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Cover of Horrible White People co-written by Taylor Nygaard
November 2020
NYU Press

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Horrible White People

Gender, Genre, and Television's Precarious Whiteness
Taylor Nygaard
Jorie Lagerwey

Examines the bleak television comedies that illustrate the obsession of the white left with its own anxiety and suffering.

At the same time that right-wing political figures like Donald Trump were elected and reactionary socio-economic policies like Brexit were voted into law, representations of bleakly comic white fragility spread across television screens. American and British programming that featured the abjection of young, middle-class, liberal white people — such as "Broad City," "Casual," "You’re the Worst," "Catastrophe," "Fleabag," and "Transparent" — proliferated to wide popular acclaim in the 2010s. Taylor Nygaard and Jorie Lagerwey track how these shows of the white left, obsessed with its own anxiety and suffering, are complicit in the rise and maintenance of the far right — particularly in the mobilization, representation and sustenance of structural white supremacy on television.

Nygaard and Lagerwey examine a cycle of dark television comedies, the focus of which are “horrible white people,” by putting them in conversation with similar upmarket comedies from creators and casts of color like "Insecure," "Atlanta," "Dear White People," and "Master of None." Through their analysis, they demonstrate the ways these non-white-centric shows negotiate prestige TV’s dominant aesthetics of whiteness and push back against the centering of white suffering in a time of cultural crisis.

Through the lens of media analysis and feminist cultural studies, Nygaard and Lagerwey’s book opens up new ways of looking at contemporary television consumption — and the political, cultural, and social repercussions of these “horrible white people” shows, both on- and off-screen.


Taylor Nygaard is a faculty associate in the Department of English's film and media studies program at Arizona State University.

Praise for this book

"A bold, insightful analysis of what Nygaard and Lagerwey identify as a key cycle of sitcoms: ‘horrible white people’ shows. With an insistently anti-racist and feminist lens, they connect this cycle to shifts in the contemporary media industry and U.S. culture in order to show how Whiteness, yet again, reinvents itself."

Sarah Projansky
Author of "Spectacular Girls: Media Fascination and Celebrity Culture"

"Makes an important contribution to television and media studies, which is in the beginning stages of grappling with its own whiteness. Cannily, Nygaard and Lagerwey focus on series that appear less nakedly racist, even liberal, to show how white supremacy is more common and insidious than most scholarship recognizes. ... This book fills a much-needed gap in media studies and will find a place in my syllabi for the foreseeable future."

Aymar Jean Christian
Author of "Open TV: Innovation Beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television"