Should Florida try to rehab its image?

Already considered by many to be synonymous with dysfunction, the state was recently named the nation’s ‘worst.’ Should it fight back with PR fire, or just embrace the ire?

Is Florida the worst state in America?

Culture and entertainment website Thrillist seems to think so, citing the beleaguered Sunshine State’s “staggeringly impressive awfulness resumé.”

Florida has, of course, struggled with:

That’s just a sampling of choice cuts of weirdness from the past year. The state battles more evergreen PR foibles such as crime, political graft, overcrowding, climate change concerns, alligator attacks and elder road rage, which the likes of Fark and Florida Man Twitter are always happy to highlight.

Why is Florida such a magnet for striking, if not downright outlandish, behaviors and occurrences? Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman attributes Florida’s inimitable brand of “manatee insanity” to its unique mixture of alluring warm weather, end-of-the-line geography, strange history and a dizzyingly diverse, transient population. Also, there are guns—lots of guns.

For better or worse, Florida has become known as America’s zany state. What, if anything, should be done to improve its image?

‘The Punchline State’

Dave Barry, the patron saint of Floridian humor and chief defender of “The Punchline State,” often bemoans the hyperfocus on Florida’s flaws. He’s quick to point out the state’s finer features: “I could go on and on, listing all the good things about Florida. I could point out that it is the only state where you can get a really good mojito. Or that it’s the nation’s flattest state, so if you fall down after a few mojitos, you will not roll far.”

He also points out that, “In parts of Florida you can purchase an alligator head without even getting out of your car,” perhaps while on a visit to Ochopee’s legendary Skunk Ape Headquarters.

Julie Mullen, co-founder of the Delray Beach-based Buzz Agency, also thinks Florida deserves more respect: “We Floridians embrace our melting pot of mayhem. Despite our hanging chads, terrible drivers and bountiful Botox, we still boast the best beaches, the best Cuban sandwiches, the only authentic Key Lime Pie, beautiful pink flamingos, no state tax, and even the Fountain of Youth.”

She continues with a common Floridian comeback:

If it’s so awful here, why do tens of thousands of people (and millions of birds) migrate here every winter?

Mullen has a point. Despite its tarnished reputation, Florida’s population continues to surge. It’s now a more populous state than New York, with no signs of slowing.

So, is Florida immune to bad press? Does it even matter what the rest of the country thinks? Florida could launch a charm offensive to rehab its image or, as Thrillist recommends, just embrace its laughingstock status. Either way, it might not matter that much.

For many, warm weather trumps the possibility of being impaled by a sailfish bill—or perhaps being mauled by a pack of ravenous Gambian pouched rats. Floridians are nothing if not vigilant.

Say what you will about Florida, but there are millions of people who wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. At least until the whole place sinks, that is.

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