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Philly journalist Colt Shaw wasn’t expecting more than a few friends to laugh when he observed that a monk from the 1400s could easily pass for a dude from Northeast Philadelphia. But his observation hit a nerve — and exploded into a popular meme.
“There’s something comforting in continuity,” Shaw wrote, quote tweeting an oil painting by 15th century artist Petrus Christus of Bruges.
The person in the image, titled “Portrait of a Carthusian” and currently hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has all the right attributes. There’s the haircut, a straight-bang fade. There’s the beard: scraggly, long, and slightly forked, with a reddish tint. The “don’t start with me” stare, paired with a defiant smirk.
“It became clear,” Shaw told Billy Penn, “that everyone in the area had met that guy at some point.”
Within a few days of his original Dec. 23 post, the image had been screen-capped and taken on a life of its own. One Facebook user collected more than 50 memes playing off the theme.
It helps that the cloak in the painting looks like a hoodie.
Some Photoshopped versions give the sweatshirt Eagles branding, or turn the monk into a Sixers fan. One of the most shared renditions shows the Carthusian in a top from Father Judge High School, extra cigarette tucked behind his ear.
Whole spinoff discussion threads have centered around which NE Philly high school the monk most looks like he attended.
Shaw, now 25, grew up in Bucks County and went to Archbishop Wood High School with a “fair share of Northeast guys” from just over the city line. His whole family has been getting a kick out of the fun, he said. Both mom and dad grew up in the Northeast, and attended Catholic school themselves, as did their parents.
One of Shaw’s favorites has the character posted up at a Wawa, using the top of the trash can as a lunch table for a hoagie and a Sprite.
Like most meme creators, Shaw isn’t getting credit for coming up with the joke.
“My brother’s friends and coworkers … have been sending them to him without knowing I started it,” he said. That bugged him at first, since it was by far the most viral thing he’d ever posted — the original tweet has 500 RTs and more than 2.5k likes. But he quickly got over it.
“When I saw the amount of edits people were making and how hilarious they were, I just went with it,” Shaw said. “It became the internet’s.”