Buy and sell. Roll. Buy and sell. Roll. This is the rhythm of Monopoly. That Monopoly is representational goes uncontested. Roger Caillois says it best in his work, Man, Play and Games, when he writes:

The game of Monopoly does not follow but rather reproduces the functions of capitalism. (61)

One can't simply land on a property first and claim dibs on it. One also doesn't have a continuously replenishing source of funds wholly devoted to such a risky endeavor. Since the Sherman Act (1890) and the Clayton Antitrust Act (1914), corporate monopolies have disappeared from the horizon of American industry. When an individual assumes a seat in the senate, one does not get a take of $50. Well, there not supposed to anyway. Most of all, real life is not as egalitarian as Monopoly structures itself to be. The plain fact is some people are handed loaded dice while others get none at all.

But it is these very discrepancies that makes Monopoly so engaging and fun. Monopoly emulates capitalism not as it is, but capitalism as we wish it to be. Everyone starts out with equal footing. Chance favors no one. Money never runs out.

Is Monopoly the key to an egalitarian system? No. In the end, Monopoly favors only one, the winner. And the winner takes all. Plus, Monopoly allows, if not encourages, the player to employ any method available to bankrupt their opponent.

Taking a more positive slant, Monopoly helps individuals to look out for and act out of their own best interest. Furthermore, Monopoly instills players with a basic conception of capitalist economics (free enterprise, supply and demand, and private ownership). And this is the power of Monopoly: inducting individuals in the culture of consumption under capitalism.

The system of production, exchange, and consumption of signs is the cultural cement of the monopoly capitalist form of life. (83)

As stated in Primal Scenes of Communication, Ian Angus makes the point that "signs," be it normalized ideologies or familiarized objects, bind together the practices and nature of a particular manner of living. Some, like Tim Dant, would argue that the emphasis on economic forces in the study of material culture obfuscates the social function of material objects. Arguably, Monopoly is an exception due to its direct ties to economic practices. But Dant's point does provoke a need to also explore Monopoly as an object with social relevance.

Take another look at Monopoly's hero. Shrewd. Daring. Decisive. Skillful. Entrepreneurial. Focused. Goal oriented. And yes, ruthless and cunning. In sum, the hero is the self-empowered individual. From this perspective, Monopoly disseminates a message of individualism, first and foremost, telling the individual that you and you alone are the maker of your own destiny. But the individualism advocated is neither achieved for nor by the lone individual. The catch is, Monopoly conditions the individual to do as everyone else does, if only, to do it better. Carnegie and Rockefeller arrived at the top by manipulating the masses. Americans rose to world supremacy because of these individuals. As such, the individual cannot succeed without the masses and the masses cannot progress without the individual.

To underline this point, consider the board's "Free Parking" space. Allocated solely as a resting place, it is here and only here that a player gets a breather. What is culturally significant about this space is that it is represented by an automobile. By the 1930s automobiles proliferated the American landscape. The automobile was more than transportation, and even more than a status symbol. The automobile was a means of escape. Whether seeking solace from the city or pursuing the unknown, the automobile afforded the individual the leisure of escapism. Contributing to urban sprawl, it evened population density. And yet, by providing unprecedented independence and mobility, the automobile contributed to the isolation of the individual.

In both The Landlord's Game and Monopoly, the struggle lies between the individual and everyone else. What one condemns, the other celebrates, both bringing to light the conundrums of capitalism.






CAPITALIST VENTURES
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