This week, Newsweek wrote about Thrillist’s “definitive and final ranking of all 50 states,” in which Florida was declared the worst state in the union. The state’s “awfulness is so staggeringly impressive,” Thrillist claimed, that there’s no way another state — say, Alabama or Arkansas — could occupy such an illustrious position on their list.
We get it: Making fun of Florida is a time-honored tradition for Floridians and non-Floridians alike. After all, Florida is a place where faces get eaten by cannibals and housing bubbles are burst. Much of the state is built on drained swampland. Its only redeeming quality is Miami, a city that is practically the antithesis of every other part of the state. But here’s the thing: is Florida really that bad? The Outline’s two resident Floridians weighed in.
Paris Martineau: When I tell someone I’m from Florida, they pretty much instantly assume I mean Miami or Orlando. Alas, I’m from Destin, a town that basically exists only for tourists and — this is my personal conspiracy theory — drug trafficking. It is bland and small and has one very large road going through it, a Taco Bell that is sporadically open, and that’s about it.
Gaby Del Valle: I tell people I’m from Tampa, which is a lie because I am from a suburb of a suburb of Tampa called Land O’ Lakes. Land O’ Lakes is kind of a shithole, I will admit. It is not where the butter is made; it’s just a place with a lot of lakes and mosquitoes and racists. But despite Land O’ Lakes’ deficiencies, of which there are many, it’s unfair to judge Florida as a whole based on the shittiness of its small towns. Small towns are shitty everywhere. Small towns are shitty in Oregon, but no one says Oregon is the worst state.
Paris: Florida’s small towns have their own fetid, hallucinogenic rot. In Florida, up is down, left is right, and fact is fiction. The summer months attract hordes of drunk teenagers and balding dads, while the winter brings large packs of old people known only as “The Snowbirds.” The further north you go in Florida, the more culturally south you are. Northern Florida — which is often referred to as the panhandle, because it is shaped like the handle of a pan — is essentially just lower-lower-Alabama, but with more Hawaiian shirts and Jimmy Buffett fans.
Gaby: You forgot to mention Florida is also a place where people worship a terrifyingly anthropomorphic mouse named Mickey, who, aside from the noble alligator, is practically the state’s mascot. But most importantly, Florida is a place where dreams come true. Florida is a place for rebirth. Most people who live in Florida are not originally from Florida, because Florida is where you go to start over. Yes, this means the state attracts its fair share of face-eating freaks and narco millionaires, but that doesn’t matter. There is also a thriving immigrant population made up of nice people who do not eat faces. Florida is not good because of any good qualities it may have; Florida is good because it promises something better. Florida is where you go to escape death.
Paris: Have you ever visited the Wikipedia page “List of fatal alligator attacks in the United States”? It’s almost all Floridians! No one is escaping death here. Panama City Beach, a beer-drenched hellhole where I was once sprayed with foam by DJ Khaled in a parking lot, had to banish alcohol from its beaches back in 2015 after a bunch of spring breakers died from partying too hard. That’s the legacy we’re dealing with here, along with: old men obsessed with Tommy Bahama, Creed, Jeb!, Pitbull, lots of hurricanes, and roughly 500,000 feral pigs. Why are they in Florida? How did they get there? Why do we still allow them to exist? No one knows, because no one knows anything here.
Gaby: Okay, so escaping death in Florida is not a guarantee because death comes for us all — but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. The point isn’t that people are actually prolonging their life by moving to the Sunshine State, but that they think they are. Nothing is real; everything is fake; the pee tape is real and the Hawaii alert was a total hoax. Reality is what you make of it, man. It’s not what the place has to offer, because aside from no income tax and good Cuban coffee, there really isn’t much you can count on. It’s what the place makes you think you can achieve: eternal youth courtesy of a venereal disease-ridden retirement communitiy replete with swingers. I feel inspired every time I’m home for Christmas.
Florida’s gators, boars, snakes, and poisonous spiders were there before we were, and they will be there after we’re gone. (Not to mention that farmers and hunters have turned the state’s boar problem into a business opportunity. Apparently feral hog is a great source of protein.) Listen, just avoid messing with the flora and fauna, and you won’t die. It’s not so much to ask.
Also, do not disparage Mr. Worldwide.
Paris: Not to be insensitive, but I feel like it’s fair to assume that the Earth itself also despises Florida, as it’s constantly trying to destroy it. Maybe it’s karma for when the governor banned the phrase “climate change” back in 2015, but Florida seems to be plagued by more natural disasters than a religious text. Hurricanes, sinkholes, floods — you name it.
Gaby: But this is the grand story here: Florida is an example of what happens when man tries to show his dominance over nature, first with air conditioning and swamp drainage technology and later with highways and buildings meant to withstand 150 mph winds. Man wins at first, and then mankind loses and the state is overtaken by feral pigs and hurricanes before eventually being swallowed up by the rising seas. Florida is a fucking metaphor and a warning. One day the ocean will swallow us all, but before we all die, you can tell a stranger at a Pitbull concert you’re from Tampa, and not some shithole nobody’s ever heard of.