The McDonald’s Monopoly game helps shed light on the fundamental discord which sustains America’s bipartisan political deadlock.
On appearance, the political picture in America presents itself as an over-simplified dichotomy wherein two parts (or pieces), individual rights and an effective state apparatus, must come together in order to form a cohesive democratic union. Much like collecting Park Place and Boardwalk in the McDonald’s Monopoly game, Democrats and Republicans must work together for the overall success of the country — to win.
Throughout the nineties the wildly popular game pieces were ever-present on McDonald’s soda cups and fry containers. The tearable plastic tabs, always in doubles, featuring different properties from the classic Hasbro board game, represented perhaps the ultimate example of excess enjoyment (value over and above the product itself) consumers now come to expect.
Beyond the flashy presentation, at base, this was a simple lottery game where the biggest prize of all was the million dollars awarded to the person who collected both Park Place and Boardwalk. The catch was that while there was an overabundance of Park Places, Boardwalks were always extraordinarily rare. Here is where I see the first connection to the political ideology at play in America.
From a cynical-realist perspective, both Democrats and Republicans cannot seem to fathom the validity of the other’s political position, preferring to view the other as remote, inconceivable, or even unreal. This is much like the bearer of a Park Place game piece who cynically proclaims, “There aren’t any Boardwalks, man!”
And conversely, from the naive-idealistic perspective, individuals espouse their particular viewpoint as if they know the Truth which all others cannot get or are unable to grasp. They hold steadfastly to the belief that their position is the legitimate one and that they are on the right side of history. This is akin to the person clutching Park Place proudly claiming that they’re practically already a millionaire, “All I need is a Boardwalk!”
Going further, it is this idea of the missing piece, the one needed in order to form a cohesive whole, that drives the systemic rift ever deeper. This constitutive lack appears as merely a “missing half” when in fact it is much closer to a needle in a hay stack. The vividness of the outcome, as Kahneman and Taversky would put it, no matter how unlikely , is what keeps the ideological fantasy intact. And both blues and reds fall victim to this.
In the standard liberal picture, the savior complex is always at work. In order to finally vindicate and unify those who have been disenfranchised and discarded, to finally heal the wounds caused by imperialism and avarice, a charismatic figure is needed to marshal the peaceful potential that lay dormant in our government.
And for many this was Obama. Except as President he continued the nationalist imperialist ways with expedient technological advancement, and ratified and amplified American greed by bailing out the banks. Obama turns out to be just another Park Place.
In the typical conservative Republican view, the state should protect its people but never encroach on them. What they seek is someone who understands the values of the common man. A leader who can crack the whip in Washington and ensure that those who work hard get what they deserve, and that nothing and nobody can hold this country back.
What ends up looking like Boardwalk to Republicans is someone who believes in these ideals and achieves them but only for themselves. This person, once elected, finds himself bombarded by ultra-powerful interests and doesn’t have a clue how get the law of the land to reflect his own self-serving values. The conservatives end up choosing someone who can talk the talk, but who stumbles and falls when he tries to walk the (board)walk.
In the end, it’s tough to say whether it’s the flaws of the game or of the players that makes for such failures, but for my money it’s the former more than the latter. I’ll leave you with two side notes that I find interesting and metaphorically pertinent. First, the Monopoly board game itself was originally meant as a critique of capitalism. That is, it was supposed to be seen as anti-capitalist, but people never took it that way . Second, the winning pieces for the McDonald’s Monopoly game were supposed to be given at random to different distributors across the country, but the guy who was charged with the responsibility of keeping them secure and delivering these choice pieces ended up just pocketing them instead. Then he doled them out to trusted confidants, family and friends in exchange for a cut of the winnings . But I guess that’s how a true monopoly should work.
Nobu Massiah is a graduate of the Maurice Kanbar School for Film and Television at NYU with a BA in Film and Television.
1. Thinking Fast and Slow, page 326
2. Pilon, M. (2015 April, 11), The Secret History of Monopoly, http://www.theguardian.com
3. Maysh, J. (2018 July, 28), How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions, http://www.thedailybeast.com