People don’t like being categorized, but I’m proud to call myself a Florida writer.
Florida is my muse. But as much as I’ve extolled the exotic beauty of my state, if I were to be completely honest I’d have to say that my true muse is Florida Man—the meme, archetype, superhero, everyman.
Florida’s unique landscape and diverse cultures are the nutrients that have yielded a bumper crop of great authors: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Zora Neale Hurston, Peter Matthiessen, John D. MacDonald, Marjory Stoneman Douglas. . . the list goes on. (I’ll write a deeper post soon celebrating Florida’s literary heritage.)
Our state also inspires humor in the works of many authors from Tim Dorsey to Carl Hiaasen to Dave Barry. Because, face it, Florida produces a lot of weirdos, like the standing water we’re warned against that breeds mosquitoes. Even more abundant than the weirdos born here (like me) are the ones who move here. People flock to Florida, running away from their previous lives, or, more frequently, from the law. Many come here hoping to get rich, which often means exploiting the environment or gullible retired people. Or they come here to eat fresh seafood, bask in the sunshine, and discuss how much Florida sucks compared to New York.
But let’s get back to the weirdos. Florida has a lot of them. There have been no scientific studies proving that we have more weirdos than any other state. Instead, there is the Florida Man Phenomenon—the meme of the crazy idiot that has become world-famous. There was even a beer named after him. As far as I know, there is no California Man or Iowa Man. Just Florida Man (and Florida Woman).
Someone once compared the United States to a bottle filled with murky water. Eventually all the crap settles on the bottom. That bottom of the bottle is Florida. And that sediment is Florida Man.
The Florida Man meme originally gained fame as a Twitter account that posted links to the plethora of daily headlines that read like this: “Florida man caught shoplifting with 50 pounds of sausages in his pants.” Or: “Naked Florida man arrested for stealing police car.” Or, the highest form of the art, combining “drunk” and “naked”: “Drunk, naked Florida man on riding lawnmower causes multi-car pile-up on interstate.”
There are just as many Florida Woman stories, too, but usually resulting in fewer physical injuries.
I’ll avoid the more notorious, disturbing, Florida Man tales, such as naked men on bath salts eating faces, and stick with ones that are simply ironic and absurd, desperate and pathetic. For those of us who write in the crime fiction genre called Florida Noir, Florida Man and Florida Woman give us endless plot ideas and characters. They also create comic relief so we don’t fall into despair from the true villains: the human traffickers, environment despoilers, financial fraudsters, drug dealers, run-of-the-mill murderers, and all those who prey upon the vulnerable.
Though we laugh at Florida Man, we also feel a kinship with him. He’s a regular schlub trying to make it in this world owned by the One Percent. Yet he has the courage to break out of his claustrophobic daily routine by engaging in a bold, unexpected gambit.
The problem is, his gambit is colossally stupid. And he’s probably drunk and naked while doing it. But at least he tried.
Deep down inside, we are all Florida Man.