Although strange and unusual things have always happened there, ever since the debacle of the 2000 election (damn you, West Palm Beach and your hanging chads!), Florida has claimed its rightful honor as the weirdness capital of the United States. An analysis of Associated Press stories found Florida, a.k.a “America’s Wang,” to be the number-one nuttiest state in the country, as measured by news output. News aggregator Fark.com even has a “Florida” tag to accommodate all the bizarrity that emerges from the Sunshine State.
But the question all of us—us Northerners, who don’t wake up to find alligators in our toilets—want to know is why? Why Florida? What makes Florida produce such a staggering amount of absurdity? There have yet to be any conclusive studies on this topic, but I have some suspicions. Here are four theories on why Florida is just so damn strange.
1. The Population
The majority of Floridians were not born in the state, and a significant portion weren’t even born in the country. Florida’s population is made up of several distinct and disparate groups of people, including:
- Old people
- The very religious
- Carpetbaggers and nouveau riche from the rest of the country
And there are a lot of them. Not counting Disney guests and snowbirds, Florida has about nineteen million residents, making it the fourth-most-populous state in the country. When you have that many people—especially culturally and ethnically diverse people—driving on the same roads and living in the same towns, is it any surprise that you have more weird news than Wyoming?
2. The Laws
Florida’s government has created what could kindly be called a “lax regulatory environment.” The state has very loose bankruptcy laws, loose gun laws, laws that prevent the seizure of a house for payment of debts, no system to monitor the distribution of prescription drugs, and collects no state income tax. While plenty of people come to Florida looking for simply a better life or better weather, the state also attracts a contingent of people who come for more illicit or opportunistic reasons, and these people tend to make the news more often than the average law-abiding citizen.
3. The Land Itself
It’d be easy to just say that the heat addles people’s brains, but it’s not just the warm weather that keeps Florida weird. It’s the combination of warm weather, humidity, hurricanes, swamps, native fauna that includes alligators, snakes, panthers, bobcats, fire ants, armadillos, spiders, cockroaches so big they could double as commuter airplanes, and other things that are humdrum for Florida but considered pretty “out there” for the rest of the country.
4. The Media
Since everyone knows by now that Florida is the epicenter of all things crazy, news from Florida travels farther and faster than news from elsewhere in the country. Especially weird news—website editors see the headline “Mom sells baby for meth,” and they think, meh. But if the headline says “Florida mom sells baby for meth,” that’s clickable gold. The truth is that weirdness happens everywhere (and states like Ohio, New York, and California give Florida a run for its money), but Florida’s reputation as a weirdo wonderland propels its news into the national spotlight more often.
Northerners love to portray Florida as a land full of drug dealers, corrupt politicians, deranged old people, and immigrants all snarling traffic in their Hummers while releasing pet pythons into the Everglades. And to some extent, that might be true. But no matter how much we chuckle at its absurdity, flights from JFK to MIA are booked to capacity all winter long, and tourism is still the state’s number-one industry. We love to laugh at Florida, but we also love to go there and give them our money. That makes Floridians laugh, too—all the way to the bank, where there’s probably an alligator in the toilet.