Origins of the “Florida Man”

Nathan Turoff, Features Editor

Florida Man arrested for trying to get alligator drunk,” “Florida Man Arrested For Calling 911 After His Kitten Was Denied Entry Into A Strip Club ,” “Florida man found with drugs after getting trapped in port-a-potty,” “Naked Florida man arrested after banging on house with barbell, deputies say.” These are just some of the ludicrously frequent headlines that have been a recurring staple of the internet for almost 10 years. But why Florida? Why is the Sunshine State seemingly the poster child for human idiocy?

The phrase “Florida Man” is a term used to refer to bizarre but accurate news stories of Florida residents doing outlandish things. Most of these headlines start with the phrase, “Florida Man.” While some may see this as clickbait, it is quite literally what the story is about. These stories more often than not tend to end in arrests, leading many to see Florida as “America’s Armpit,” further perpetuating stereotypes.

“‘Florida Man’ is a term used to describe any person from Florida who does crazy things. And there have been many stories in the news over the past few years describing wild/stupid/crazy things being done by everyday Florida residents,” UNF Communication Professor John Parmalee said. “So it’s not surprising that this would be good source material for memes that suggest craziness or stupidity.”

These “Florida Man” stories often feature recurring characteristics. One common theme is alligators, which makes sense given the millions of alligators that live in Florida and its status as the state reptile. 

Another theme is drugs, which also makes sense because drug use can lead to impaired judgment that can be a factor in cases like these. Other recurring traits include, but are not limited to, nudity, assault or unnecessary 911 calls.

Spinnaker put up an Instagram poll asking students what story first came to mind when they thought of “Florida Man.” The most common answer was a story from three years ago where a man harassed people in a convenience store with a live alligator.

This particular story is likely the first thought in UNF students’ minds since it took place locally, in Jacksonville. But why do these stories tend to always show up in the news and get widely published? The answer may not be as simple as you think. 

A potential culprit is Florida’s Sunshine Laws. These broad information laws require that almost every government record be easily accessible to the public. This includes police reports, which makes it incredibly simple for journalists and the general public to get details on these bizarre cases much faster and easier than in most other states. 

Another factor is population. Florida has the third-largest population of any U.S. state. More people means having more people that might do stupid things. Or could mental health play a role?

Despite what impression the headlines might bring, there might be more to these stories than random stupidity or blurred judgment from the use of drugs or alcohol. Some have theorized that these occurrences are a consequence of the poor mental health of Florida residents, coupled with substandard access to mental care. 

This argument doesn’t completely hold up, according to Mental Health America. In 2022, they found that while Florida does have some of the worst access to mental healthcare of any state, it also has some of the least prevalence of mental illness.

Florida’s booming population and potential mental health crisis along with the state’s Sunshine Laws make these “Florida Man” stories frequent occurrences.  They are easy to cover and spread, which will likely stay the case for some time so don’t expect the “Florida Man” memes to die anytime soon.


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