The "Florida Man" Jokes On 'Atlanta' Turned An Internet Meme Into An Urban Legend
Atlanta (executive producer: Dianne McGunigle) is back, and in the Season 2 premiere (also known as Atlanta Robbin' Season) of Donald Glover's FX series, the magic comes from an unusual source: your Twitter feed. The "Florida Man" jokes in the Atlanta premiere turn a popular meme into an actual entity. By the end of the episode, you may even be a believer. Minor spoilers ahead.
In the premiere episode, Earn and Darius are catching up, and Earn tells Darius that his parents are headed to Florida to care for his dying uncle. "Make sure you tell them to watch out for Florida Man," Darius says.
Pressed by Earn, he explains: "Florida Man is responsible for a large percentage of abnormal incidents that occur in Florida. Think of him as an alt-right Johnny Appleseed. No one knows his true identity. Date of birth. What he looks like. That's why headlines always say 'Florida Man.'"
Darius goes on to list several examples of "Florida Man" headlines:
- Florida Man Shoots Unarmed Black Teenager
- Florida Man Bursts Into Ex's Delivery Room & Fights New Boyfriend As She's Giving Birth
- Florida Man Steals A Car & Goes To Checkers
- Florida Man Beats A Flamingo To Death
- Florida Man Found Eating Another Man's Face
As he describes them, a faceless white man in a baseball cap acts out all of the increasingly bizarre criminal deeds in a fantasy sequence. Darius is convinced that FM and the state government are in cahoots, and that Florida Man is a conspiracy deeper than... other conspiracies. It all boils down to voter registration and intimidation. Wouldn't a terror like that keep you from living and voting in that swampy state?
Outside of Atlanta (co-producer: Kaitlin Waldron), "Florida Man" is a real thing — just not the way that Darius describes. At least, as far as we know. In 2013 the "Florida Man" twitter account started collecting headlines detailing anonymous and unbelievable criminal happenings in the state. If you pretend that they were all committed by the same person, as the account's bio suggests, that person is the "world's worst superhero." Today, the account has over 300 thousand followers.
In 2015, the Miami News Times explained how these "Florida Man" headlines came to be. Not how strange criminal behavior and weird news tends to manifest in their home state, but why it's so easy to lump them together into this joke. In 1976, Florida passed the "Government in the Sunshine Act," an open-records law that requires (with some exceptions) government business to remain public, and therefore makes it easier for journalists to obtain police reports than it would be in other areas. So, not to burst the bubble on Florida Man, but it's not necessarily that his state is weirder than others — just that the state's transparency makes the weird super visible.
Turning a meme into a dark myth is a classic Darius joke to start off the season, and fits the surreal tone of Atlanta well. Later, in a scene with Earn's uncle Willie (played by Katt Williams), he casually says, "I would say nice to meet you, but I don't believe in time as a concept, so I'll just say we've always met." It's great to see Lakeith Stanfield in this role again.
"I'm not crazy," Earn's uncle Willie says at the end of the episode. "I'm not Florida Man." It's a callback to the jokes from before, of course, but it does more than just confirm Darius didn't make Florida Man up. The episode is titled "Alligator Man," after Willie's nickname in the neighborhood — which he earned because he has a freakin' alligator in his house.
The similarity (and the fact that the Sunshine state is known for those toothy reptiles) is no coincidence. Sure, Georgia and Florida are different states with different demographics and different strengths. But Atlanta has always been oozing magical realism. Willie gives Earn a golden gun, instead of a golden goose, or a spinning wheel, or even a golden ticket. As the gator saunters out of the house, giving Earn's uncle time to run from the authorities, he becomes a legendary figure, like Darius' take on Florida Man — just real, tangible, and relatable.