'Yes Virginia, there was a Virginia Avenue'

Monopoly's gone modern, the fate of many a classic

September 21, 2006|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,Sun Reporter

After remaining virtually unchanged since 1935, Monopoly, the classic board game, has been updated -- and inflated -- for the times, with higher rents, bigger money, new properties and more "contemporary" tokens, five of which carry brand names.

National landmarks, all selected in an Internet poll, are bought and sold in the new game, which hit toy stores last week, selling for $30 and up -- about twice the price of the old one, which will still be produced.

Gone in the new game are all the old tokens, from the wheelbarrow to the battleship, replaced by, among others, the Toyota Prius and a sack of McDonald's french fries. But, strangely enough for a game that's all about making money, its manufacturer, Hasbro, says it accepted no fees for using the brand names and chose the tokens based solely on their cultural value.

Still, some are critical about what they see as the commercializing of a classic: Has Monopoly, by updating its icons, gone from being a giant advertisement for capitalism to just being a giant advertisement? Debate over the remade game could continue for years in living rooms across America, in conversations that could go a little like this:

Dylan: Your move, grandpa.

Gramps: Sorry, sonny, I got confused. Which one am I?

Dylan: You're the Motorola Razr cell phone. You just landed on Times Square, with a hotel, and had to pay me $20 million.

Gramps: Cripes. In my day, this game was different. I can remember when this space was called Boardwalk, and the hotel rent was only $2,000. Your grandmother and I used to play. She would be the thimble, and me, I always liked being the top hat.

Dylan: The what?

Gramps: The top hat. Before they changed the game, back in 2006, you could be a top hat, or an iron, or an old race car -- not a Starbucks Coffee cup, or a ... what is it that you are again?

Dylan: A New Balance athletic shoe.

Gramps: Whatever. Back in my day, passing "Go" only got you $200, not $2 million. Life wasn't so easy in those days.

Dylan: Did you grow up in Baltimore, Grandpa?

Gramps: Yes, but it was a different place. In those days, we called the baseball team the Orioles, not the T. Rowes. The football team was called the Ravens, not the Verizons. But then they named the stadiums after companies, and then they named the teams after companies. This was back even before Cal Ripken Jr. wore the toupee. Why, back then, believe it or not, Baltimore was known as a place that you came to eat crabs, not Chilean sea bass.

Dylan: Crabs? That's funny.

Gramps: Crabs here were like the cheese steak once was to Philadelphia, before radicchio wraps replaced it -- a tradition, what you might call an icon.

Dylan: An icon? Like on the computer?

Gramps: No, it has other meanings, too. Why don't you go look it up?

Dylan: I can't. Mom's online.

Gramps: You know, the dictionary used to be a book -- a big fat book you would lug out when you didn't know a word.

Dylan: How inconvenient.

Gramps: Anyway, an icon can be, well, sort of like that top hat I was talking about. It's something that sums up or symbolizes a place or a thing or a time ...

Dylan: Like "branding?" We studied that last year in third grade.

Gramps: It's like that, but not exactly. It used to be less conspiratorial. Something would become a classic by itself -- without any consulting firms being hired, or "product placement," without any contracts being signed, or money being passed. Culture and commercial culture were two different things back then, and an icon was something that came to stand for something naturally, maybe because it deserved to, something that rightfully rose to the top.

Dylan: I don't think that happens anymore, Grandpa.

Gramps: I guess not.

Dylan: OK, Grandpa, your Motorola Razr cell phone just landed on Disney World, with two houses. That'll be $3 million.

Gramps: Holy smokes. I can remember when that was Illinois Avenue, and the rent for two houses was $300. What's it cost to get out of jail now? Is it still $50?

Dylan: Get real, Grandpa. That's going to run you $500,000.

Gramps: I don't think I like this version. In the old game, there were actually $1 bills, and the highest denomination was $500. All the money in the game only added up to $15,140. Now the smallest denomination is a $10,000 bill. What's that teaching our kids?

Dylan: The same thing the old game did, Grandpa -- that everything has its price, and it's best to have a ton of money and own everything.

Gramps: True, but I still miss the old game. I don't know about this Monopoly Here and Now. I think I liked it better when it was there and then. The only thing they kept is Mr. Monopoly, that character on the box with a mustache, who just so happens to look a lot like Natty Boh, but with a top hat.

Dylan: Who's Natty Boh?

Gramps: National Bohemian used to be Baltimore's beer, and Mr. Natty Boh was the mascot -- an icon, you might say. Then they stopped making the beer here, but it was still kind of Baltimore's beer.

Dylan: What's Baltimore's beer now, Grandpa?

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