What's Up With Egypt And Australia?
1.31 The Cooler

Culture Clash: Baby Sloths vs. Classic Literature

By 01.31.11
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1. The Internet, As It Were

Here is a picture of a baby sloth.

The only way to maintain literacy on an Internet overrun with Bed Intruders, tub-related women and epic treadmill fails is with subliminal messages.  The idea of subliminal messaging began when the director of Yale Psychology laboratory E.W. Scripture, PhD, published his description of the basic principles in The New Psychology in 1897.  Back then, you had to sneak the subliminal messages in.  That was the whole point.  Today, the process is a little easier.

To prove my point, I present to you a gallery of baby sloth photos, accompanied by my thoughts on classic literature.  The subliminal messages are going to be in nearly-boldfaced paragraphs, but don't worry, you still won't see them. 

2. He Reaches Out and Grabs You

"Once there was an old man who loved things..."  Elihue Micah Whitcomb, the Anglophilic misanthrope known as "Soaphead Church," appears in only nineteen pages of Toni Morrison's acclaimed 1970 novel
The Bluest Eye
, but his connection to humanity through alienation is one of the most riveting character arcs in modern literature.

He is reviled by human contact.  He is nauseated by the "humanness of people -- their body odor, breath odor, blood, sweat, tears."  He is initially revolted by the dark skin and kinky hair of Morrison's Pecola, but her poor sincerity twists his reactions into pity: Some people are able to rise above their defects, but this young girl, this young black girl wishing for blue eyes could and will never.

Church is the most religious man in the novel, and he is a child molester.  He speaks of the "white laughter" of girls he has defiled.  He receives no redemption but his own warped understanding of right and wrong, and through all of this abhorrent evil and desolate arrogance he becomes one of the most complexly human, honest characters I've ever read.  He is the side of the human soul that the best of us wish away.

Toni Morrison, previously famous for being liked by Oprah and appearing as one of the things white people like on "Stuff White People Like," will now subconsciously pop into your head the next time you're at the zoo and looking at sloths.

3. Expecting Great Things

In eighth grade English I stood up in class and said that I would rather travel to Europe, personally dig up Charles Dickens and urinate on him than have to finish reading Great Expectations.  Dickens wrote books about travel, but he wrote about the darker side of the world he saw, the peasants, the criminals, the crooks.  He also got paid by the word, and when you're thirteen you can't appreciate Alec Guinness outside of Obi-Wan Kenobi and can't (and shouldn't) make due with Ethan Hawke.  You're stuck with these words, these trudging, verbose words about class structure and rotting wedding cakes.

The truth is that Dickens didn't simply write about life, he wrote as life.  The experience of a Charles Dickens novel is living a life -- the hope of youth that gives way to the malaise of teenage and evolves into a boring, predictably realistic adulthood.  You begin life and live it, because that is what you have to do.  You start a Charles Dickens novel and, dammit, you've got to finish it, because the adults tell you it is worthwhile, and some of the browner noses in class think it fantastic.  You read, you experience it, and you're mostly the same when you're done.

This is why literature of worth has fallen out of favor with the young people of today.  For some, it is better to know your expiration date and make the best of it.  Knowledge is knowing that you know nothing.  For others, life is a cruel joke, and to accept the plot as it is written murders the wide-eyed promises of a pre-Dickens life.  Remember how happy you were before you had to read Great Expectations?  Things weren't so bad.  Here is a picture of a sloth and a baby sloth.

4. Forgetting Miracles

"Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?"

"Oh, no," said Dr Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."

Charlotte's Web has been adapted into a live action film and a number of cartoons, but no version touches on the importance of Dr. Dorian.  The 2006 version drops the role in the lap of Beau Bridges, but is glossed over for the addition of fainting horses, farting cows and racially suggestive crows.  Hold on, don't click to the next sloth picture yet.  I want to explain how Dorian's appointment with Fern's mother brings a children's story into the realm of adulthood without... well, sure, yes, that sloth is very cute.  Probably the cutest one so far.

Look, my grandmother read this to me.  It has deep personal significance to me, and I think if you stick with me you'll find that how the work affects me is the only ... all right, you were right not to stick. Go ahead and click through.

5. A Lazy Animal

No, it's pretty funny that sloths are loved by the Internet, as they are not only the most boring animal on the planet but the most appropriate for a culture stuck on viral videos and Daniel Tosh railing pre-written off jokes without any transitions.  In most cultures, the sloth has a name that means "fat" or "dumb" or "what is this f**king thing."  In Brazil, sloths are commonly called "Bicho-preguiça" ("lazy animal") because of slow movements related to their very low metabolism.  Have you ever tried to have a conversation on Oh No They Didn't?  More than two sentences about Taylor Momsen and your entire audience is looking through their gif collection for a way to shut you down.

