Below find the third of a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is Mary S. Linn, Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She served previously as Curator of Native American Languages at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson
You Got Kitty Bombed!
by Mary Linn
What does one write about when considering Daniel C. Swan’s eminent career and imminent retirement? Why, Hello Kitty, of course.
Dan hadn’t been at the Sam Noble Museum as Curator of Ethnology very long when a group of us women in the anthropology ‘pod’ went out to lunch. A normal day. Next door to the chosen restaurant was a comic book store, and as we passed the window after eating, I exclaimed, “Oh, they have Hello Kitty – I love Hello Kitty! Did you know that most consumers of Hello Kitty are professional women over 30?” We piled in and came out with matching Hello Kitty pinky rings and with Grrrl Power.
Back at work, we enthusiastically showed off our rings and assorted Hello Kitty office supplies to Dan, who rolled his eyes. He would quickly retreat to his office when we greeted each other with ‘Hello, Kitty!’ in the mornings or showed off new Hello Kitty additions (such as Hello Kitty walkie-talkies, our analog version of messaging across offices). That could have been the end of it, or at least Dan’s part in the story, had Olivia Sammons (my graduate research assistant at the time) not gotten a Hello Kitty coloring book and stickers, had I not a penchant for practical jokes, and if Julie Droke (the registrar) had not had the keys to his office. So, we Kitty-Bombed his office, putting Hello Kitty sticky notes and stickers on his computer and book cases, and adding Hello Kitty pictures in books and files. Apparently, he was still finding Hello Kitty when he moved his office years later. I am sure some grad student in the future will be amazed at his fortune of inheriting an antique anthropology book with the name Daniel C. Swan inside, and then wonder why there is a picture of Hello Kitty in a tutu stuck in the pages.
How did Dan react? He took it in stride and laughingly admitted defeat for the current round of jokes, and there were many times he would laugh at himself with us over the years.
And – and this is important here – he embraced Hello Kitty and the Grrrl Power around him. He became an honorary ‘Kitty’ and was/is totally comfortable with his membership in this group. No, he wouldn’t wear the pinky ring, but he started noticing what we were saying with Hello Kitty and noticing Hello Kitty in the world, especially in the beadwork adorning Powwow regalia. A few years later, I found myself the recipient of a beaded Hello Kitty lanyard with my museum badge given to me from Dan. This lanyard now proudly holds my Smithsonian id, and Hello Kitty regularly rides the metro, attends meetings with the European presidents and multi-millionaire donors, and dances at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It is art, it is Grrrl Power, and it represents my history and friendships in Oklahoma. A funny thing: no man has ever asked me about it. Only women.
That Dan was able to embrace Hello Kitty in our pod is telling of his openness to seeing the world in new ways. He enthusiastically devours new artistic expressions in Indian Country, and delights in discovering the new in the old and the old in the new. His additions of airbrushed Peyote boxes, youth skateboard art, and beadwork of angry bird, athletic teams, and portraits of popular culture icons, to name only a few of his focused collecting at all the museums he has worked at, have significantly changed the anthropological record and conversations. He listens to the artists, the artisans, the practitioners, the youth, the elders, the cooks, the dancers, the vets… I can go on, but you get the point. He listens and lets them talk through their record.
More importantly, his support of our Grrrl Power shows how Dan has never shied away from what makes him uncomfortable. He examines himself and simply tries to do better the next day. And that, my Kitty Friends, is something that we all need more of today.
1. Please don’t ask me to cite this. I had probably heard it on NPR, but that was a long time ago. Wherever I heard or read it, it impressed me enough to stick in my mind.