If you care about health justice, stop clicking on “Florida Man” stories, says social justice advocate
| Zachary Siegel, May 9, 2019
Zachary Siegel is a journalist focusing on drugs, justice, and health. His work has appeared in publications including the New York Times Magazine, The Appeal, Slate and New York magazine. He is a fellow of the Health in Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University School of Law.
Filter – Who hasn’t taken a break from dreadful news cycles to have a good laugh at the screwball crime stories attributed to the so-called “Florida Man”? We’ve all done it. “Drunk Florida man arrested at Olive Garden after eating spaghetti with his hands,” the Miami Herald reports, accompanied by a depressing mugshot of a long-haired man with cuts and bruises on his face.
“Florida Man” stories, stripped of all context, are ubiquitous across digital media. Take Esquire, which has a running tally of “The 90 Wildest Florida Man Headlines of 2019 (So Far),” accompanied by the subtitle, “Whatever insanity is happening in your state, Florida has done it with an alligator and possibly some amphetamines.” Florida Man is everywhere.
After listening to a recent episode of Citations Needed—a popular podcast hosted by media critics Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi—that critically examined what lies beneath the media’s obsession with the proverbial Florida Man, well, these viral stories are not so funny anymore.
At the top of the show, Shirazi asks, “What are we really mocking when we mock ‘Florida Man’?”
Johnson goes on to say, “We want to talk about what we believe is the anti-poor, mental health-shaming subtext that animates much of the viral Florida Man meme; how that, and a broader culture of weird crime stories and mugshot-shaming serve as little more than a socially acceptable way of mocking the marginalized and indigent.”
Florida in particular, notes Johnson, “is notorious for having some of the harshest systems in place for those on the margins of society.”
The ubiquity of the Florida Man represents much more than a vulgar SEO-hack.
To test the ubiquity of the Florida Man trope, I searched for it on the very morning I wrote this piece. Lo and behold, the first hit was a piece from Cleveland.com, which purports to cover Northeast Ohio, with the headline, “Florida Man: Driving Drunk on Riding Lawnmower, Crashing into Police Car.”
The fine folks of Northeast Ohio would no doubt be shamefully ill-informed without knowing that a supposedly drunk man on a lawnmower in Florida allegedly crashed into a cop car … Read more.