October 2, 2013 by Ray Yanek
I wish I didn’t have to admit that I stole the title of this blog, but unfortunately I do because, well, I did. “Classic Literature, Original Gangsta” is the tagline for a series of videos that will make your punk-asses drop your 40’s and fall to the floor laughing.
The videos I’m talking about are called Thug Notes, hosted by Sparky Sweets, Ph.D.
Thug Notes is a modern, video version of the on-line Spark’s Notes and old school Cliff Notes that high school and college English students have been intimately familiar with for decades. Like the classic study aides, Sparky Sweets offers both summaries and analysis of classic works of Western Literature, covering novels such as Beowulf, Crime and Punishment, To Kill a Mockingbird, Hamlet, and so on.
These discussions though, are not for the stuffy lecture hall. Sparky Sweets brings literature down to the street and gives it a little ghetto flavor.
But with the humor and the fun, Sweets drops knowledge and shows in a highly enjoyable way the universality and approachability of literature.
An episode of Thug Notes begins in the style of Masterpiece Theater. The camera pans over rows of leather bound books, while classical music plays in the background. In front of the book cases are two chairs. Sparky Sweets, Ph.D sits in the chair on the right wearing his dew rag and gold chain. He sips what I’m guessing is Hennessey poured from a crystal decanter and when the music fades and the liquor is put aside, shit gets real…
Sweets launches into a thorough, street-wise, summary of the work. In Beowulf, for example, Hrothgar builds the mead hall for his army so the Danes can get “white boy wasted on the reg”. He relates how, when later in Beowulf’s life, “some wank-ass fool boosted a goblet from that fat stack of the dragon’s and when the dragon realizes somebody been ganking his ice he start going all ham on Geatland”.
Almost just as entertaining as Sparky Sweets language and style are the visual aids Thug Notes employs. For the most part, these visual aids are nothing more than stepped up versions of stick figures. They drink 40 ounce bottles of malt liquor, brandish guns instead of swords, are sometimes riddled with bullet holes, end up with x’s scratched over their eyes when they die and speak in hand-drawn bubbles.
Without a doubt, Thug Notes is comedy through and through. Entertainment. But as mentioned, there is much to learn here also. And most of that learning comes in the analysis pieces that follow the summary.
Sweets gives a wide overview of various themes and questions regarding the classics he covers. He begins with the most common and well known interpretations. With Hamlet, for example, he discusses how many of the brotha’s believe that “Hamlet’s too much of a sensitive bitch to kick it in a world of gansta’s playing dirty on the street” and how Hamlet’s procrastination and indecision is one of the most debated topics in all of Shakepearean literature. Sweets remind us that, in regards to To Kill a Mockingbird that we “don’t know shit about the title” until we read the quote on page 90 concerning how it is a sin to kill mockingbird. He goes further and reminds us that, in regards to the sheriff’s insistence on not going public about Boo Radley’s role in the murder of Bob Ewell that “only a jive ass fool would bother cappin’ a mockingbird cuz all them bitches do is drop max level beats for your enjoyment” and that “what [his] girl Harper’s trying to say is that rattin’ on Boo Radley wouldn’t do no good. It’d just rid the hood of one more true blue playa. They already done fucked up once by convicting Tom, so they ain’t about to pop another mockingbird.”
From these basic interpretations, Sweets moves into the more advanced interpretations as well, interpretation that deal with political, social, and psychological ideas to name a few. On top of the street lingo and cuss words (the more serious of which are bleeped out) you’ll also catch words such as synecdoche, motif, and allegory. You’ll hear the occasional quote from philosophers such as Nietzke, and references to the Bible. You’ll hear about the American Dream and Judeao-Christian morality.
Is this a resource I would use in my high school classroom? Probably not, because of the curse words, and references to alcohol, etc. I know. I know. My students hear worse than that everyday and drugs and booze are all over the place, but there are others who don’t understand that and cut me a check twice a month. Would I mention it to my students in passing, so maybe they would go home and check it out? I would and I will. The site is fun and informative and it’s presented in such a way that makes classic literature even more accessible because it shows how the themes and issues at the heart of these novels can touch not only the privileged but also the under-privileged.
And that was the reason why Sparky Sweets Ph.D created these videos. In an interview at the Daily Dot, Sweets says:
“Right now, the idea of truly comprehending literature is enshrouded by a veil of unnecessarily pedantic terminology and intellectual one-upmanship. Academia, as it is today, is not solely about love for the works. It’s also about “wearing” it. For many, it’s not about making the ideas of literature universal—instead it’s about building themselves up to a virtually inaccessible plane and saying “if you want to truly understand literature, you have to get on this high-brow level with me.
“But the truth is the gift of literature is universal and should be made accessible to everyone on every plane. So Thug Notes is my way of trivializing academia’s attempt at making literature exclusionary by showing that these ideas can be communicated to people on the opposite side of the social stratum. I can take grandiose ideas and make them truly understood by everyone.” (The full interview can be found here...)
You can find Thug Notes on:
Now get clicking!! (On the underlined text, of course… 🙂 )