For a little over a year now, residents, tourists and daily workers in Philadelphia's bustling center-city business district have spotted a young man draped in linen, his shoulder-length hair blowing in the wind, his chin obscured by a scraggly beard. He bears a striking, if not uncanny, resemblance to those Eastern European depictions of ... well... of Jesus. You know, Jesus Christ. Yeah. That Jesus Christ.
He calls himself "Philly Jesus," and his "haunt of choice" is JFK Plaza — Love Park, as it's more commonly called — at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Philly Jesus wanders around the park, mingling with people, posing for pictures and spouting a close approximation of the Gospel. His Word-spreading has, however, been interrupted several times when he was arrested for panhandling and for baptizing a man in the park's fountain. In addition to all that, inexplicably, he tweets. Just like the real Jesus did (or does or... whatever.) The reason I know he tweets is because — wouldn't you know it — he follows me on Twitter. (Of course, I follow him back.)
For a long time, Philly Jesus and his message and his social media presence were pretty harmless. He was a novelty. He presented himself as a friend to all, happily spreading the word of peace and love and brotherhood and togetherness and all that stuff that religion claims to stand for. He was blind to race, beliefs, ethnicity and sexual orientation. When the Supreme Court announced its monumental decision regarding the nationwide legality of gay marriage, Philly Jesus tweeted in full support... only to delete those tweets several days later. Social media-wise, he did a complete turnaround, stating instead, that "Sin is sin," "Marriage is between a man and a woman," and calling homosexuality "a vile affection." Twitter doesn't take kindly to stuff like that, especially from a public figure. Especially if that public figure tries to pass himself off as the son of God. No sir, Twitter doesn't like that one bit. And Twitter isn't nearly as forgiving as the Lord.
For nearly two months now, Philly Jesus has been the constant target of insults, abuse and taunts from the Twitter community-at-large. He's been called "hypocrite," "fraud," liar" and worse. He has received suggestions for where he can go, and what assorted and heinous things he should do when he gets there. Philly Jesus accepts the barrage of derision and, in a modern twist on "turning the other cheek," he re-tweets every single affront. Sometimes he unleashes a single tweet that expresses his feelings, like this one I saw the other night:
Well, I couldn't let that one go. Ever the twitter smart-ass, I offered this reply:
I got a couple of "likes" on that one. But, I turned my Twitter attention to tweeting about something I was watching on television or something I saw elsewhere on the internet or maybe I was giving a snarky comment to a co-worker who, for reasons I cannot figure out, decided to follow my antics on Twitter.
Suddenly, someone named "Rory B Bellows," with a Homer Simpson icon, came to Philly Jesus's defense.
This, my friends, is what the internet calls "trolling." According to the Urban Dictionary, "trolling" is defined as "Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it's the internet and, hey, you can." Well, I was only watching a rerun of The Andy Griffith Show (one I had seen many times), so I indulged the guy. Against my better judgement, I replied in typically innocent, but totally smart-ass, tone :
Just as quickly, this popped up on my Twitter feed:
This was getting mildly entertaining. I submitted this clever salvo, trying to keep within the original religious flavor:
"Rory B Bellows" (if that is his real name) broke out the standard trolling tactics, starting off by accusing his prey (in this case - me!) of being a troll:
This is what makes the internet great! The anonymous tough guy. Pseudo-menacing accompanied by mild name-calling. Just like a school-yard bully. I continued for the benefit of my own amusement. I tested myself to see how long I could keep the biblical puns flying. I served up this one in response to his threat:
This is some of my best, off-the-top-of-my-head work, if I do say so myself. But, this guy wasn't finished.
Now, he's resorted to real threats! And... wait a second... did he just call me a pussy? Yeah, he took a feeble shot at a double entendre, but — in the name of Philly Jesus! — he called me a pussy! Quickly, I opened an internet browser window on my smartphone and looked up his Twitter feed. There was very little original material. It was mostly retweets and angry replys to other tweeters. All of the replies smacked of trolling (surprise!). Interspersed throughout the animosity, were links to cat videos. That's right, Fluffy batting around a furry felt mouse or Whiskers doing a backflip off a coffee table. You know, cat videos! They're all over the internet and they were all over this troll's page! Another reason I love the internet!
I laughed to myself as I composed this one:
There was a definite, noticeable pause before his reply. I saw how quickly his previous replies had come, but this one was taking a long time. Finally, this...
Then, he must have checked my Twitter profile, which contains a link to my illustration website. He added this to his last response:
Uh-oh! A misspelling in an attempted insult! He was grasping and flustered. Or maybe he was just an idiot. By this time, I was bored. This "battle" wasn't going anywhere and I wasn't waiting around to be called a "pussy" again, so I blocked him and went to bed.
This morning I decided to chronicle this episode in a blog post (this one, as a matter of fact), so I went to grab screenshots (the ones you see above) from my Twitter feed, as well as from his. It was then I discovered that he blocked had me too.
Oh Lord! Do I love the internet!