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The New Florida Man: Profiting Off the Failed State

Failed State Update Newsletter for June 3, 2022

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The New Florida Man

“Florida Man” is cultural shorthand for what MAD Magazine used to call a schmuck: a stupid, foolish, or contemptible person. This is derived from the Yiddish word “שמאָק,” pronounced schmok (at least, this is according to the first thing I found when I googled the word “schmuck”). “Florida Man” is a classist insult, a way for newspapers to run light, comic pieces that make poor people look like idiots. Of course, a lot of these stories are genuinely funny, if your sense of humor has a cruel streak. For instance:

In 2019, the podcast Citations Needed gave a pretty thorough look at the Florida Man phenomenon. Here’s a brief snippet of conversation between hosts Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson:

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ADAM: On today’s episode we’re going to be tedious liberal scolds and buzzkills and if your eyes haven’t already rolled and you’ve turned the dial, we want you to hear us out. 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 and how that and our broader culture of quote “weird crime” stories and mugshot shaming serve as little more than a socially acceptable way of mocking the marginalized and indigent.

NIMA: Today we’ll discuss the two primary drivers of this “Florida man” phenomenon: First that Florida has very liberal “sunshine laws” that, while ostensibly designed to make the government more transparent, have instead created a conveyor belt of searchable “crimes” that lazy journalists can cherry pick for salacious clicks. Second and maybe more importantly, Florida is in the midst of a major mental health crisis while having virtually no social safety net. Florida ranks 49th out of 50 among states for mental-health programs, 41st in support for those affected by drug addiction, and number three for percent of the population who are homeless.

ADAM: This toxic combination of contempt for the poor, plus a laundry list of anti-black laws and anti-poor laws from barring thousands from voting due to felony convictions to its push for drug testing the poor for welfare benefits, Florida is notorious for having some of the country’s harshest systems in place for those on the margins of society. It’s really ground zero for neoliberal rot. The Florida man meme [is] a cutesy faux generalized framing device [used] to provide cover for what is little more than just mindless poverty shaming.

Florida is at the frontlines of the climate disaster, a situation that must be heightened by the fact that some of our most far-out right-wing ideologues have turned the state into their libertarian sandbox. The Republican Party controls the offices of the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, as well as both chambers of the state legislature. And if the billionaires have their way, this will be the entire United States in a few short years.

With all this in mind, Failed State Update proposes that there is a new “Florida Man.” Unlike the hacky, classist trope of old, New Florida Man is the kind of suit-wearing plutocrat that spouts hatred on Fox News during the week and then chillaxes at Mar-a-Lago on the weekends. An evil rich guy from Robocop with a surplus of Tommy Bahama vacation wear. New Florida Man isn’t always a man, and doesn’t even necessarily live in Florida (although their address might be there, for tax purposes). The ultimate goal of New Florida Man is to turn the entire country into Florida.

Beware the New Florida Man.

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