Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thug Notes is the (*&^%$@! bomb!

I'll start you off with a bizarre, funny video. Be warned. The language isn't pretty:

This comes from a series called Thug Notes. These five-minute videos deconstruct famous works of literature, from "Heart of Darkness" to "Frankenstein" to "The Gr8 Gatsby." Here's another one, about a white whale:

The commentary comes from Dr. Sparky Sweets, Ph.D. (He's actually comedian Greg Edwards.) Sparky probably takes his name from Spark Notes, the most popular online site where students read (and, alas, often steal) condensed insights about masterworks. My own generation used Cliff Notes, jokingly referred to as the place lazy and unprepared kids should go "if your grade is about to go over a cliff."

The thing is, Sparky's pieces are more than jokes. They use animation and graphics to get at the core of these classics, and they offer insights about themes and characters. As Edwards told Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper, "The gift of literature is universal in meaning and should be made accessible to everyone on every plane. Thug Notes is my way of trivializing academia's attempt at making literature exclusionary. (I show that) even highbrow academic concepts can be communicated in a clear and open fashion." (To see the complete list, visit

Here's his take on an Oscar Wilde novel:

The vernacular of the streets will keep these videos from becoming classroom tools any time soon, though my teacher wife says her middle-school students have happily discovered them. The language is no coarser than we hear in hip-hop songs. And unlike many recording artists, Edwards uses slang to elevate a discussion, rather than degrade people.

He's absolutely right that any reader might enjoy "Great Expectations" or "1984," if language doesn't pose a barrier. Dickens and Orwell and Shakespeare endure because you don't have to be white or middle-class (or a genius) to appreciate them; you simply have to find an entry point, and something has to spur your curiosity.

If these ------- Thug Notes can do that, I say this is one -------- great idea, and I salute the ------------- who came up with it.


Anonymous said...

Sparky Sweets is actually a team of guys who wanted to make the classics more accessible. Not sure that Sparky has anything to do with Spark Notes. One of the guys on the team has a Master's degree in Classics.

I've gained a lot of insight from their analysis. You should definitely check out the Lord of the Rings analysis.

Lawrence Toppman said...

I don't think anyone associated with the team works with Spark Notes; I think they just borrowed a first name for "Dr. Sweets" from that site, as a play on words. I saw the "Hobbit" video and will watch "Lord of the Rings." These things are addictive!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for replying; I actually phrased that wrong. I don't know that they took the name from Spark Notes. I would hate for them to run into legal troubles for some sort of infringement.

I recommend "The Underground" as well.