Friday, May 27, 2022
Ira P. Robbins, American University College of Law, is publishing Explaining Florida Man in the Florida State University Law Review. Here is the abstract.
“Florida Man” is a popular cultural phenomenon in which journalists report on Floridians’ unusual (and often criminal) behavior, and readers relish in and share the stories, largely on social media. A meme based on Florida Man news stories emerged in 2013 and continues to capture people’s attention nationwide. Florida Man is one of the latest unique trends to come from the Sunshine State and contributes to Florida’s reputation as a quirky place. Explanations for Florida Man center on Florida’s Public Records Law, which is known as one of the most expansive open records laws in the country. All states and the District of Columbia have open records laws that establish procedures for individuals to obtain access to public records in the spirit of government transparency. Because many Florida Man stories are based on arrest records and incident reports and incorporate mugshots, those who have written about Florida Man claim that the Florida Public Records Law, which allows reporters to access those records, is behind the trend. The problem with this theory is that it incorrectly implies that Florida’s Public Records Law offers journalists advantages in writing stories that other states’ laws do not. Despite the broad grant of access to police documents that Florida’s open records law provides, other states’ open records laws similarly provide the public with access to arrest records, incident reports, and, although to a lesser extent, mugshots. Other provisions of Florida’s Public Records Law that contribute to the ease of access to Florida’s public records compared with other states’ equivalent laws are largely irrelevant to Florida Man’s existence. Even coupled with the characteristics of Florida and its residents that many people claim are unique, the open records law-based theory for Florida Man’s existence falls short of explaining the phenomenon. This Article posits that the primary reasons for Florida Man’s popularity are preexisting popular culture trends and the venue in which Florida Man rose to fame: the internet. Internet platforms allow a wide audience—which may already have been receptive to jokes about Florida due to its reputation for being a newsworthy state—to easily consume, share, and re-share Florida Man content, inspiring journalists to continue to write Florida Man stories. This cycle of generation and consumption of Florida Man stories has allowed Florida Man to become one of the longest-living memes in internet history. While the Florida Public Records Law and characteristics of Florida and its people work together to provide raw material for Florida Man articles, the heretofore unmentioned popular culture and internet trend factors of the phenomenon complete the story behind Florida Man’s existence.Download the article from SSRN at the link.