A rock-star or a librarian?: Examining Swampy in “Phineas and Ferb”

Hello everyone! I’m slowly watching Phineas and Ferb, after finishing Milo Murphy’s Law, and I thought I’d write a post about the librarian in in “Dude, We’re Getting the Band Back Together”. He is Sherman “Swampy” (voiced by Steve Zahn) and is a drummer for the former rock band Love Handel, who works at the local public library (Tri-State Area Public Library). Over three months ago, someone mentioned Swampy on the /r/Libraries subreddit, describing Swampy as “a librarian who is a washed-up rock star that believes he has lost all his talent,” so I’m following up with that in this post as well, along with adding some of my own analysis.

Let’s get to it. So, Phineas and Ferb are trying to bring together aforementioned rock band in order to help bring their mom and dad closer together. And they find Swampy at the local public library where he is mindlessly stamping books. They try to encourage him to join with his fellow band members and re-create the band, so they can play for their mom. He first says that he can’t make rhythm, even as he is stamping books with an “OVERDUE” stamp and making a beat, as shown in the video at the beginning of this post. He sings along with Phineas and Ferb, claiming he has a “sweet deal” there and “all the books I can read,” along with “sweet old ladies” and a carpet from the 1980s. Present is a sign saying “Quiet Please!” and Swampy is shushed by a patron. The patrons are of all ages, some of whom bang their books against the table as they help keep the beat in a rock song, titled “Ain’t Got No Rhythm.” Also shown is Swampy engaging in library tasks, like re-shelving books, using card catalogs, while bangs against the ground, card catalogs, a lamp, and other parts of the library. That is until Ferb brings in his drum set. At the end of the song, two older ladies, other librarians who he works with, look at him, with one, clearly annoyed by the noise, remarking “would you just the band?” Phineas and Ferb proceed to wheel him out of the library and declares that he finally has rhythm. Who knows if he ever works in the library again.

While I liked this episode and this song, in terms of how catchy the song is, Swampy clearly fulfills what Jennifer Snoek-Brown describes as a “Librarian as Failure”, which refers to a characters who are “suggestive of flaws in library…[with] sometimes failure is used as a pretense or social construct,” with those who fall into this character type “usually middle-aged to old,” dressing conservatively, and are “uncomfortable in social/outside world situations.” All of those, albeit the last one, are present with Swampy. And he does not seem to return to the library in any other scene of the show even although one of the librarians in the episode does show up in a later episode. Other than falling into the “Librarian as Failure” category as noted earlier, the portrayal of Swampy as a librarian is not necessarily stereotypical. However, there are some stereotypical aspects of the library, like the sign asking patrons to be quiet, the two other librarians who are old, White women, and encouraging the perception that the library is outdated. This is shown by the line about the library having “carpets from the 80s,” the look of the library itself, Swampy stamping books as overdue rather than using a computer. However, the latter perception is somewhat offset by the diverse group of patrons which use the library, who are of all ages, as shown below:

While you could say that this does the value of the library in providing information, it almost is shown as a book depository and doesn’t have any other services. It still, obviously, had value to the community, and that is, I suppose, shown. Stereotypes could have been avoided by not having to librarians who are old White women and making the library a bit more modern (like the Arlen Public Library in King of the Hill), to give two suggestions. So, this is a bit of missed opportunity here.

On the positive side, Swampy, despite being a “Librarian as Failure,” is not a curmudgeon who shushes people like the unnamed librarian in the webcomic, Boyfriends. Still, we never see him doing any library tasks other than shelving books. He isn’t helping patrons like librarians, like the one in the webcomic, Diamond Dive, Miss Lovely in the Horrid Henry animated series, or the helpful animal librarian in the webcomic Tamberlane. More than anything, Swampy is a bit like the book-stamping librarian in the one episode of Teen Titans Go!, but also like the rock-and-roll librarian, Ms. Osborne, in the one episode of The Replacements who replaces an older woman who shushes people. Even Mr. Sneillson, a curmudgeon librarian in an episode of Mysticons is more of a librarian than Swampy. Furthermore, the British wrestler-librarian in Totally Spies was more interesting and seemed to buck stereotypes more than Swampy. I suppose I could go into more detail and analysis, but I think I have covered this topic adequately enough at this point.

Now, libraries show up again in the series, in the episode “Phineas and Ferb’s Quantum Boogaloo.” In that episode, Future Candace comes across a library in the alternate timeline and watches a video there, trying to understand what happened. When she learns what she has caused by meddling with the past she is terrified. In the episode, Jennifer Grey appears as a librarian named Arlene, who has one line, declaring that Future Candace needs to wear a lab coat. That’s about it. Apparently there is a library in another episode, but I’m not finished with the series yet, so I haven’t seen that episode.

With that, my post comes to a close. Let me know if you have any further comments on this or if you’d like me to expand my analysis further, which I’d definitely be willing to do. Until next time! I’ll be taking a stroll to…a library, lol. Just watch this video from one of favorite series, Milo Murphy’s Law, which may be featured in a future post, and relax a little, after reading this post!

Published by histhermann

Marylander with MLIS who loves archives, libraries, genealogy, reviewing pop culture, and writing fictional stories. UMD '19 & SMCM '16 grad. I've been running various WordPress blogs for a while now, about genealogy, libraries, archives, and more.

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