We sat down recently for a Q&A with Antonio LĆ³pez, media literacy expert and author of the latest addition to the Evolver Editions Manifesto Series: The Media Ecosystem. Make sure to enter the giveaway to win a free copy of his book here! LĆ³pez is an educator and journalist who has written for Tricycle, Punk Planet, In These Times, High Times, The Brooklyn Rail, Reality Sandwich, and scores of other magazines, newspapers, websites, and academic journals. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the man behind it all!
What made you decide to write The Media Ecosystem?
Pardon the expression, but it is painful to see people I love and respect get mind-f#&*ed by media. In particular, I work with a lot of young people who are unconscious of how they are being impacted by the media they consume. I wanted to write something for young people who indulge in pop culture and media, but lack a framework for understanding how the system works. Likewise, I wanted to bridge these understandings for my peers who have not made the connections Iāve made between media, ecology, spirituality, multiculturalism and ethics. I have friends who work in these different areas but donāt see how they are related. In essence, Iām writing for an intelligent friend that I have yet to meet.
What is the greatest influence on your writing?
Do-it-yourself media. When I was a teen my friends and I created a punk āfanzine.ā It was before the days of personal computers, so we used typewriters, glue, scissors and photocopy machines to make our publication. It was so immediate and tactileā I loved the community dimension of the experience and how it gave me access to people and the movement I was part of. Blogging also gives me a similar sensationāI like the instantaneity of expression and feedback of writing on the Internet. I also like the feeling of being part of a bigger movement. Another influence on me was the work I did as an arts reporter for a weekly newspaper.Ā It taught me how to write quickly.
Is there a book that changed your life? What books have made a major impact in your life and writing?
A book that stands out as really opening up my mind is a biography by an American who was part of the Parisian surrealist movement in the 1920s called Life Among the Surrealists. I found it in a used bookstore while I was in college and it really resonated with me because it reminded me so much of what it was like to be a punk in LA during the 1980s. I became enamored with avant-garde art movements, and found myself gravitating to books about dada and surrealism. It was eye-opening to see what a life of experimentation and art could be likeāboth the good and bad. Along these lines it goes without saying that I love the works of 19th century French writers who inspired the Surrealists, such as Rimbaud, Apollinaire and LautrĆ©amont.
I tend to like biographies from 1920s and ā30s, in particular about artists in Mexico City, such as Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo and the other muralists. Tina Modettiāthe Italian actress who went to Mexico and hung out with those artists, is a great story. There are several books about her life that I love, in particular Tinisima by Elena Poniatowska. Likewise, George Orwellās Homage to Catalonia about the Spanish Civil War was a big inspiration. I guess Iām attracted to books by and about the life of revolutionaries. In this vein I absolutely loved Patti Smithās recent biography, Just Kids.
I also fell in love with Carlos Fuentesā The Buried Mirror. Itās about the beautiful and tragic history of Spain and the Americas. There was a period in my life when I was exploring my heritage so this and many books about pre-Colombian Americas filled my bookshelf.
I think William Gibsonās Neuromancer sticks out as one of the most influential books in my life. I read it while in high school and it seemed to tap into the zeitgeist of global culture that I was feeling. Iāve always been a big fan of science fiction and have been impacted greatly by Philip K. Dick. I also want to give a nod to comic book writer Grant Morrison whose The Invisibles really blew my mind.
Hunter S. Thompsonās books also had a big influence on me and my writing. He tells great stories that are literary, journalistic and insane.
Other books I read (mostly in high school) that set me on the proper path include Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, The Tao of Physics and the Tao of Pooh. They laid out an alternative reality paradigm that I currently resonate with.
Who are some writers whose work you admire?
You have no idea how many books I own. I used to joke that they should find a way to pay the rent because of how much space they take up. Consequently this is a very difficult question to answer because I have so many different interests. From the perspective of media, which is my greatest focus, I have to say that Marshall McLuhan is probably the most important writer Iāve read. He was a huge fan of James Joyce, so his rhetorical styles is complex and meant to twist our minds around. McLuhan is part of the so-called media ecology tradition, all of whom I greatly admire, including Walter Ong, Harold Innis, James Carey and Neil Postman. I really like Douglas Rushkoffās media books. Weāre the same generation so we have a similar sensibility. Heās also really accessible.
I love science fiction and have read just about every book that is considered to be ācyberpunk,ā including those by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. Gibson and Philip K. Dick are probably the two writers that I would read anything by. Neil Stephensonās The Diamond Age and Snow Crash were paradigm shifting. Finally, an obscure book everyone should read is the Semiotext(e) Cyberpunk. It goes without saying that I also read a lot of underground literature that circulated among the punks.
I loved the books by Robert Anton Wilson, whose radical philosophy was so down-to-earth enough that I find myself citing him a lot.
In terms of ecology, I think Vandana Shivaās work is the clearest and best breakdown of the kinds of mentalities that are driving the global economic system. I also love the work of Wendell Barry.
