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‘Thug Notes’ keeps it real with classic literature

By From page B1 | May 23, 2014

What’s good, playahs? This week, we got our old-school literature game on lock thanks to the Web series “Thug Notes.”

“Thug Notes” drops the 4-1-1 about classic literature in the same way as CliffsNotes or SparkNotes, but the review and analysis are served in the style I’m using, a more “urban vernacular.”

The series is interesting both for the way it entertains about the books it’s reviewing as well as for what it says about race and language.

Sparky Sweets, Ph.D., – played by Greg Edwards – hosts the episodes, clad in a do’ rag and giant gold chains as he sits in a library that would do Jay Gatsby proud.

Here’s a bit from the “The Hobbit” episode: “When Smaug realizes that somebody be ganking his swag, he goes hyphy in this b—- and starts tearing up the nearby towns.”

Most episodes are delivered in five minutes or less. First comes a summary of the piece, followed by analysis.

Part of what makes “Thug Notes” amusing is the humorous irony of seeing Romeo referred to as the “emo son” of “Big Daddy Montague and his boo, Lady Montague” or that Queequeg and Ishmael were “kicking it Bert and Ernie style” during their stay at The Spouter Inn in “Moby-Dick.”

It’s what keeps the series’ regular viewers coming back, too, as a familiar title is intriguing for just how “Thug Notes” might interpret it, while books the viewer may have missed are welcome as a comical introduction to the piece.

Although the episodes tend to work better if the viewer is familiar with the work in question in a particular episode, the installments even have a way of executing on the promise of the “Notes” genre, recapping as well as delivering insight into the works.

In the “Lord of the Flies” episode, I came away with a perspective I hadn’t considered, which is that the book’s many incidences of falling are symbolic of the fall of humankind and its humanity, especially in the context of World War II.

While the series has educational and entertainment value, the way they are delivered asks interesting questions about race and how it’s portrayed.

Months after Seattle Seahawks player and Stanford graduate Richard Sherman said being called a “thug” for a post-game tirade about a San Francisco 49ers player was tantamount to using a racial slur, it calls into question how “Thug Notes” might further negative perceptions about blacks who live in urban settings.

The notion of Sparky Sweets as a doctor plays on an expectation that someone who looks and speaks as he does lacks intelligence. The show’s creators, Jared Bauer and Joe Salvaggio, acknowledge this in interviews, but say the show is an encouragement “not to judge a book by its cover,” as Bauer said in a National Public Radio interview earlier this year.

Bauer has a salient point there, although it shouldn’t excuse the casual racism on which the show trades. “Thug Notes” has something smart to say about its audience in terms of how we look at and interpret language. By offering Sweets as a doctorate-level mind, it flips the script on some of those negative ideas that might come with his portrayal.

To take it a step further, “Thug Notes” pays homage to the language it uses by showing that it does have some art and creativity.

It’s the same argument made for rap artists. While some see their words as nothing more than poor poetry, there’s an eloquence and artistry to it. When Nas raps, “Through the lights, cameras and action, glamour glitters and gold / I unfold the scroll, plant seeds to stampede the globe,” one would be hard pressed to argue that someone with a gift for words didn’t concoct those lines.

The same is true with “Thug Notes,” which takes voluminous tomes and condenses them down into a funny, easy-to-understand format. “Thug Notes” is a loving embrace of language from a different perspective and people who may speak that way.

On the real, the series’ usage of such language is loving, entertaining and informative. It’s a fun way to learn more about classic literature its viewers already know and a funny way to be introduced to more.

So, see you next week, playahs. Peace.

To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.

Discussion | 1 comment

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  • Jason KnowlesMay 23, 2014 - 7:21 am

    The Language Arts department at my school have been using this site for two years. It is a really great find with some spot-on analysis.

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