“Florida has always been a magnet for outlaws and scoundrels, and sort of a predatory element,” author Carl Hiaasen told NPR’s Peter Segal in 2011. Hiaasen should know – as the master chronicler of Florida’s “amiable depravity,” as he calls it, the author and Miami Herald columnist has spent his career on the front lines, reporting on the seemingly endless onslaught of bizarre, hilarious, and unfortunate criminal activity in the Sunshine State.
Hiaasen’s novels had already enchanted the public for decades when a new Twitter account popped its head out of the swamp on Feb. 2, 2013, linking to an article on Fox News and inauspiciously tweeting, “Florida man arrested after pocket-dialing 911.” By the evening of Feb. 8, @_FloridaMan had tweeted 16 more times and was the subject of Slate’s “Follow Friday.” The brief profile closed by saying, “… we can never have enough ways to take Florida’s crazy pulse, so we welcome Florida Man to the fray. We expect he’ll keep busy.”
And oh, did he keep busy.
Before year’s end, Florida Man had been profiled in The New Yorker, NPR, and New York Magazine, and by the end of 2015, he had gotten his own column in GQ Magazine, the A1 treatment in The New York Times print edition, and even his own beer. The rewards were plentiful, and the accolades abounded for this clumsy, hapless hero, but it begs the question: What, actually, is the Florida Man phenomenon, and what makes any given news report worthy of being attributed to “Florida Man” instead of just “A man from Florida”? To find out, we analyzed the @_FloridaMan Twitter account and also developed a proprietary scoring system to quantify just what makes Florida Man … Florida man. Read on to see what we found.
Meet the World’s Worst Superhero
According to the thematically related r/FloridaMan subreddit on Reddit, the basic joke of Florida Man goes like this:
“The joke [of Florida Man] is that all of the stories shared here are about the same person, the world’s worst superhero. As the world’s worst superhero, Florida Man is not just a person in Florida. Florida Man also doesn’t do dark and overly morbid things. His misadventures and shenanigans are of a more lighthearted variety.”
After Florida Man first appeared on Twitter, the account gained followers and press coverage quickly and in a fairly conventional method: It pumped out high-quality content. Although many of its associated headlines read like satire from The Onion (e.g., Florida Man was arrested for practicing karate by kicking swans in the head or Report: Florida man high on flakka has sex with tree and calls himself Thor), the core element of the account’s humor has always been that it linked only to real news stories.
Anecdotally, the reason so many of these stories come out of Florida stems from the general idea that Florida is just full of weirdos. As Emily Greenhouse wrote of Florida in The New Yorker, “There’s heat, warmth, and a proximity to water that brings together the reckless young with the arthritic elderly, the wellsprings of vigor and possibility alongside those whose fountains are drying up.” This is, undoubtedly, a big part of the phenomenon but equally important are Florida’s controversial open government laws. Florida Statute 119.01 states, more or less, that all police records are open to any member of the public; in short, this means every police report or mug shot is available on-demand to journalists looking to break the next big tale of Florida Man insanity.
Florida Man Takes the Spotlight
The onslaught of press coverage and the sheer volume of content (over 150 tweets in the first month) helped Florida Man grow quickly, and by the time the Florida Man to end all Florida Men unexpectedly won the White House, the @_FloridaMan account was poised to go viral with forays into politics. The post-midterm election chaos in the Sunshine State coupled with the arrest of the “MAGA Bomber” Cesar Sayoc even led the Huffington Post to declare, “It used to be all fun and games, this Florida Man stuff.” Still, these events provided the basis for @_FloridaMan’s three most viral tweets: a timeless meme of a man [Florida] throwing gasoline on a fire [the midterm election], a video of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and an emoji-heavy response to the October 2018 mail bombing attempts.
