Justin Wales, a First Amendment lawyer with the firm Carlton Fields, is one of those local guys who passionately cares about his community. Aside from his main gig (he was part of the team that recently won the case for Bruce Matheson against the Miami Open), Wales last summer founded a nonprofit, Engage Miami, to increase millennial voter turnout.
“I found that while I was doing all these things, I started making all sorts of little jokes about Miami,” he says with a sly smile. “And I wanted an outlet to just dump them.”
He takes real issues in the city and gives them an edge. For instance, when Marco Rubio ended his run in the current presidential race, an opportunity presented itself. So Wales wrote up a jokey piece about the U.S. senator dropping out to sell hoverboards at Bayside Marketplace and shared it on Facebook. The next morning, a graphic designer friend built him a website. (And his other friend, Daniel Vera, did the magical coding behind the webpage).
In a nod to the delicious and totally versatile fruit that represents Miami’s Latin influence, Wales named the site the Plantain. Does he have a personal connection with the banana-looking food? Nah, but “if you were going to come up with a Miami version of the Onion, what else would you call it?” he
And that is how "Miami's Like Most Super News Source, Bro" was born.
With a sleek website and interested readers, the activist began dishing out articles. There were gems like “Tourist Misunderstands Cheek Kiss, Disaster Ensues,” “Frost Science Museum to Be Rebranded as Panther Coffee and Hayden Pannettierium,” “Billy Corben Performs Songs From Siamese Dream to a Disappointed Audience,” and “Sedano's Supermarket Launches New Ethnic Food Aisles for Anglos.”
After a few weeks, he started getting submissions from readers. “It’s difficult because it’s really only a jury of one right now,” he says. “I need to find it funny.” All of the articles are written under a pen name. One such prolific author is Milo, whose bio simply reads, “Milo went to college.” We bet Milo learned a lot of that
Wales describes the parody website as an art project. Though the articles are far-fetched, they deal with real issues. “We put in little subtle hints about gentrification, about mass development, about cultural whitewashing that’s happening throughout the community — but we do it in an absurd way,” the lawyer says. Readers may be laughing at arguably the world’s greatest Hayden Panettiere joke, but in the end, they'll be thinking about a serious topic.
The website is barely 5 weeks old and it is already gaining a following. “I wouldn’t have guessed it be this far a month ago,” says Wales, running his fingers through the fringe of his hair. “Ideally, what I’d like this to become is just a platform for creative people in Miami.”
Although instinctively the Plantain is compared to the Onion, Wales likes to think of his site more as shaped by the '70s parody rag that inspired a slew of spinoffs: The National Lampoon.
“Who knows where it’ll go," Wales says with a shrug. "I’m just along for the ride.”