Perhaps you'd be interested in a story about Bless Me, Ultima is a novel by Rudolfo Anaya.  In high school, I got really into Spanish, so my English teacher suggested the book to me as a way to bridge the gap between the absorption of a new language and the continued honing of my old one.  Anaya's Antonio asks questions concerning evil, justice and the nature of God. He witnesses many violent deaths, which force him to mature and face the reality of life.  I think my teacher was trying to open me up to the realities of the world, and break me out of the funk where I compared every single thing we read to Star Wars.

The truth is, it worked.  I couldn't compare Bless Me, Ultima to Star Wars.  All I could think is, "Man, I can't wait to get home and turn this into a Japanese pro wrestling parody called Bless Me, Ultimo."

6. What To Learn Before You Die

Baby sloth!

College was the turning point for me.  Ernest J. Gaines was coming to our school to speak to a small group of seniors.  I enthusiastically loved his novel, A Lesson Before Dying, and wrote a paper explaining how I'd grown up with a love of learning that had been systematically destroyed by teachers from K through 12.  I entered kindergarten wanting to learn everything in the world, and left high school wanting to forget it.  A Lesson Before Dying, the fourth or fifth book into my collegiate writing career, struck a cord with me.  I loved reading it, not out of obligation, not out of some desperate need to think objectively, but because I actually liked it.  I would've read it without being made to do so.

My professor selected me as the only freshman to participate in the discussion.  I sat with my hands folded and listened to Mr. Gaines speak, and when the time came for questions the room fell silent.  The seniors were there because of extra credit.  I was there because this was the only fire I had left.  I spoke to him openly about his work, wanting to know how he did it so that I might one day create something that meant to the world what he meant to me.  He smiled for the first time.  We had a forty minute conversation while the seniors sat with their hands folded, barely listening.  The most distracting thing on the Internet at the time was the Ate My Balls Megapage, and we had to be in our dorms to read it.  Without a smart phone, we were forced to listen, grow, and interact.

He signed my book "it was a pleasure to meet you, you are a very bright young man."  A few years later, I started writing comics online where baseball players cursed at each other, and America Online paid me to do it.  What the hell happened?

7. Monsters

baby sloth

I tell people that A Lesson Before Dying is the most important book in my life, but it's actually The Monster At the End of This Book.  I don't know who wrote it, I'm guessing it's by "Sesame Street."  Grover finds out there's a monster at the end of the book he's participating in, and freaks out about it for several pages.

Literature at its best is a reflection of the lives we live.  I think Monster does this better than any of the novels on the New York Times best sellers list.  Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother is confrontational, and reflects the self-centered "I'm right, you're wrong" attitudes of the world.  The Twilight novels prepare you for a chaste relationship with a mummy, or whatever.  The Monster At the End of This Book doesn't segregate the human experience, it connects with us all -- who among us hasn't found out about an impending danger and spent pages and pages losing our minds, only to find out that the problem we're running headlong into is ourselves?

That's the scariest thing about this sloth slideshow.  I started it to subliminally inject some culture into web culture, and ended up realizing that web culture IS culture, and I'm exactly like you.  I'm the monster, and I'm at the beginning and the end of this book.  Here is your subliminal message: a sloth.

8. Jokes

baby sloth

You know what is a great book?  A Catcher in the Rye.  Just kidding.

9. This Page Has No Title

baby sloth

The best thing you can do with a picture of a sloth is enjoy it.  Is that the truth behind all of this?  When you read a book, you've got to get something out of it.  You engage, you grow, you learn a little something about yourself.  Is that the new world?  The brave one?  The one where you look at a picture of a sloth crawling out of a plastic storage bin, and you're smart enough and evolved enough to go through an entire range of emotions, simplifying them to the easiest ones to feel, happiness, mild surprise, contentedness?

Now instead of thinking of classic literature when you look at a picture of a sloth, you'll think about sloths when you read classic literature.  You'll be in the middle of The Brothers Karamazov and start snorting silently to yourself about the time you saw this weird little furry, slow-ass man-thing trying to get out of storage at the Container Store.

They really are cute, especially when you put them into things.  Like putting a kitten into a glass.  We should all invest in a baby sloth, and build an online community where we stop procreating and just instantly share every second of our sloths' lives.  Hold on, I put him in a cardboard box and he's climbing out, brb.

10. What Was I Talking About?

What is your favorite book?  Yeah, I don't really read anymore, either.

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TOPICS#Animals
TAGSCuteinternetLiteratureWeb Culture
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