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) November 9, 2018
Florida Man Accidentally Says Something People Like pic.twitter.com/pISUchIfdy
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) February 22, 2018
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) October 26, 2018
Justin Bieber looks like he’s living in Florida under an assumed name after he got caught committing insurance fraud and had to fake his own death. pic.twitter.com/HKiLmh6X6S
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) September 1, 2018
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) September 9, 2017
Most of the account’s other viral hits were simply classic Florida: shooting guns at hurricanes, putting people’s clothes on alligators, and Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea winning a $31 million settlement from Gawker Media over the release of a sex tape. As the account took on the occasional political angle, one of its 10 most liked and retweeted posts containing no humor at all referenced a 2017 case in which a mentally ill Dade Correctional Institution inmate was allegedly tortured to death by correctional officers.
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) September 20, 2018
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) October 31, 2016
BREAKING NEWS: Florida Man Re-Hired For Job He Hates pic.twitter.com/eVGqXkrsUi
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) November 9, 2016
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) March 18, 2017
Florida Man Begins Patiently Waiting for Gawker’s Money to Arrive pic.twitter.com/Q27lFWZ5t6
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) March 21, 2016
However, it’s not enough to simply know what instances of Florida Man’s tomfoolery were the most popular; we wanted to capture his essence, to truly know what makes him unique. Therefore, we did the numbers and analyzed over 200 articles about the World’s Worst Superhero.
So What Makes a Florida Man?
Almost anyone in the know could anecdotally tell you what makes a Florida Man article achieve peak Florida-ness – it usually has a laugh-out-loud headline, involves petty (although occasionally serious) crime, and often includes tropes that are more prominent in Florida than elsewhere (such as its heavy population of alligators or the fact that almost one-third of adult Floridians own a gun and about one-tenth of them are convicted felons). Being home to a billion-dollar drug treatment industry also means that Florida Man articles (and the actual Florida men they describe) often involve intoxicants, and the aforementioned open public record laws mean that Florida mug shots make their way to the internet rapidly.
Still, such knowledge has remained anecdotal – until now.
A team of true Floridians, united by their love of Florida Man and everything he represents, got together to create the F.L.O.R.I.D.A. Man Scoring System to reliably quantify the Florida Man-ness of any news article appearing on the web.
F.L.O.R.I.D.A. Man is heavily indebted to the landmark work of Katie Baker, then of Grantland, whose NUPTIALS system for scoring The New York Times’ wedding section was a breakthrough moment in showing just how down the rabbit hole the whole data science trend could go. Baker wrote that The Times’ wedding announcements were “sometimes referred to as ‘the sports section for women,’ a descriptor that is offensive and accurate in equal measure,” and her seminal research finally brought hard data into the previously unquantifiable realm of the most “promising, wealthy, talented – and only very occasionally inbred – couples in the whole wide world.”
This was rigorous, important work that brought quantitative firepower to bear on a seemingly unsolvable problem – what exactly makes The Times’ wedding section so ridiculous? With the F.L.O.R.I.D.A. Man system, we aim to bring this same depth to analyzing the world’s worst superhero. A full description of our research methodology and the scoring system appears in the methods section below, but there are seven basic categories common to nearly every true Florida Man article ever written:
F – Firearms (or other weapons)
Includes all manner of firearms, blades, and explosives, as well as less traditional, yet still noteworthy, weapons such as flamethrowers or live alligators
L – Locations
Covers the entire range of places where Florida Man is typically found, from local taverns and Walmart to various bodies of water or theme parks
O – Objects
A broad catchall category covering common objects found in Florida Man stories, from bodily fluids to lightweight water vessels
R – Reasons for Arrest
I – Injuries
Florida Man is frequently injured or injures others, which is quantified in fairly exhaustive detail.
D – Drugs and Alcohol
Runs the gamut of illicit substances frequently found in and around Florida Man’s person, paying special attention to substances with a decidedly Florida feel to them, such as flakka or haphazardly made methamphetamine
A – Animals
Animals, in general, and reptiles, in particular, are the hallmark of most of Florida Man’s most memorable adventures and are accordingly weighted very heavily in the scoring system.
What follows represents the best of what Florida Man has to offer, tales of depravity and vice so outlandish they could hardly have occurred anywhere but in the Sunshine State. Bonus points were awarded accordingly for especially outstanding cases not covered by the F.L.O.R.I.D.A. Man system. Important tropes such as mug shots (present in 44.7% of articles surveyed) and full nudity (present in 8.8% of articles surveyed) were also awarded additional points. It is important to note that each article was scored according to the above categories by an actual Florida resident and, therefore, can be considered to have had expert eyes on it.
