Make us your home page

Florida is certainly 'weird,' whatever that means, if that's all you want it to be



BuzzFeed says it. Huffington Post says it. Everybody says it, all the time, especially in the form of easy fodder for year-end hardy-har.

Yes, I grant you that stuff happens in the Sunshine State, Times veteran Jeff Klinkenberg argued earlier this year. But I also believe that we are no weirder than anywhere else.

The Times' Craig Pittman, on the other hand, is okay with the label:

How did Florida become the Go-To State for Weird? I consulted a number of experts, including historian Gary Mormino, author of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams. Some folks think the rise of weirdness in Florida started with the 2000 presidential election, which guaranteed no parent would ever again name a newborn boy Chad. But Mormino contends it began long before that, as far back as the 1920s when unscrupulous hucksters were pulling wacky stunts to sell swampland to Yankees. The national news first began noticing this aspect of Florida in the 1980s, when cocaine cowboys were tearing up South Florida and Time magazine's cover asked if the state was "Paradise Lost?" Now we've got all the aggregators jumping on the Florida weird-news bandwagon, collecting clicks with our craziness. How does Florida maintain this constant flow of cuckoo?

On Craig's list: the geography, the history, the people, the foliage, the greed, the weather ...

... speaking of which: Scientists — not just writers — have found there are a range of mental and physical health issues that arise when people live above 80 degrees, Steven Rosenfeld wrote this past July. One paper, based on 13 years of Australian data, "observed a positive association between ambient temperature and hospital admissions for mental and behavioral disorders."

To me, though, the "weirdness" fixation misses the larger, more interesting point. Mike Paterniti got at it in the New York Times mag back in 2002. The thoughtful journalist from Portland, Maine, acknowledged a "bonanza of strange news emanating from that steamy underworld" — but then he asked an important question:

How does one account for a state in which everything now seems to happen first — or somehow in the extreme, that as a microcosm of America, has come to reflect the psyche of America itself?

As I've suggested before, it's wrong, and too simplistic, to pin on Florida some sort of otherness. This state is a vivid, often jarring reflection of the remaining 49, "the most interstate, real estate, dredge-and-fill, boom-and-bust hothouse manifestation" of America as a whole.

And in the end I don't think Florida is so much weird as it is ... big. It's on the way to being America's third-largest state. It also, I'd like to point out, has a ton of newspapers, including many that continue to be something better than atrocious, plus shockingly good public records laws. This makes the Sunshine State the country's most reliable incubator of link bait. BuzzFeed, HuffPo, etc. — you're welcome.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 19, 2013 11:20pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours