An academic’s “history” of “Florida Man” makes some startling — and completely wrong! — claims about how the “Florida Man meme” got started online. No, it wasn’t in 2012, or even the “mid-2000s”!
I Happened Upon an essay by Tyler Gillespie at Literary Hub, a website created by book publisher Grove Atlantic: “How the Internet Turned ‘Florida Man’ Into a Figure of Indulgence, Decadence, and Bad Decision Making”.
This is my response.
Gillespie has academic cred: he teaches at Ole Miss (the University of Mississippi — shouldn’t that be Ol’ Miss?), but he so muffed his “history” of “Florida Man” (he even has a “theory”: see the first four words of his essay!) that I really had to respond. I’ve already sent him what follows. The links are also included in my letter.
23 April 2021, by email
I spotted your April 19 piece, “How the Internet Turned ‘Florida Man’ Into a Figure of Indulgence, Decadence, and Bad Decision Making” on Literary Hub, but wanted you to know your history on the origins of “Florida Man” is way off.
“I found the pre-viral Florida Man story in one local newspaper. The story happened in the early 2000s, so it’s all but buried on the internet.”
It’s terrific that in the mid-2000s Fark.com “began to track weird Florida news,” but that was long after another site “contributed to the genesis of Florida as an internet meme.”
That would be This is True, where I had been telling Florida Man stories online for five years before Fark went online in 1999. And I’m still at it.
Virality is how This is True grew — by design — starting in 1994 when I was on the engineering staff at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Talk about unreasonable,” wrote Paul Lemberg in Be Unreasonable (2007). “At the time, the Internet was considered to be a pristine, unexploited commons. There were all sorts of cultural rules and norms in place forbidding commerce: nobody was going to sell anything, and certainly no one would be making any money.
“But Cassingham, seeing the future, charged ahead and ignored those rules. (If you think this is common now, it is. But not in 1994!)”
So how is “virality” involved? Lemberg raised his eyebrow over another set-in-concrete rule I “broke”: while I have a clear copyright on True (as I call it for short), he points out that right from the start its wording encouraged readers to share the [free edition] issues with friends. It was an unheard-of idea in publishing at that point.
Thus, he concludes, “This is True may have been the first viral marketing success.”
The mention of the free edition above is telling as True was also pioneering in another way: it “might be the first example of an online ‘fre[e]mium’ business model,” said Jim Kukral at Huffington Post in 2012. He continues, “In the early years, he turned down two unsolicited syndication deals to bring the column to newspapers — turning them down because he didn’t want to give up control of his work, he says.”
That page is mostly about how I pulled my archives offline because Google decided it didn’t want to be so generous to sites running their ads, and started putting them up as Kindle books instead — and later removed Google’s ads from my site entirely (though for unrelated reasons).
And it’s not just that a few writers have talked about This is True here and there. My “media page” has many examples of nice words from mainstream publications, such as:
- “All the News That’s Not Fit to Print.” —Newsweek
- “The kind of news items that keep comedians and commentators in business.” —Washington Post
- “Best in Net Entertainment, 1994.” —Internet World
- How did he get so popular so fast? Well, for one thing, he writes funny stuff.” —New York Times
- “And now for something completely different.” –CNN Morning News
- “One of our favorite [online features]. If you like what you read, buy the book.” —Internet World
- “Cassingham believes he has the best of both worlds. He gets to report on stories but can add his own twist.” —American Bookseller
- “The truth sometimes hurts, but when it crosses the line to downright funny, that’s when Randy Cassingham swings into action.” —Boardwatch
- “Cassingham is a humorist for the Information Age, an Internet-savvy satirist and social commentator. The Jay Leno of Cyberspace.” —Los Angeles Times
- “In a reversal of the current trend, he broke into print — and profit using his on-line popularity as a springboard.” —Denver Post
- “Inspired: ‘This is True’ author Randy Cassingham. Mired: Grizzled conspiracy fan Pierre Salinger.” —Wall Street Journal, “The Year on the Net”
- “For years, Cassingham has been searching the papers for amazing but true news stories or headlines, to which he attaches a witty, funny or borderline-sarcastic tagline. It’s nearly impossible to read these and not laugh out loud.” —Philadelphia Daily News
- Hot Site: “Randy Cassingham has a passion for the truth. And you’ll never believe the stuff he’s dug up…. Truly stranger than fiction.” —USA Today
— and those are just some of the examples …from the 1990s.
(You’ll note from that page that we share a publication in common: Playboy has both published my writing and talked about me/True numerous times over the years — going back to 1999.)
While you declared “A major increase in searches for the term ‘Florida Man’ later occurred in June 2012, around the time of the viral Miami Cannibal story,” one of my readers did some “statistical analysis” of This is True stories that I published back in 2011 that declared “Florida: Officially the Weirdest” — as had been obvious to anyone who had read my column for pretty much any length of time.
“But yes,” I concluded on that page, “while most expect California to be the weirdest state in the Union, it’s not; Florida is definitely weirder. Residents there whined when I once did an all-Florida issue, yet I could probably do one every month, if I was so inclined.”
I’ll close by saying that I do not claim authorship of the “Florida Man meme” — my take is, it’s been around for decades if not generations, though surely not using that term. Or let me say it explicitly: “‘Florida Man’ was a viral phenomenon online well before the 21st Century.”
But I do agree that “the Internet” is hugely responsible for turning “‘Florida Man’ Into a Figure of Indulgence, Decadence, and Bad Decision Making”!
In any case, Fark is definitely a Johnny-come-lately in the online annals of what is Florida Man — or “weird news,” for that matter. Been there, did that, still doing it.
Founder, This is True
Attached: 25 pages of example This is True “Florida Man” stories …all from before the year 2000 (let alone 2012!)
Fair Notice: after sending this to you I’ll be posting it on my site: “Florida Man: Not a Recent Phenomenon” at https://thisistrue.com/florida-man-not-recent
What I Also Sent Tyler
The 25-page PDF of pre-2000 Florida Man stories from True is an excerpt of my in-progress book compiling Florida Man (and Florida Woman!) stories. I had not intended to issue a “preview” of that book, but since I made it for Tyler I am making it available in my shopping cart for $5 if you want to see it. I would obviously appreciate your not circulating it elsewhere.
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