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Thug Notes: YouTube comic brings literary Classics to the masses hip-hop style

Sparky Sweets' self-styled "gangster" approach to education is bringing books like Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird to new audiences. Miranda Dobson meets him

Miranda Dobson
Wednesday 14 August 2013 14:53 BST
Sparky Sweets PhD
Sparky Sweets PhD

For those students who hastily scan SparkNotes, Wikipedia or CliffNotes before a seminar, the latest comedy sensation to hit YouTube could be a godsend.

Sparky Sweets PhD invites his viewers to join him as he gives the lowdown on the great and the good of literature, urging his Twitter followers to, “Educate yo’self, son”, by using his Thug Notes.

Hailing from the streets of L.A. and claiming to have a doctorate in Classics, Dr Sweets delivers literary summaries and analysis in his “original gangster” style, in a way that he hopes will both entertain book nerds and educate/enlighten those who aren’t into their literature.

With an unprecedented surge of YouTube fans, Sparky has over 99,000 subscribers to his channel, and counting, and nearly 506,000 views on his most popular “drop” on classic American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Also included on Sparky’s reading list are George Orwell’s 1984, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and popular culture’s latest literary buzz courtesy of Baz Luhrmann's film, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Sparky tells me the idea for Thug Notes came about as a result of his “frustration with the world of academia.”

“In my opinion,” he says, “an academic’s job should be to utilise their passion for the classics to make the gift of literature available to everyone. Unfortunately, in my experiences, that is not the case.”

Sparky believes academia is “enshrouded by a veil of unnecessarily convoluted terminology and intellectual one-upmanship”, which negates the whole point of education.

“Instead of promoting the universality of these works, they are building them up to a virtually inaccessible plane and saying 'If you want to truly understand classical literature, you have to get on my level.' So Thug Notes is my way of trivialising academia’s attempt at making literature exclusive by showing that these ideas can be communicated to people on the opposite side of the social stratum.”

Dr Sweets gives an original (and accessible) take on literary Classic

In his take on Jane Eyre, Sparky brings the classic English novel back to the streets, explaining how Jane is sent away from her “twisted Aunt Reed and her punk ass cousins, who ain’t showin’ no love for his girl, Jane,” before going on eventually to marry Rochester, when they “have a little G of they own.”

Having come from a “pretty generic public school education”, Sparky’s love of literature stemmed from his high school reading list. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury were the two tomes which had the biggest influence on him while growing up.

The stream of consciousness in the second part of Faulker’s 1929 novel is something Dr Sweets said he had never seen before, and it “opened his eyes” to the endless possibilities in literature.

“I was about 15 when I was first assigned the book,” he says.”When I got to Quentin’s section, it was the first time I was introduced to stream of consciousness and my mind was completely blown. Up until then, I had no idea stories can be told in this way.”

Thug Notes is a tongue-in-cheek way of bringing literature to the masses, and while most of Sparky’s viewers call him a “genius”, and beg him to cover their favourite books, there are some that just don’t get it. Despite the impact of a few "haters", Sparky remains upbeat: “You’re never going to please everybody. There are always going to be some people that just don’t get it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s to be expected. I hope that at the very least they still learn something!”

Further to hoping his audience will see that “books aren’t as boring as you might think”, Dr Sweets wants students and teachers alike to see the value in combining comedy and education.

“I hope that teachers watch the show and realize that teaching is an art,” Sparky explained. “Just like theater or cinema, the artist must earn the audience’s attention. Your classroom is your audience and unfortunately a student will not volunteer their attention.

“Sometimes you have to seize it, and I hope Thug Notes inspires teachers to explore alternative methods to really engage their students. On a larger scale, I also hope that people realise that comedy is a powerful tool for education!”

Waxing lyrical on Lord of the Flies: Sparky Sweets, PhD

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