Dr. Lori Kido Lopez, an Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at UW-Madison’s Communication Arts department, examines race and ethnicity in the media and how social justice movements utilize the media for change. She is currently working on a book that looks at the different ways Asian Americans have fought to improve their representation in entertainment media.
MSC: Tell us more about your upcoming book on APIA community organizing.
LORI: I’m working on a book that looks at all the different ways Asian Americans have fought to improve their representation in entertainment media. Obviously it’s really important for Asian Americans to see themselves represented, to make our community visible. I look at traditional activist groups, advertising agencies, and new media interventions as different sites for making a difference in this arena.
MSC: What was the transformative moment that made you decide to explore new media in grassroots activism and social justice?
LORI: I don’t remember a specific moment, but I definitely remember it not sitting right with me that some activist groups only looked at traditional media, like movies and tv shows. There is so much confusion about what new media means and how it shapes communities. But then there are so many interesting individuals and groups who spread their ideas only using Twitter, or YouTube, or even old-school internet spaces like LiveJournal. I wanted to work on theorizing the way that connected to activism.
MSC: What would ideal collaborations and supportive partnerships between community organizations and academia look like?
LORI: When I lived in Los Angeles, I partnered with a couple different community organizations to work on media activism and LGBT activism. It’s always hard to figure out how an academic perspective can best be utilized — especially the cultural studies perspective that I bring. But with some careful assessment of what the organization needs and what kind of tools the academic can bring, I think there can be some really productive partnerships. It just takes a long-term investment, some creativity and willingness to stretch on both sides, and a deep desire to make it work.
MSC: What are your media consumption habits for information and for entertainment?
LORI: In terms of entertainment, there’s a lot of TV that I watch. I’m a huge lover of serial dramas — right now I’m most excited about Revenge, Nashville, The Walking Dead, and of course Game of Thrones. Also a few sitcoms — Modern Family, Parks and Rec, Community — and reality shows like Jersey Shore and Dance Moms. I always have the excuse that keeping up on TV is part of my job, but I also hold very strong beliefs about embracing whatever media you love and never being embarrassed! In terms of information, I’m definitely on Facebook 24/7, chasing down links and following whatever news my friends lead me to. I also love documentaries and the information that I learn from them. And then of course, The Daily Show and plenty of Rachel Maddow.
MSC: Who or what are you inspired by?
LORI: I’m always inspired by people who devote their life to activism. There are so many amazing people working for nonprofits, getting so little compensation but making such a big difference. I am also inspired by the documentaries I watch, like the ones I watched most recently — Never Sorry Ai Weiwei and We Were Here.
MSC: How do you hope to use your research to shape the future?
LORI: Well, for starters, I hope to find a way for my research to actually HAVE an impact! I think it’s actually a daunting challenge to conceptualize the real-world impact of academic research. It’s easy to see the way that we “shape the future” as educators — my goal is for my students to emerge from my classes more media literate, and with better vocabularies for discussing power dynamics and oppression in their everyday lives. But talking about the impact of my research is harder, because we write very specifically and for a very narrow academic audience. It’s my hope that I can develop theories that are accessible enough to have traction with a broader audience, but the reality is that reaching a broad audience is not our directive as academics. So I’m still working on figuring out how the work that I do within media studies and Asian American studies can ever hope to shape the future!
MSC: Outside of teaching and research, what do you love to do?
LORI: I’d have to say that my great love is food. I’m a food fanatic — obsessively reading about food, planning every meal, exploring food cultures. I’ve definitely been enjoying all the brats & cheese in Madison, and can’t wait for the farmer’s market to start up again. But I’m also on the quest to figure out where I can get the best pho, and to solve the mystery of why there is no dim sum anywhere!