When did you think about becoming a writer? Was there someone who got you interested in writing?
I started writing because I didnāt know any better. As a teen punk I wrote letters to LAās most popular punk zine, Flipside, and they kept publishing them. I thought, this is too easy! So I helped organize my friends to make our own zine, Ink Disease. I was 15 at the time and probably a little illiterate, but that didnāt stop me from writing what was on my mind. From that experience I discovered that I didnāt need professional training to write. I eventually wrote for newspapers and magazines, often faking my way through the process until I learned by rote how to do it. I have written millions of words, probably, and it never gets boring.
Is there any particular story to tell concerning the writing of your book, The Media Ecosystem?
I met a young man at the Bonnaroo music festival who was unaware of the various ways he was being targeted by corporations. He was spooked by how I deconstructed the festivalās media and marketing environment and thought that I was some kind of wizard. The encounter reminded me that I take for granted the various tools I have at my disposal for keeping myself from being mind-f #&*ed by American culture. I wish I had a copy of The Media Ecosystem to give him as a way of opening new realities for him. Iāve always wanted to be a countercultural mentor for young people. I had many when I was a teen, and without them there would be a massive black hole in my education.
What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from your book?
There is a sophisticated system designed to mind-f #&* us, but it can and should be mindfully engaged to reduce and/or eliminate harm. Iām sorry I canāt find a more polite phrase to describe what is happening, but the tactics being used against us are forms of spiritual warfare and though they may wear a smiley face, their intent is ruthless. Itās hard to use friendly language when describing the process.
How do you write? Do you have a daily routine? What’s good about it? What do you hate about it?
I feel schizophrenic about writing because I do so many different kinds: blogging, twittering, academic and journalistic. Each one demands a different approach and voice. Sometimes I get them mixed up and I write āinappropriatelyā for the wrong audience. My writing is generally dictated by deadlines. I have young kids, teach fulltime and also am completing a PhDāso all these things put huge demands on my time. What ends up happening is that I write when I can, which is not often. The downside is that I write very quickly and make lots of typos and grammatical errors. The upside is that I like to be immediate with my writing and do not over-write. I tend to not revise too much. Sometimes I wonder if my work would be better if I obsessed over this or that verb. One thing I learned from being a newspaper writer when I had to write an article every day is to just write it down. So usually what I do is start with a lot of preliminary research until I have enough stuff gestating in my mind. I then just write what I know.Ā Usually the lead and intro are the last thing I write; oftentimes I donāt even know what I am writing about until Iām finished. I allow myself to write with no structure or direction because Iāve been through the process enough to trust that I will find the solution. I also try to give myself breathing room before deadlines so that my first drafts can sit for a while. It helps to look at stuff with fresh eyes. Iām also mildly dyslexic (or right-brained) so I need to look at things with some distance.
I think what gives me the biggest high about writing is solving the puzzle of trying to make sense out of a bunch of ideas that donāt necessarily makes sense when put together. I also like the feeling of being in the flowāitās a quasi-religious experience when words are just pouring out. Itās being in touch with the Source.
Another thing about writing is that I find it very musical. I like to find the right rhythm and flow of words. Iām less concerned with being literary as I am with flow.
How did you find the publisher for this book? What has your experience with the process been like?
Almost every publishing project I have ever done I have stumbled into. My first book came about because I had submitted some chapters for a compilation of essays about media literacy. The editor liked my essays so much she offered me a book contact. The same is true with The Media Ecosystem. Iām an old friend of writer Erik Davis who introduced me to Daniel Pinchbeck. Several years ago we had some interesting and intense discussions in NYC that led to my contributions to Reality Sandwich. My articles there were pretty successful, so as the Reality Sandwich crew developed the Evolver project and collaborated with North Atlantic Books on Evolver Editions, I became their āmedia guy.ā It was my job to add that piece to the overall puzzle they are putting together.
What are you working on next?
I have several projects in the works. I plan to turn my dissertation into a book about how to green media education. I also have a longer-term project about my pilgrimage across Spain in year 2000. It was a magical journey that I think will inspire many people. It will be different than my other works, which are usually about media or education. It will be a spirituality book. But if anything is like how the universe has worked with me in the past, Iāll probably end up writing something off the cuff that I had not anticipated.
What have you learned about human nature that isn’t common knowledge?
Two things. First, humans are naturally cooperative and generous. When we donāt behave this way it is because of confusion and delusion, both of which can be fixed through mindfulness. The second thing is that the concept of an autonomous self that ends with the membrane of our skin is an illusion. In fact, the illusion of a coherent self is just the mindās survival strategy to function in the world, but is not really what is going on physiologically.
What single thing might people be surprised to learn about you?
I love baseball. Iām a huge Dodgers fan.
What book is on your nightstand now?
The Master Switch by Tim Wu. It is about the history of media monopolies. Fascinating stuff. This is further proof that Iām a real media geek.