As a Miami Herald columnist and the author of a dozen satirical novels, including the forthcoming Star Island, Carl Hiaasen has compiled a body of work populated by venal real estate developers, crooked politicians, environmental zealots, dead tourists, ambitious strippers and numbskull lowlifes. He says that as nonfiction has gotten stranger than fiction, it’s become harder for a satirist to stay ahead of “the curve of human weirdness. America is becoming more like South Florida every day, which is terrifying.” Hiaasen, 57, divides his time between Vero Beach and the Florida Keys. He spoke with senior editor T. A. Frail by phone.
Isn’t it possible we could just get off the weirdness curve and return to a more civilized state?
No, it’s not. When I go out and give speeches, the title of my speech is “The Case Against Intelligent Design.” And I base it strictly on what I’ve observed here in Florida, which is that the human race is actually de-evolving, that we are moving backward on the evolutionary scale. If you picked the headlines from the five largest newspapers in Florida every day, you could make a very solid case that the human race was slipping backward into the primal ooze. The species has not been elevated by much of what’s happened in the last 30 or 40 years. And obviously, it’s not just in Florida. The sort of thing that used to happen only in fiction can hardly compare to what’s in the news today. The reality of our current politics and the economic meltdown—that’s straight out of Tom Wolfe.
What fresh outrages do you fear are going to happen in the next 40 years?
For one thing, the level of political discourse will only get nastier. The Supreme Court’s decision to let corporations pour as much money as they want directly into political advertising—and do it anonymously—is toxic to the whole democratic process. From now on, it’s basically going to be all the free speech that money can buy.
Do you see an antidote?
Public outrage is the best antidote, because it often leads to change. But people can’t get outraged without rapid access to solid, useful information—what we used to call journalism. There’s so much garbage being disguised as fact and so many gasbags posing as sages; somebody has to cut through the crap. That’s the job of reporters, and their job will be more important than at any time in history. There’s been this great lamentation about the end of newspapers as we know them, the end of the era of the paper hitting your doorstep in the morning, but I don’t think the language or the craft of writing is dying. In the next 40 years, there’s going to be a larger demand than ever for people who can communicate with the written word, whatever format it takes. I don’t think there’s ever been a greater need for people to be able to write at a functional level, whether they’re tapping on their computer keyboard or on their iPhone.