Who’s the Most Florida of Them All?
The top 10 list is a veritable treasure trove of Florida Man greatness. In a crowded and illustrious field of competition, Florida Man Joshua James takes the top spot in our F.L.O.R.I.D.A. Man system. The Jupiter, Florida, man committed what, at first, seems to be a fairly standard Florida crime by tossing a live alligator through the drive-thru window of a Wendy’s, but the devil was in the details for this one: James notched points for his pickup truck, mug shot, and appearance at a local courthouse, and the fact that he illegally possessed the alligator put him over the top and slightly ahead of several other worthy contenders.
A Deerfield Beach man took the second spot by using a live lizard to commit felony assault, and close on his heels was a blacked-out Florida Man who drove an SUV off the showroom floor of an Ocala dealership. A pet alligator tied to a tree helped a Hillsborough County man rank a respectable fourth in our rankings, and a simple late-night Taco Bell run that turned violent for one Florida Man who bit off his girlfriend’s thumb during a heated dispute rounds out our top five.
In addition, a nude (+5 points) Florida Man was injured by a fire of his own making (+10 points) in Cape Coral, and a Northdale man (and guitarist for Cannibal Corpse) was arrested after his flamethrowers and general arsenal were confiscated by police. An unlucky Florida Man was released from jail but failed to leave the correctional facility grounds before being apprehended trying to steal a police cruiser in the parking lot, a teenager in Brooksville made love to a stuffed horse in Walmart, and a Florida Keys resident had the unfortunate luck of being arrested for committing crimes in a pirate costume.
While this top 10 list provides a broad overview of the crimes Florida has to offer, a more granular and nuanced look is possible by looking at the top scorers for each category. Below, check out the most decorated Florida Men for each of our system’s seven categories.
Florida Man and the Future
The @_FloridaMan Twitter account, launched only six years ago, heated up fast and has showed little sign of waning in popularity. With a Florida Man holding the White House, and the state shaping up to take its customary outsize role in the 2020 presidential election, attention on the Sunshine State should continue to persist for years to come. As with any internet phenomenon, popularity will always ebb and flow over time, yet, part of the magic of Florida Man is that he simply never ceases to give the public what it wants. With stories such as a Florida Man claiming he did not own the syringes found in his anus to reports of a Florida Man securing his vaping rights behind bars by helping the staff with their taxes appearing in just the first two weeks of 2019, it’s shaping up to be yet another memorable year of general anarchy and chaotic evil for the World’s Worst Superhero.
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This project made use of the tweepy package in Python 3.5 to obtain the full Twitter history of the @_FloridaMan Twitter account. From these tweets, we extracted a subsample of 225 linked news articles from 2013 to 2018, which represents approximately 20% of the outside links directly mentioned in tweets from the @_FloridaMan account. This means that the approximate margin of error in the “Florida Man Tropes” graphic is 6% relative to the full number of articles linked by Florida Man. Give or take a few percentage points, we feel we got this part of the project pretty close to perfect.
The F.L.O.R.I.D.A. Man scoring system is loosely based on the NUPTIALS system built by Katie Baker, then of Grantland, and is meant as a humorous, irreverent take on Sabermetrics. As such, these results are by no means exhaustive, comprehensive, or remotely scientific. Their general authority on the topic of men from Florida should be taken with several grains of salt, although their authority on the specific topic of Florida Man should be viewed as more or less unimpeachable.
See below for details on the full F.L.O.R.I.D.A. Man scoring system. Some labels were slightly modified in the primary project.
Fair Use Statement
Florida Man isn’t just a man: He’s a dream, an idea, an institution. As such, you should feel free to spread his message and the tales of his exploits far and wide so that others might bask in the glow of the brightest sun in the Sunshine State. We only ask that you link back to this page so that the Florida Men and Florida Women who made it can receive credit for their work.