Q&A with KYLO-PATRICK HART
Professor and chair of film, television and digital media
By Zach Martino
I started out in journalism, doing mostly entertainment reporting. I was in Los Angeles doing graduate work, freelancing for a few publications and working for some magazines. That’s why I decided to get a master’s degree in print journalism.
Then I was working for people who had a startup magazine. They were great people, but they didn’t know a lot about running a business. I started the second master’s in communications management so I could bring in all this knowledge we needed as a publication. I realized I was actually pretty good at doing more analytical, theoretical kind of work, so I applied for the Ph.D. in communication studies. Along the way, I did the third master’s in radio, TV and film communication. I was doing that and the Ph.D. simultaneously. The last master’s, in liberal studies, I actually earned a decade after I got my Ph.D.
There was never a plan to have all that education — it’s just that the communication field is so broad, and most people who work in the education profession are trained very narrowly. I really wanted to learn more of the pieces and how they all fit together.
I’ve been trained in a lot of different approaches. Some researchers are trained in qualitative research methods and they don’t really know the quantitative part. Others are trained in the quantitative to the exclusion of the qualitative. I’ve been exposed to all of it. Depending on the project, I can use components of each to better inform the study. With quantitative methods, I can run statistics and find out what’s statistically significant and know if something is affecting something else. But I lose a lot of the detailed information that the qualitative stuff can give, where people are explaining how they process things. I’ve been broadly trained in a lot of different theoretical bodies of knowledge and research methods, and that helps me decide what’s best for each project.
It hasn’t really changed in the sense that the core running through most of my research is LGBTQ studies. I started out working on AIDS movies — the representation of HIV and AIDS in movies — but that also dealt with representations of gay men and lesbians.
I’m also really big on stardom studies and celebrity studies, so, yeah, I do take a detour every once in a while. A lot of times when I take that detour, it’s to add in some LGBTQ issues. There are some people who can say, “Over the next five years, this is the research I’m doing,” but I’ve never been one of those people. Every single project I do opens new connections in my brain and takes me to a different place.
Most of my writing takes place in my head. By the time I sit down to type a journal article, it’s already been written. It’s all in my head, and it just comes out.
It doesn’t, but the beauty of researching in this area is that it’s so interdisciplinary. In film studies and media studies, we draw from many disciplines, so there’s not one body of knowledge. We draw from art history, from sociology, from political science, women and gender studies. We’re drawing from film and media studies, cultural studies, from American studies. Every project you start, there are all these vast bodies of knowledge that could influence the study. You just need to figure out what’s most relevant. To do it well, you can’t be narrowly focused.
When you investigate queer media representation, the most interesting thing is that for a lot of these kinds of characters or storylines to be presented to the public, they strip away all the queerness to make it safe for audience members. We think society has come such a long way. If you think you’re exposing people to these topics, but you’re stripping away all the stuff that’s realistic about it, then you’re not really learning anything. It’s very safe. And I think that’s what is intriguing. It’s very rare to find something that’s truly groundbreaking and that’s not afraid to take risks.
It keeps me up to date in the field, and it definitely keeps me watching new things. I often teach new courses relating to the stuff I research. When I talk about specific examples, I know them inside and out, and it makes me a much better teacher.
The other great moment in teaching is when I’m talking to students about things I know, and they point out stuff that I’ve never noticed before. That is my favorite moment in teaching. It happens fairly often. I believe that it’s really important to encourage discussion in classes. There are professors who get up and spew out what they see. I don’t like to do that because everyone sees something different.
The most important thing in film research is critical thinking. I try to give students skills to reach their own decisions and analyze things in their own way. As an instructor, one of the worst things I can hear is, “Well, if I don’t say what the teacher wants me to write, I’ll get a lower grade.” There should never be something a teacher wants you to write. Teaching is about giving someone the skills to build an argument. As a student, the only time you really, truly process information is when you need to apply it in some way.
Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.