Commentary: 'Miami Zombie' is just another story that could only happen in Miami

The Miami HeraldMay 31, 2012 

You’d think a face-eating naked man shot dead along the postcard blue landscape of the MacArthur Causeway would be bad for tourism, but not in our steamy Magic City.

We’ve developed crocodile skin when it comes to police news, no matter how dehumanizing, and now we embrace our wackiness.

History and our fine-tuned reputation as a storyteller’s paradise have taught us that how 31-year-old Rudy Eugene met his maker — shot by police after he bit off most of a man’s face right next to the Miami Herald building, the scene creating a hellish traffic jam — is the kind of news that draws tourists and filmmakers like mosquitoes to standing water.

Once upon a time, this would have been the kind of news that sent the Chamber of Commerce into emergency meetings to figure out how to counteract the bad image of Miami promulgated by the negative media. But in the age of the Internet and social media, everyone craves a piece of the action. Stories like Eugene’s sends gallows humor into high gear.

The wackier the news, the wider the reach, the more people develop the sense that we’re just a happening kind of town. Makes them want to be part of the scene.

What do you know?

Naked and flesh-eating in the same sentence guarantees worldwide coverage and creates a buzz. In The Herald, for instance, the online stories of the naked man’s face-eating attack got more than 2 million views over the last three days.

Surveillance cameras even gave us gruesome and ghoulish visuals.

Not even a presidential election can compete with that; perhaps only if Mitt Romney had also bitten the face of the boy he allegedly harassed as a teenager.

Ours was a long road to high-end zombie status.

Decades ago there was the rude man who died hungry, shot by a security guard after he slugged the cashier who told him they had run out of chicken, and the naked man who threw the severed head of his girlfriend at a young cop — classic only-in-Miami crime stories wonderfully reported and told by The Herald’s legendary police reporter Edna Buchanan. Hers were the kind of stories that made the Chamber of Commerce tremble in horror, but brought to town the film crews of Miami Vice and CSI: Miami.

City promoters learned the lesson: Crime sells.

Again this weekend, those previously loathed reporters, past and present, made the latest psycho a top story on social media.

“The world progresses and regresses, and then there’s Miami, where the wondrous and wacky is a delightful constant,” posted on Facebook Herald alum Marc Fisher of the Washington Post.

In a move replicated many times over on Facebook, three of his friends shared the story in their own Facebook pages, and so on.

Another former Herald reporter, Lisa Arthur, recalled how back when she was in journalism school she came across a Herald recruiting poster that enticed potential interns with a paragraph from the Buchanan story about the naked man found by police leaning against a Metrorail support carrying the severed head.

“It convinced me I HAD to work at The Herald,” posted Arthur, who now reports from New Jersey. “Turned out to be the truth, too….While living there I saw no less than 5 naked men roaming the streets. The naked abound in the Magic City.”

You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

By Monday, postings had become stranger than the actual story.

New York celebrity chef and cookbook author Daisy Martinez posted via I’m a Proud Mamá Latina — “Miami zombie alert! Lol” — and provided the link to the story on mamaslatinas.com headlined: “Miami’s zombie attacker may have been high on bath salts: ¿Qué más?”

And so, another urban legend has been born.

Some of us hypothesize that this is all karma — the legacy we leave to new property owners of the Miami Herald site, the resort and mega-casino operators from Malaysia.

Along with prime waterfront real estate, they purchased a flock of dive-bombing mocking birds and a prime view of the flesh-eating and the naked to help them jack up hotel prices on holiday weekends.

Maybe they’ll even get to host the opening night party for the movie. Miami: See It Like A Zombie.

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