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Photo by Marc Campos
Faculty
Asian Studies

Meet Min Joo Lee of Asian studies, whose research focuses on the transnational popularity of Korean popular culture, gender and race politics in Korea, and feminist media theory.

Min Joo Lee

Assistant Professor of Asian Studies Min Joo Lee comes to Occidental from Indiana University Bloomington, where she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Research on Race & Ethnicity in Society and a visiting assistant professor of gender studies. She has a master’s and Ph.D. in gender studies from UCLA and a B.A. in comparative literature and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies from Williams College. Lee’s research focuses on the transnational popularity of Korean popular culture (also known as the Korean Wave or Hallyu), gender and race politics in Korea, and feminist media theory. Lee's first book project, tentatively titled Finding Mr. Perfect: Korean Television Dramas, Romance, and Race, examines the gendered and racial politics of the transnational popularity of Korean popular culture.

What attracted you to Occidental?
Many factors! First, I like the unique characteristics of liberal arts colleges. I experienced being a student at both a liberal arts college (Williams College) and a larger university (UCLA). I was also a faculty member at a liberal arts college (Wellesley College) and a larger university (Indiana University). Although I loved all the institutions I’ve been a part of, I felt that I thrived more in a liberal arts college environment. Second, I loved that 鶹Ƶ is in L.A. and that the college strives to connect students with the larger L.A. community. I was excited by the prospect of introducing students to the long history of Korean presence in L.A. and incorporating Koreatown’s rich Korean diasporic culture into my teaching and research. Those two factors, among others, attracted me to Occidental.

How did you develop an interest in studying Korean popular culture and gender and race relations?
I’ve always been a fan of Korean popular culture. When I was in elementary school and living in Michigan, I would drive with my parents to a Korean grocery that was more than an hour away from home to borrow videotapes of Korean television dramas. So, it was only natural that my research topic focused on something I had an interest in for most of my life. I became interested in examining popular culture from gender and racial perspectives due to the influence of the great faculty mentors I met at Williams College and at UCLA.

Can you talk about your book projects?
My first book project, tentatively titled Finding Mr. Perfect: Korean Television Dramas, Romance, and Race, focuses on some Korean popular culture fans who, after watching transnationally popular Korean television dramas, develop romantic desires for Korean masculinity and travel to Korea to find Korean boyfriends in real life. I examine their desires from a racial, gendered, and geopolitical lens.

My second book project examines another form of transnational media—illicit sex videos—produced in Korea and disseminated worldwide. Through this book project, I hope to critically engage in conversation about how we need to rethink sexual consent, censorship, and racism in the face of rising cases of digital sex crimes.

Anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to invite folks at 鶹Ƶto connect with me to talk about Korean popular culture. If you’ve been watching a Korean television drama, film, or music video that you found particularly interesting, send me an email or find me in my office! I’d love to chat with you.