Why Is Fantasy Stuck in the Middle Ages?

From the Latest Tolkien Adaptation to the New Thrones Series, a Genre Is Reckoning With Its Most Well-Known Setting

The pre-industrial Western landscape of wizards and magic, good and evil, elves and dwarves of J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination has become a well-worn part of our cultural geography. Amazon’s shiny new Lord of the Rings prequel series is just the latest tribute to this worldbuilding, drawing on Tolkien’s expansive, encyclopedic volumes of invented language, lore, and cartography to tell a new story that dates back thousands of years before a hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins ever left the Shire to go on an adventure.

But watching The Rings of Power …

Why It Matters That Star Trek Is Confronting Eugenics | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Why It Matters That Star Trek Is Confronting Eugenics

For Decades the Dangerous Pseudoscience Was Heavily Censored on Screen—While Offscreen It Continued Influencing Policy

In a meme that’s been floating around online recently, William Shatner asks, “When did Star Trek get all political?”

The joke is on Shatner, or rather on an old tweet from …

tktk | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Elvis Is an American Tragedy. Elvis Is Just Tragic

The Singer's Story Has a Lot to Say About This ‘Pitiful Country’—But Baz Luhrmann's Biopic Ain’t Nothin’ But a Dog

There’s much to be said about Elvis Presley, the quote-unquote King of Rock ‘n’ Roll who shook the country as a white kid singing Black America’s music.

But despite its nearly …

Could a Truth Commission Unite America? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Could a Truth Commission Unite America?

How Fractured Nations and Communities Reckon with History and Move Toward Repair

Can democracy stand the test of time? Many factors have triggered the deep schism in American politics today. But a root cause of our faltering democracy may be our failure …

Why Divestment Defeated Apartheid and How It Might Help Beat Climate Change

The Money Didn’t Matter. The Movement Did

The environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben estimates that climate divestment—the movement to pressure universities, churches, and other institutions to stop investing in, and thus profiting from, carbon-emitting companies—has removed …

Did We Fail the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Experiment—Or Did It Fail Us? | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Did We Fail the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Experiment—Or Did It Fail Us?

A Half-Century Old Classroom Exercise Shows Americans’ Hunger for a Silver Bullet to ‘Cure Racism’

Today’s heated arguments about critical race theory shouldn’t surprise us because they aren’t new. Indeed, one of the best-known classroom experiments to combat racism remains a divisive subject more than …