Horrible White PeopleGender, Genre, and Television's Precarious Whiteness

Horrible White PeopleGender, Genre, and Television's Precarious Whiteness

Taylor Nygaard and Jorie Lagerwey

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9781479885459

Publisher: NYU Press


At the same time that reactionary conservative political figures like Donald Trump were elected and disastrous socioeconomic policies like Brexit were voted into law, representations of bleakly comic white fragility spread across television screens. Analyzing a cycle of transatlantic television programs that emerged mostly between 2014 and 2016 targeting affluent, liberal, white audiences, Horrible White People examines the complicity of the white Left, obsessed with its own anxiety and suffering, in the rise and maintenance of the Far Right—particularly in the mobilization, representation, and sustenance of structural white supremacy on television. The authors use a combined methodology of media-industry analysis and feminist cultural studies, especially close textual analysis, to interrogate a cycle of US and British programming, like Broad City, Casual, You’re the Worst, Catastrophe, Fleabag, and Transparent, that features the abjection of middle-class, liberal, young white people. Throughout, they put these “horrible white people” in conversation with similar upmarket comedies from creators and casts of color, like Insecure, Atlanta, Dear White People, and Master of None, to highlight the ways those shows negotiate prestige TV’s dominant aesthetics of whiteness to push back against the centering of white suffering in a time of cultural crisis. The authors argue that multiple, concurrent, interrelated crises—recession, the emergent mainstreaming of feminism(s), and the unmasked visibility of racial inequality and violence—have caused upheaval among liberals. These crises are represented in this cycle as a collection of circumstances inextricable from and intertwined with the reactionary conservatism, antifeminism, and racism of the rising Right.