Add his position as a Christian campus minister at University of South Carolina to his wicked -- some churchgoers might deem overly wicked -- sense of verbal and situational irony, and Sammy Rhodes (@prodigalsam) has both the raw materials and intellectual giftedness to cultivate a Twitter following that has almost doubled in the past six months (closing in on 12k).
Perfect for the college crowd, Rhodes projects a sense of social awkwardness ("mainly I'm just awkward, but thanks!" he replies to recent kudos) that, supported by a vital inner life (humble, honest), energized by daily exposure to campus life, and complemented by an innate knack for absurdity, generates tweet after tweet that hit the nerve of what's happening precisely now in American popular culture. If a lot of Twitterers are hitting that same nerve, Rhodes is doing it a bit differently. His secret is a sheepish grin.
First let's look at his most publicly viable material -- tweets that are not so sheepish, but rely instead on keen social observation:
These tweets serve as Rhodes' top-line and require little analysis. He spots a social trend, hits it with a mashup or head-on smackdown. Olive Garden, a restaurant chain that has tried to stay afloat by updating its branding, smartening its interior design, hitting Groupon like a mother, advertising to a younger crowd, remains symbolic of American mediocrity. And "meh" is a word used by younger speakers of the English language to convey utter disinterest. Where "whatever" may reveal a trace of bitterness, "meh" shows no interest at all. "Meh" is the whatever's whatever. Olive Garden, Rhodes conveys in 36 characters, not only sucks, but nobody even cares that it sucks. Yet I've seen students crashing for exams at Olive Garden, so perhaps it's the new Denny's. Price point's a little high for that demo, but let's move on.
Another category of @prodigalsam tweets worth noting is that of the verbally ultra-clever. These appear less frequently in Rhodes' feed, probably not for lack of inspiration, but because they're relatively esoteric and draw retweets less consistently. And Rhodes is definitely interested in retweets. Example from last year: "I wish Shia LaBeouf and Scott Baio could merge into one unstoppable force known as LaBaiowulf." This one, however, did succeed in a popular sense, to some extent at least: 68 retweets and 256 favorites thus far.
A third category of Rhodes tweet might be called "the extremely awkward." Often playing with new forms of communication and social networking, frequently revealing emotional vulnerability, yet consistently performing the function his top-line tweets perform (to expose social trends), Rhodes' awkward tweets are not only perceptive but downright loveable. Here are a few examples:
Part of what makes great writing great is that it allows space for reader participation. Rhodes reveals himself so openly and with such a minimized apparent desire to impress (which is the bane of clever tweeting) that his followers can feel what he's feeling right along with him. It's called sympathy, and I would say that in Rhodes' case sympathy is not cultivated or manufactured. After following him for many months now, I can say that his feelings are real. Insightful, comical, eminently retweetable, but emotionally legit. Other followers must be able to see that, too.
A final category of Rhodes tweet has to do with being a parent. He is here, again, vulnerable, but his aim is not to expose a trend but to explain/describe fatherhood. These might be his best tweets in a more permanent sense. On the surface they seem docile, but they actually cut sharply in a comic way, right through our shared notions of what it means to be a parent.
So yes, he's "perfect for the college crowd," but also a great follow for anyone between the ages of twenty and forty. I give @prodigalsam as many thumbs up as I humanly can.
Follow Aaron Belz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/aaronbelz