As Florida lifted coronavirus restrictions and the specter of interminable lockdown slowly faded, America’s cultural scapegoat and perhaps its last remaining jester took to the beach with his usual aplomb—Florida Man.
Unconstrained by self-doubt and the mockery of his supposed betters, Florida Man, surely unbeknownst to himself, reminded the country that America was not built on sheepish docility, but on a fearlessness bordering on idiocy. But as Florida Man reemerged, his bitter enemy, the overly credentialed and status obsessed “elite,” denounced his dangerous and misguided antics, reigniting the great cultural battle of our time: the brutes vs. the brains.
Elites, patronizing and forever petrified, make up America’s expert class, the self-proclaimed brains behind the American operation. Florida Man, on the other hand, is driven by the unquenchable—sometimes brutish—American desire to behave in stupefying ways in order to maximize physical and aesthetic experience in accordance with the beautiful American landscape he’s been granted dominion over. These two opposite ends of the American coin are perfect foils for one another, but more often than not, it is Florida Man who is denigrated far more than he deserves, as elites control the institutions that construct the cultural narratives that drive the discourse. (RELATED: VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Our Summer of Cultural Suicide)
We all know the Florida Man trope, of course. He walks into a convenience store carrying an alligator. He goes outside during a hurricane with the American flag, challenging Mother Nature herself, claiming that Americanism is the far greater force. He drinks and watches sports and has a grand old American time, as it is his birthright. We are constantly bombarded by these images and videos of Florida Man’s exploits, so much so that the man behind the trope has all but been erased. There was a time when a Florida man behaving strangely was merely a man from Florida behaving strangely, but now that the trope has swallowed the man, Florida Man has been stripped of his humanity. The danger is that when the man is stripped of humanity, it becomes not only allowable, but encouraged, to treat him like a beast.
So who, really, is the man behind the trope?
Let us leave aside the truly abhorrent criminals and murderers who sometimes grace headlines under that appellation. There can be no defense of the indefensible, and besides, no state in the Union has a monopoly on these depths of depravity. Instead, we seek today a broader understanding of the personality that could survive both an alligator attack and a subsequent shark attack, only to gripe “I was more angry I couldn’t go in the water the next day.”
Florida Man is typically a man from Florida who engages in behaviors considered to be crude and dangerous by elites, but he doesn’t necessarily have to be a resident of the state. If a man is viewed with derision and contempt by his betters due to his “backwardness,” he is, de facto, a Florida Man. Elites, so fond of sleight-of-hand word games in order to obfuscate their true feelings, know that terms like “white trash” and “hillbilly” are now considered beyond the pale, but “Florida Man,” as it denotes hilarity and a playfulness belying its pejorative connotation, is safe to deploy as an insult.
This deployment of “Florida Man” as a pejorative is most obvious when the location of a man whose behavior has led to a scandalous story is unknown, and the phrase, “he must be from Florida,” is sanctimoniously uttered by elites. Underneath the nifty rhetorical move lies the subversive truth: those who do not behave with the mannered obsequiousness of elites are all Florida Men. If only Florida Man could be rehabilitated, elites surely think, then the country would finally be excised of the working-class crudeness and tastelessness that makes America the world’s laughingstock. They dream of a country free of Florida Man, as evidenced by the twisted glee amongst elites as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Florida. (RELATED: Florida Will Have A Much Better Outcome On Coronavirus Than New York)
From the beginning, they’ve wanted the state, and everything they think it stands for, to fall. They would never admit it, but on Twitter, as is often the case, you can watch the mask slip in real time. Elites and those who fancy themselves so—elite-adjacents—will hide behind a façade of ironic distance as they tweet and retweet the clip of Bugs Bunny sawing off Florida, but like every joke, its power lies in its subtext and what it says about the reaction of its intended audience. In this case, it’s obvious: elites really do wish Florida, and its idiots, were disappeared—Florida Man finally gone.
Elites refuse to accept that Florida Man’s fearless idiocy is as important to America’s power as the brilliant minds who constructed the American idea, for so very often the great thinker is constrained by his very thinking and cannot act upon his desires. It is the idiot, the beautiful American jester, who must spread the gospel of Americanism, a Johnny Appleseed of freedom and liberty, if you will.
Florida Man might not be able to set policy or regurgitate the Constitution like some nebbish wonk, but he carries inside him the spirit of the frontiersman so crucial to the expansion and consolidation of the nation, which explains why fearful elites and their stupefied panic-stricken followers have taken to Twitter, deriding and demanding his head—which is to say, his freedom in all its idiotic grandeur. Elites, who know nothing but risk management and prostrate themselves at the altar of lifeless sterility in hopes of extinguishing any “incorrect” desire or thought incongruent with their neoliberal vision of a global office space finally liberated of chaotic Americanism, have seized this historic moment in an attempt to create the “safe” world of their un-American dreams. Fear has always been their tool, as they know it is a sedative of the spirit, which is why Florida Man, and not the virus, is now public enemy #1.
The rage directed at Florida Man, however, has nothing to do with his supposed idiocy and moral turpitude and everything to do with the fact that he is immune to elite narrative manipulation. Social media mockery and op-ed histrionics will not deter him, so if Florida Man is to be stopped, he must be physically stopped, which explains why he induces such derangement and hatred amongst elites. Elites are constrained by their timidity of spirit, forever calibrating their every move, as expulsion from the monastery of global citizenry is their greatest fear. They live in a constant state of self-denial, passive aggressive irony being their primary mode of communication, which renders them pathologically unable to engage the world without a cloak of ironic distance. There is never action, but the cheeky deliberation of action—theirs is a world in which physical engagement is merely a fictional conceit.
Elites mock Florida Man’s actions, but the intensity of their mockery betrays the true psychology behind the attacks: they are not free to act until cultural gatekeepers give the go ahead, which is to say that elites never act out of their own volition. They know they are not free. Florida Man’s impulsivity, his complete ignorance to elite cultural norms and their restrictive nature, is an affront to their pussyfooted ways. Since action is only reserved for Florida Man, elites respond as they always do and the only way they know how: with impotent histrionics. They will yell and screech and demand that Florida Man restrain himself, but their emotional outbursts—as close to action as they’ll ever get—are no match for the life force of Florida Man. To put it simply, elites are not men of action, but of histrionics, and so they’ll forever hate the unrestrained free men who remind them of their self-imposed shackles. (RELATED: Bezos And Tech CEOs Respond To Jim Jordan’s Question About Cancel Culture)
Florida Man is by no means perfect, but his brand of in-your-face unironic Americanism is necessary, as it acts as a firewall against the order of neoliberal sterility elites seek to impose on the country. Those who stand against Americanism and hope to not only destroy freedom, but the desire for it, understand that in order to bring America to heel and usher in the era of paternalistic safetyism conjured up by our soulless cultural tinkerers, the craziest and freest among us must be shamed into docility.
To take down Florida Man is to zap the life force of the nation and impose docility and subservience on a grand scale. It was Florida Man who went west and conquered the landscape. It was Florida Man who fought for independence and was crazy enough to get it. It was Florida Man who built the empire and nearly destroyed it when he battled himself, and then recreated it even greater than before. It is Florida Man, rushing into the sea, unafraid of a virus—quite possibly even unaware of its existence—who will remind you that deep inside, behind all your serious ideas and theories and affected postures, exists a Florida Man dying to bust free and dive into the ocean of freedom you’ve been yearning for, even if you almost forgot it existed.
Alex Perez is a Cuban-American writer from Miami, whose work has appeared in Tablet Magazine and Arc Digital, among others. Find him on Twitter @Perez_Writes
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