Recently I’ve seen two different promotions featuring the Monopoly® man, the older mustachioed gentlemen with the top hat and cane. In the last month or so, his image has been everywhere and on top of that, I needed to come up with his formal, original name for a crossword answer. It turned out to be “Rich Uncle Penny Bags.” Rich Uncle Penny Bags? What kind of name is that?? I’ve heard of “Money Bags” but Penny Bags doesn’t make him sound all that rich.
Seeing his image takes me back to childhood memories and how much I loved playing the game with my brothers & sisters. There were times, when I was very young, we played as a whole family. In some instances, my slightly older sister and I were made to play as one person. We didn’t argue; it was basically a condition of getting to play with the older ones. I remember one time in particular, when my sister and I as our little tag team were losing and about to be eliminated from the game, so one of my older brothers was good enough to try to sneak money to us in his shoe under the table (he had long legs). As you might imagine, this was a clumsy affair that the others were quickly wise to, especially as my brother sunk lower and lower on his side of the table.
I’ve also been reminded that I found the Monopoly® Man a bit unsettling. He wasn’t exactly kid-friendly and he didn’t look like any of MY uncles. On closer examination today, I see that he’s an odd choice, especially as a mascot for what has long been largely a children’s game. It’s something in the eyes, at least in one characterization where he has these large, dead-fish eyes (there’s more than one version of him). If he’s not exactly sinister, he’s shifty-looking. I can see why I didn’t exactly warm to him. He looked like he was up to no good.
Interesting side note from Wikipedia: The character initially appeared on the first game produced in 1936 but the artist who rendered him remained anonymous until 2013 when his granddaughter came forward to identify him as Dan Fox. That’s a long time for a culturally iconic image to go uncredited.
I realize now also that Monopoly is a game of capitalism, which was entirely wasted on me as a child (I sure didn’t know the actual meaning of the word “monopoly” either). I didn’t know what capitalism was; it was just a fun game. Buying property and building houses was utter fiction to me (sadly still is). I really didn’t like ending up in “jail” but that too and the game’s white collar crimes that led to it meant nothing in my limited experience. My monetary knowledge was enough that I understood fine the accumulation of the fake money; I delighted in collecting rent when other players landed on my property. The railroads were especially desirable. I thought trains were terribly exciting (I still have a fondness for them) even if my experiences were largely limited to seeing trains or waiting at train crossings on the proverbial road trips to Grandma’s house in the country.
I had an idea a long time ago I never did which was to get a Monolopy® board and hang it on the wall as decoration. I wouldn’t go buy a new one; it’d have to be a yard sale or thrift store find. It’s funny to me. Basically, my favorite childhood game features a theme which is largely the antithesis of things I value as an adult – nobody ever accuses me of being money-hungry or any stripe of capitalist. I still like the little dog, though, and the hat. Those game pieces were a piece of brilliance.