Super Bowl, Medievally Speaking


We Want Wall. We Want Knight. Not. Medievalism and the Atlanta Super Bowl 


Richard Utz


In December, 2018, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made a baffling statement during an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. When pressed on her views on how to best protect the country’s borders, she stated: “From Congress I would ask for wall. We need wall.” While some observers read her statement as a moment of comic relief in the midst of a looming government shutdown and the resignation of the defense secretary, Nielsen’s perhaps stress-induced double elision of the definite article revealed how the “wall” had become a self-standing but extremely vague signifier for the larger political struggle about immigration.


During the ensuing discussion, various Democratic politicians denounced the wall as an ineffective “medieval” solution. President Trump countered that a medieval wall “worked then, and it works even better now.” As Paul Sturtevant commented in the Washington Post, this exchange about the medieval ‘nature’ of the wall showed how both political positions misread medieval culture from a an uninformed presentist perspective: “Critics of the wall used the term derisively. When they say something is ‘medieval,’ they are evoking the outdated image of the ‘dark ages,’ where everyone was muddy, bloody, backward and superstitious. … President Trump linked the wall to the Middle Ages, knowing that “for a significant portion of the American public, especially among his base, being ‘medieval’ is not a bad thing. Instead, it’s aspirational.” His invocation of “medieval” seems to speak directly to a white nationalist audience whose members have been coopting racist and masculinist readings of the medieval world for many years. Remember the violent demonstrations at Charlottesville, VA, in 2017?


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