A discussion of Karen Tongson's new book, Normporn: Queer Viewers and the TV That Soothes Us (NYU Press, 2023). The author will be joined in conversation by Scott Poulson-Bryant (University of Michigan) and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (co-creator of UnREAL), moderated by Tara McPherson (USC). Registration is required. REGISTER HERE


About the Book: After personal loss, political upheaval, and the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us craved a return to business as usual, the mundane, the middlebrow. We turned to TV to find these things. For nearly forty years, network television has produced a constant stream of “cry-along” sentimental-realist dramedies designed to appeal to liberal, heterosexual, white America. But what makes us keep watching, even though these TV series inevitably fail to reflect who we are?

Revisiting soothing network dramedies like Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, This Is Us, and their late-80s precursor, thirtysomething, Normporn mines the nuanced pleasures and attraction-repulsion queer viewers experience watching liberal family-centric shows. Karen Tongson reflects on how queer cultural observers work through repeated declarations of a “new normal” and flash lifestyle trends like “normcore,” even as the absurdity, aberrance, and violence of our culture intensifies. Normporn allows us to process how the intimate traumas of everyday life depicted on certain TV shows—of love, life, death, and loss—are linked to the collective and historical traumas of their contemporary moments, from financial recessions and political crises to the pandemic.


About the Author: Karen Tongson is Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies, English, and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is the 2019 recipient of the Lambda Literary Jeanne Córdova Award for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction, and the author of Why Karen Carpenter Matters (2019; Lambda Literary Award nominee in LGBTQ Nonfiction; Pitchfork’s Best Music Books of 2019, The Believer Book Award, longlist, 2020), and Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (2011). She is also co-editor of the award-winning book series Postmillennial Pop with Henry Jenkins at NYU Press, editor-at-large at air/light, and on several editorial boards for scholarly journals.


Open to attendants outside of USC. An excerpt of the book will be made available to registered attendants. Registration before the event is required. 


This event is part of the Levan Institute for the Humanities' “Book Chats” series, conversations about new books published by USC scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. To see more events in this series, including recordings of past events, visit https://dornsife.usc.edu/levan-institute/book-chats/.

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