[UPDATED] Reformative Radical or Radical Reformist? Approaches in Media Activism


As we have mentioned in class discussion, media representation of People of Color is an extremely important issue that must be recognized in the discourse of social justice. Media representation can be used by different people to discern the dominant sets of ideas surrounding certain groups, support hegemonic stereotyping of marginalized identities, and/or alter traditional ideas that our society has regarding certain groups of people. Of course, each of these tasks is usually undertaken by individuals who are at various points on the spectrum of social awareness, and audiences who are even relatively aware of this notice when creators of media are not. We, as members of society who have some amount of social awareness, are called to react, even if only in commentary, to inconsiderate representations of marginalized groups in media.


In order to offer such commentary, Henry Jenkins, a University of Southern California Professor and media scholar, conducted an interview on Asian-American media activism and cultural citizenship with Lori Kido Lopez. Lopez, an Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, makes many strong points that we are familiar with through class discussion. She references cultural citizenship, use of alternative or less mainstream media, and influence of fan culture, among other topics. I believe Lopez makes some great points that I support as well as some that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I agree with her conclusion that positive change will only be attained when people from all groups involved (writers, producers, actors, fans, policy makers, etc.) aim to reach a understanding and amplify marginalized voices.

Image result for henry jenkins Henry Jenkins

Part 1

Image result for lori kido lopez Lori Kido Lopez

Part 2

Regarding the grand scheme of large scale media activism, Lopez, like many other scholars, believes that both “’good cop’ activism” and “’bad cop’ activism” are essential to bringing about actual change. Thanks to Rosalind Chou’s chapter 7 in Asian American Sexual Politics, our class knows these two types of activism by different terms: “reformative movement” and “revolutionary/radical movement.” According to Chou, the reformative movement approach “primarily focuses on altering the norms of the existing systems” and the revolutionary/radical movement approach “focuses on fundamentally changing value systems,” (178). Lopez offers a few examples of good cop activism, but only compares bad cop activism to it rather than offering new examples.

Lopez claims that her ideal source of good cop activism would be Asian American advertising agencies, because they are in a good position to interact with neoliberal logics and they have strong financial support. She also points out that Asian American consumers can make an impact by consciously supporting positive media and refusing to support media that poorly represents Asian Americans. Regarding bad cop activism, Lopez quickly mentions “traditional media advocacy organizations” and moves on.

I believe that her approaches to both good and bad cop activism are reasonable, but I feel that her emphasis has been misplaced. Lopez clearly spends much less time discussing radical approaches than she does with reformative ones, leaving the audience to believe that she prioritizes reformative activism. Not only do I think that her ideal agents for reformative action would fail to answer the call, but I also think that reformative action deserves less discussion than radical action. Firstly, I find it hard to believe that Asian American advertising agencies would be willing to take the risk (and put in the labor) of having a strong stance on social issues due to the fact that they likely still have to answer to more hegemonic agencies for funding and other types of support. Additionally, it is likely that many of the people within these agencies, because of their participation in the work of mainstream media, either don’t think media representation is an issue or separate themselves from the issue itself. This allows these people to keep their privileged positions, even if they only have marginal privilege. Lastly, I feel that radical action should be discussed more than reformative action because radical action is more abstract and therefore needs to be fleshed out more. Reformative approaches are much easier to conceptualize, as they are within the systems that we are looking to change, but radical approaches require an opening of the mind before most people can use them effectively to plan action.

After concluding that both reformative and radical approaches to social change are necessary, Lopez begins to discuss the slightly more alternative media platform of YouTube. First, she addresses the success of Asian Americans on YouTube, attributing this to the platform’s “eagerness and passion for creating stories that couldn’t be found in the mainstream.” She then introduces a point that many activists know far too well: individuals with marginalized identities don’t always use their public voice to discuss these very identities. This is an important point to remember because it shows how we can grow complacent with our positions in systems of inequality. Although YouTube isn’t emphasized as a platform for radical approaches, Lopez stresses the network of celebrities that has been created through interactions that YouTubers have (with one another as well as mainstream media). She argues that this network can be used as a tool to mobilize large audiences across platforms and increase visibility (another argument focusing on working from within created systems).

I agree that YouTube would be a good platform for making progress in the ways that Lopez mentions, but I think that it would be even better if the platform was kept separate from more mainstream media. This is also the case with similar platforms such as SoundCloud. When these platforms were started, they focused on creating space for art that was not visible in the mainstream. This meant that they inherently had a large amount of members with marginalized identities in their communities. At this point, I think the creators of the platforms (or maybe the communities belonging to them) should have been clear that the space offered was meant to serve marginalized people and their art/stories. As the platforms grew, however, they slowly became more commercial, meaning that these stories from the margin decreased in number. For YouTube, this process could be likened to Buzzfeed. As it started off as promising for marginalized communities but eventually settled as a relatively moderate entity. For SoundCloud, the process is still going, as people from the margin are able to appreciate the platform but are noticing an increased amount of commercial interest. Now, I don’t view either as being good examples of activist platforms due to their commercialization.

In all, I agree with the main idea that Lopez gets across, summarized by her statement, “Rather than worrying about radical critique becoming totally subsumed by neoliberal logics, it’s important to recognize that varying and even contradictory activist strategies actually depend upon one another for overall success.” In detail, however, I believe that she is far too focused on achieving social change by working from within our current social systems. I feel that the power dynamic in many of our current systems prevents members with more agency from wanting to contribute to change, fearing that change would mean losing some power. I find it hard to believe that powerful people in advertising agencies would risk investments/profits by making direct comments on media representation. Also, I believe that creating a new platform for art can only be effective for social change if both the platform itself and the art within it are clear in their criticisms of society (YouTube and SoundCloud, for example, were very promising but failed to be direct; they are both becoming extremely commercialized). For reasons such as these, I agree that varying forms/approaches in activism are necessary, but I believe that we should place more focus on operating outside of or changing many of our current systems.


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