"This is a very good book . . ." Midwest Book Review.
Daytona Beach News-Journal, May 7, 2009
at Florida's pop image
Florida's place in pop culture is a topic near and dear to your correspondent and something of a preoccupation of this column. So he approaches writing about Florida with the prickliness of a local and the snobbery of an aficionado.
Yet he was pleasantly surprised when Steve Glassman, a professor of communication and humanities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, sent over a collection of essays he edited, "Florida in the Popular Imagination."
This is a rich cross section of Florida as it is, and, more important, as it's imagined to be.
Your correspondent first happened upon Glassman's books out of his appreciation for Sunshine State noir-style crime novels. The 1997 collection of essays Glassman edited, "Crime Fiction and Film in the Sunshine State: Florida Noir," and "Florida Crime Writers: 24 Interviews" are outstanding places to begin answering the nagging question, "Why are all those crime books set in Florida and are we really that weird?"
Nor is this guy some sideline critic. Glassman tried his own hand at the genre by immortalizing Bike Week Daytona Beach in the novel, "The Near Death Experiment."
The new collection covers the vital issues of Florida's image. Monster theme parks and their back-road predecessors? Of course. Extreme weather? Naturally. Shark attacks and poodle-eating alligators? Just as one would expect. Snowbirds, rev-heads, Spring Breakers, drag-show tourists and roadside landscape painters? All there.
Sure, there are quibbles. A Spring Break piece that doesn't mention MTV or the epochal Spring Break 1989? A run-through of Florida-based TV shows that mentions Hulk Hogan's one-season bomb "Thunder in Paradise" but not the more mythic, surreal, hyper-Florida one-season bomb "Maximum Bob"? A piece on snowbirds that doesn't get into Canadian tourism and restaurants that hide artificial sweetener packets in winter months?
But your correspondent particularly enjoyed the pieces about NASCAR and its effects on Florida and the Daytona Beach area. (He is grateful it includes a list of all seven cars and motorcycles named "Daytona.") And the essay about Florida weather that included hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms (we are the nation's lightning strike capital), waterspouts (yes, we are also the nation's waterspout capital) and even, although they're not exactly weather, wildfires and amoebas that eat people's brains. Send a copy to relatives who talk about moving here.
It ends with a piece about the 2000 presidential election recount. For the nation, this event helped launch the disasters of the Bush II administration. For Florida, it cemented our national image -- heck, our international image -- as a baffling place of political seediness and perpetual confusion and conflict among a modest-IQ population that can't follow simple directions. All summed up in the headline, Flori-DUH.
So why do depictions of Florida in popular culture matter?
Well, more than any other place, Florida is still making up a lot of its identity. This makes us susceptible to the effects of other people's imaginings about us. People tell lies about us and when we try them on for size, find they often fit OK. Before too long, they're what we are.
Which is why this is such a fun place. Culturally speaking, anyway.
forthcoming Midwest Book Review
Steve Glassman has put together a collection of essays on
But who would have thought of Florida as being welcoming to gays and lesbians; or that Florida can boast of noteworthy architecture—the Mediterranean Revival architecture of Palm Beach, the Art Deco restoration of South Beach in Miami, the amazing, intricately designed and lavishly decorated resort hotels built by Henry Plant in Tampa (the Tampa Bay Hotel, with its striking Moorish design, is now a part of the University of Tampa), and by Henry Flagler in St. Augustine and Miami, as he extended his railway line to Key West.
“The Highwaymen and Other Black Icons,” Edmondson Asgill
gives us another
Rafael Miguel Montes, in “Cuban Miami: Manufacturing Casablanca,” asserts how wrong are the insights of three well known established writers of travel literature—Joan Didion, the British Alexander Stuart, and David Rieff--on the culture of Cuban Miami. His detailed analyses regarding what he sees as the superficiality and myopia of their approaches makes me wish that he had provided further commentary of his own on the subject—he is a Miami resident and has published several studies of the culture of his town.
I was astounded by Alan Pratt’s account of the extent of motorcycle culture in his essay “Motorsports Rev Up the Economy,” astounding. He describes the ubiquitousness throughout Florida of motorcycle dealerships, motorcycle clubs, biker bars, tattoo salons, free barbecues at rallies, poker runs, retail sales of biker helmets, and leather and metal clothing and other paraphernalia, law firms touting their expertise in motorcycle law, motorcycle drawn hearses, a new biker cemetery in Palm Coast—“Wings and Wheels National Biker Memorial.
Florida’s 400-mile thrust out from the mainland into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, as well as its 230 miles of the Panhandle mainland shore, along with hundreds of lakes, rivers, ponds, freshwater springs, in its interior—all this makes Florida naturally encouraging to sailing and boating and all manner of water sports. Duncan H. Haynes fully explores this watery state in “Taking to the Water.”
neglected in this survey are
himself has contributed three essays to this new collection, two
of which can be considered of particular value for new arrivals
is a very good book. The essays Professor Glassman has selected
are of very high quality, well written and quite evidently
thoroughly researched. This would be a most appropriate gift
book, especially for anyone planning to visit