We all love our pets. Some more than others, but usually within limits. After all, our little critters are more akin to children than anything else. We care for them, nurture them, train them and promise to care for them.
Those are all good things.
Yet, we also know that laws are written for a reason. Well, most of them. For example, it’s illegal to have sex with someone in the pre-natal delivery room in the hospital. Why? Because some idiot and their significant other decided that the best use for that semi-private room, after the water broke, was to entertain the staff and random passersby.
Some people just have to ruin it for the rest of us.
Nevertheless, not even when I wrote how weird Florida is did I realize how much I had woefully underestimated the, voting eligible, citizens of the Sunshine State. Ben Muessig tells us that the same state which is demanding Americans defend the sanctity of marriage is also the only state where beastiality is legal.
Oh, go ahead and click the link. It’s actually a cute music video you can sing along with your kids just before you spend years explaining it.
It’s the state of butterfly ballots, gator farms and oversized mice.
It’s the retirement hub discovered by a Spaniard rumored to have lost his life hunting for the legendary Fountain of Youth.
It’s the only place in America where the farther north you go, the farther south you get.
Florida is undeniably a quirky place. But among many journalists and news junkies, the Sunshine State has developed a reputation for being the state that generates the most weird news and the weirdest weird news.
How did a state once famous for its oranges and seniors turn into a hub for all things strange?
According to Florida resident and weird news legend Chuck Shepherd, Florida emerged as a weird news capital a little more than a decade ago.
Shepherd — credited with inventing weird news reporting in his widely syndicated “News of the Weird” column — said he knew Florida had come into its own in the late 1990s, when the San Francisco alternative newspaper SF Weekly featured a story on men who surgically remove their sexual organs; two of the paper’s three sources were Floridians.
Sylvia Mythen, AP
Welcome to Florida — the weirdest state in the nation. This odd photograph, taken Jan. 5 in Venice, shows an alligator that was somehow covered in orange paint or an orange substance, according to state wildlife officials. No, alligators can’t turn orange naturally. And yes, this is the kind of story journalists have come to expect from the Sunshine State.
“When a San Fran writer on sexual aberrations has to buy a ticket to the ‘F’ state to fill out his story, we have a winner,” he told AOL News.
Florida historian Gary Mormino agrees that the Sunshine State overtook California as “the new capital of weirdness” in the 1990s or 2000s.
“The rationale used to be that America tilted toward the west and all the nuts rolled to California,” said Mormino, a history professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “Now, perhaps, there’s been a tectonic shift and America tilts toward the southeast.”
For many Americans, that shift first became noticeable in 2000, when Florida bizarrely hurled itself onto the national stage in the aftermath of the contested presidential election.
In the years since, analysis of Associated Press stories has identified Florida as the nation’s strangest state, while popular websites like Gawker.com have turned the Sunshine State into a punchline.
Readers of Fark.com categorize news stories with descriptive tags, including “asinine,” “obvious,” “weird” and “interesting.” The only state honored with its own tag is Florida, a keyword on the site since 2001.
“Newest Florida bumper sticker: My honor student pistol-whipped me,” read one snarky headline assigned a Florida tag last month.
“Fark put it up, thinking it would be a temporary thing, but we quickly discovered that there were more than enough strange things happening in Florida to warrant the tag,” said Tony Deconinck, a Fark admin and AOL Weird News contributor. “Other states have odd stories come out of them, but no state can challenge Florida. It’s the heavyweight champion of weirdness.”
Here at AOL Weird News, journalists have written more weird news stories about Florida than any other state — and with pieces about a mom accused of driving her son’s getaway car, an orthodontist who repairs turtle shells, bags of stolen dildos, and a bikini brawl at a Burger King — it’s safe to say we’re doing it for good reason.
Though Florida only recently achieved recognition for producing so much weird news, the state has an odd history dating back centuries.
From Spanish colonization through American statehood, Florida played host to a variety of eccentric characters and strange happenings, like the “wreckers” who turned Key West into one of the continent’s wealthiest communities by legally plundering sinking ships and auctioning their cargo.
But according to Mormino, the Florida we know today — a “fast-paced and over-the-top” place that is, in many ways, the least southern state in the South — only emerged in the 1920s.
“You had the wealthy building homes in Miami Beach,” Mormino said. “There were the ‘Tin Can Tourists’ — the respectable middle class and the working poor — coming to Florida for the first time in automobiles. That was the beginning of the alligator farms, ostrich farms; the start of the crazy tourist destinations.”
That’s also when a speculative real estate bubble inflated and burst, setting the bar, in many ways, for a culture of lax regulation that continues in Florida even today.
With a history of lenient divorce laws, it’s no surprise that Panama City, among other Florida communities, tops national charts as a divorce capital.
Meanwhile, Florida’s “homestead exemption” has long protected private property from creditors, making Florida a place where the bankrupt and highly indebted — including celebs like O.J. Simpson — have shielded their assets.
Florida has even advertised its bizarre legal loopholes with the iconic 1980s tourism slogan “Florida: The Rules Are Different Here.”
Indeed they are. (This is the state where lawmakers are still struggling to pass a bill that would make bestiality illegal.)
Thankfully for readers of weird news, the rules are also different when it comes to public records laws.
Will Greenlee, the reporter who maintains the Treasure Coast Newspapers’ “Off The Beat” blog, said it’s unclear whether Florida actually generates more weird news than other states — or if more weird news stories just happen to find their way into Florida newspapers.
“You may be hearing about it more (than in other states) because the open records laws are very liberal in Florida,” Greenlee said. “It’s easier to get access to police reports and things that might not be as accessible in other places.”
And that may be the only liberal thing in the entire state.
But, seriously, are you as amazed as I am that there’s opposition to this law? What the heck is happening down there? Cross dressing alligators? Swamp people needing that anaconda boogie?
Trust me people, you have many wonderful options that do not involve four legs. And if you can’t handle that, there’s still the furry option.
Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!