Americans are searching the internet to see what wild crime story from Florida is associated with their birthday. And there are reasons why Florida has become the butt of this viral joke.
There’s no simple explanation for the phenomenon, according to accounts from local journalists, a prosecutor and a First Amendment advocate.
Crime stories are relatively easy to report in the state. That means when a Florida man does (allegedly) commit a crime with salacious details, it’s not difficult for reporters to find out.
But the culture of the state can’t be discounted, other experts will say. You’ll hear descriptions of Florida ranging from “diverse” to “crazy” — few would describe it as a boring place.
Here’s are three major reasons why Florida has become the home of the “Florida man” meme.
Crime stories are easy to report in Florida
In Florida, there are few barriers that would keep a reporter from writing a “Florida man” story, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Butler told USA TODAY on Thursday.
That’s because of the state’s general approach toward government records: “Florida starts with the premise that every document … is a public record,” Butler said. Everything is open unless there’s an exception that says it isn’t, he said.
That’s not the case in all states.
So when the Miami New Times attempted to explain the “Florida man” phenomenon in 2015, they pointed to the state’s “proud open government laws.”
The publication detailed the streamlined process of obtaining information about a suspect from authorities before bluntly saying, “For journalists in many other states, it’s not that easy.”
‘There’s a general craziness here’
Everyone explains it differently, but few deny the state that is home to the Conch Republic has a real affinity for the off-beat.
It’s prompted Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman to write a book titled “OH, FLORIDA! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.”
And when Treasure Coast Newspapers columnist and Florida transplant Gil Smart tried to explain “Florida Man” last year, he did so this way:
There’s a general craziness here that’s almost palpable. Maybe it’s because so many people — like me — aren’t from here. They’re expats of sorts; they come here to hide, to escape, to forget their past, to reinvent themselves.
A Tuesday opinion column in the University of Florida student newspaper “The Independent Florida Alligator” (a very Florida name) admitted the state has no shortage of odd behavior to report, before explaining the role of the state’s Sunshine Laws in crime reporting:
We can try to attribute some of the bizarre stories to the suffocating humidity or a few bad cases of sun poisoning, but in reality, Florida just has some strange people doing some strange things.
The ‘Florida man’ cycle
A final explanation offered by the President of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation: The popularity of the meme has encouraged the spread of new “Florida man” stories.
“It’s kinda sad, in one sense, that Florida gets such recognition,” Barbara Petersen told USA TODAY on Thursday.
She said one clue that something is amiss: the phrase “Florida woman” hasn’t gotten such viral attention.
Petersen believes the attention on the Florida man trope makes such stories more interesting, more likely to be reported. It becomes a cycle.
Florida Man has become a myth, she said. But a myth “based in reality, as most myths are.”