Who, I ask you, would willingly choose a McDonald's French fry token as their Monopoly game piece? That is the first question that came to mind after I learned from the New York Times today that a new version of the classic board game will replace some age-old familiars -- the race car, the shoe -- with branded replacements that include a Toyota Prius and a New Balance sneaker.
And McDonald's fries. It's unspeakable, isn't it? Is nothing sacred? Where will this descent into product-placement profligacy end? I'm sure all the Times' readers sadly shook their heads in agreement with Gary Ruskin, the executive director at Commercial Alert, who is quoted as saying, "It's part of the insinuation of the commercial culture into every aspect of our lives ... [The coming of branded tokens] turns Monopoly into a giant advertisment. It's a shame Hasbro has chosen to go this road."
Gary, Gary, Gary.
Let us reflect, for a moment, upon the true meaning of the game Monopoly. The goal is to amass property, control railroads and utilities, drive up rents to the maximum possible and, ultimately, force your opponent into bankruptcy. It is a wondrous thing, this game: the raw and bloody beating heart of capitalism itself, a primer explaining in the simplest possible terms just what it means to exploit resources and extract surplus value from people who aren't as quick (or lucky enough) to grab the best slice of real estate as you are. Is it any wonder Monopoly is the most popular board game ever? It's the real thing, the stuff of America itself. It is, and always has been, a giant advertisement for an intrinsically commercial way of life.
Sure, you can call the introduction of McDonald's and Toyota and New Balance into Monopoly tacky, but it's tacky in a gloriously crass way that is true to the spirit of the game and makes me proud to be an American.