a unique snowflake of absurd criminality. He’s had sex with a dolphin that he insists seduced him, accidentally butt-dialled 911 while cooking meth with his mom, and danced on top of a police cruiser to ward off vampires.
What accounts for his prolific headlines? We take it for granted that Florida is America’s weirdest state. Local writers like Dave Barry and Carl Hiassin have made their careers based on that fact.
However, why is there Florida Man? How can one anthropomorphized headline accomplish so much dolphin sex and rhythmic vampire repulsion? What fuels his epic life?
Drugs is the first thing that comes to mind.
Florida’s drug problems are well documented. It was a beachhead of the cocaine trade in the 1980’s and our current prescription drug epidemic was in part fueled by the state’s “Pain Management Clinics” which liberally dispensed addictive opiates throughout the country. But Florida’s drug problem is not the worst in the nation. New Mexico abuses more prescription medications. Oklahoma cooks more meth, Washington DC snorts more cocaine, and Alaska has more violent crime. The police certainly deal with drug crazed citizens in each of these states, so why no Alaska Man or Oklahoma Man headlines brightening up our newsfeeds?
Perhaps it’s a matter of numbers. Florida may have the same percentage of 52-year-old identical twins that get arrested after getting into a brick fight and then fight the cops per capita as Wyoming or New Hampshire, but Florida is also the third most populated US state. Out of 20 million citizens, you’re going to have a higher number of incidents like cop-fighting middle-aged twins armed with masonry.
But statistics alone cannot explain each Florida Man’s own unique journey of absurdity. There’s an extra spring in his step to each newspaper headline. A follow through on his swing knocking an initial poor decision out of the park. It’s never simply getting arrested for having sex with a tree. It’s then getting tased, pulling out the prongs, declaring himself to be Thor, God of Thunder, and then trying to stab the officer with his own badge. Or a teenager who not only pretended to be a doctor, but then opened up his own medical practice with it’s own website and Facebook page called “New Birth New Life Holistic and Alternative Medical Center & Urgent Care.” And then got arrested again for “[using] the checking account information from one of his clients to pay off more than $34,000 in car payments.”
What accounts for this? Some credit the state’s unique cultural mix. According to Roy Black, a Florida lawyer, as quoted in the New York Times
It is partly the polarized nature of the state — very poor to very rich, very liberal to very conservative. It is partly the state’s cavorting culture — South Beach, spring break, half-naked people, late-night clubs. And it is partly the legions of immigrants from Cuba, South America, Central America and Haiti who sometimes import their old-country vendettas. “Where else do you get retired torturers from Argentina?” Mr. Black asked.
Florida’s informal motto is “The further north you go, the further south you are.” But wealthy plastic surgeons and die-hard southerners cooking meth in swampland sharing the same borders cannot explain it all. New York is vastly more multicultural and boasts nearly similar population numbers. Yet there’s no “New York Man” bumbling his way through our collective consciousness.
Maybe it’s the heat. Or the bugs. Or the giant prehistoric reptiles that sometimes eat fleeing criminals.
The why of each Florida Man’s unique adventure through the legal system shares no common cause. However, one thing is certain. The origin of “Florida Man” as the internet knows him comes down to one cause: Florida’s vaunted open-records laws, known as the Government in the Sunshine Act. A model of journalistic freedom for the rest of the nation, the 1909 act states that all government business is public business. Therefore, all records, including photos and videos that have been produced by a public agency, are available to the public. Thus, as the Miami New Times puts it:
Here in Florida, we could just call the police and say something like, “Heard there was an arrest at the mall yesterday. Can we get the report?” For journalists in many other states, it’s not that easy. They might not be able to get the arrest report or must wait a while before police release it. They might be able to get some information, but without other evidence, they really don’t have much for a story — and digging further might take more time than it’s worth.
Herein lies the most positive aspect of Florida Man. Besides providing almost daily entertainment, and a ringing endorsement of how bad your life isn’t, the existence of Florida Man is due to a robust press. A powerful beacon shining their light unobstructed on the inner workings of government to root out corruption and protect its citizens.
Of course, despite all this investigative power, every news organization is also on the lookout for the next viral story, and “Florida Man” stories like a guy getting tased after running through an airport in his underwear swinging nunchucks because he “kinda always wanted to be tased”, or a retired professional wrestler bankrupting an internet news company because they published a tape of him having sex with a woman who was married to a man named “Bubba the Love Sponge” at his request are low hanging fruit.
It is said that the key to a healthy democracy is an open and free press. The United Nation’s 1948 Declaration of Human Rights states
”Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers"
The Government in the Sunshine Act is the model of this, allowing “journalists and concerned citizens to uncover examples of corruption, conflicts of interest, and abuse.” Or, as this journalist want ad for the Sarasota Herald-Tribute said so concisely
For those unaware of Florida’s reputation, it’s arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.
I cannot urge you enough to read the entire ad.
In short, Florida Man is the side product/icing on the cake of a monumental step in our first amendment right to an open and free press. One day, we can only hope these investigative powers will extend throughout the nation, rooting out corruption and exposing the hypocrisy and abuse of the wealthy and powerful. To keep those charged with our highest office to their promise to protect and serve their constituents. This is the cornerstone of good journalism, and with it, a great democracy.
Of course this hasn’t stopped Florida from being ranked as the fourth most corrupt state in the US.
Because of course it is. No one can save Florida from being itself, especially not Florida Man. He’s the world’s worst superhero.