99% Invisible | Podcast Review | November 21, 2015 | By

99% Invisible: “The Landlord’s Game”

Monopoly lets us extort the bully next door, but in a way that means we get to keep our front teeth.

Let’s be frank. I am a Monopoly apologist. I own classic Monopoly, Monopoly Here and Now (with credit card payment), Scooby Doo Monopoly, Pokémon Monopoly, and Monopoly for my iPad. I don’t particularly like the game, certainly not enough to justify owning all of those copies. I play it once every few months at best. I’m not even that great a capitalist—I write about podcasts. So I’m not sure what it is about Monopoly that has so entrenched me in the board game’s corner, but… here I am.

And it’s not like I don’t know better.  I do like other, “better” board games. I’ve played Settlers of Catan and Dominion and Avalon. But there’s something nice about Monopoly. Roman and co. postulate that it might be nostalgia—and sure, maybe parental nostalgia brought the game into my life to begin with, but even as a kid I actively asked for new and different editions of the game. And in a world where I could have any Scooby Doo-themed item from bedspreads to gummies to landline phones to lunchboxes, why ask for Monopoly? I don’t know, I guess I just liked it.

Monopoly’s progenitor, the Landlord’s Game, was actually sort of insidious—a propaganda tool to curry favor for the Single Tax proposal. 1 Developed by Lizzy Magie at the turn of the nineteenth century, it came with two sets of rules. In one rule set, the one with which I am sure you are all familiar, heartless monopolists ruthlessly humiliate their closest friends and loved ones. The other set was Bernie Sanders’s utopia: when a player landed on a property and payed rent it benefited everyone on the board. The goal of this second set was to extol the virtues of the Single Tax system—a system in which theoretically everyone can be a winner.

But as you know now, those aren’t the rules that stuck and we now spend our holidays embarrassing the second cousins we see but three times a decade. It might sound mean, and it is, but it’s meanness with plausible deniability. It gives us, as kids, the ability to extort the bully next door, but in a way that means we get to keep our front teeth.

I guess I mean, maybe we like Monopoly because now and as kids, it gives us agency and power. Unfair power. The kind of power that grownups and life wield over us. And all the more so in youth: the tyranny of bedtimes, the oppression of leafy greens, the cruelty of roller coaster height limits. Monopoly is vengeance, the moment when—sometimes, with a bit of luck—we’re the boss for once.

I guess since this is technically a review about radio, I should, uh, offer some insight into the actual episode. So some stray thoughts:

  • The background was interesting, the production was good, you should listen to it, Roman’s voice is the best in radio… and on and on.
  • This felt like a fun, light-hearted way to amble toward the dawn of the holiday season and conclusion of their campaign. It was good—no Bathysphere, but it was a-okay.
  • I only got a listen-and-a-half in this week before writing the review (I usually do two), but I did have some trouble keeping track of whose voice was whose. That said, it didn’t really hurt the narrative.
  • I wish we had heard some more about Lizzy Magie, the woman who developed the concept of the game before her work was (against its original egalitarian spirit) capitalized upon by someone else.
  • I’m sure many of you donated to the Radiotopia Forever campaign, but if you didn’t, listen to how funny this Roman Mars text message alert is (one of nineteen you got for donating).

  1. I’ll let Roman and/or Wikipedia explain it to you. ^

About the Author

Eric McDaniel is the founder of Audiologue, where he covers 99% Invisible. Right now, his favorite shows are Mystery Show and Cortex. Find him on Twitter @ericmmcd, or by email at eric@audiologue.xyz.

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