Monopoly and Appropriation

16 Sep

While appropriation is a two-way street, it is not always equal. Filipinos, Singaporeans, and Indians, for example, have appropriated English as their own language, and yet we are still often complimented for our good English. The corollary to that is best summed up by this statement from Aliette de Bodard:

“And in at least one respect, what I’ve seen has been hugely frustrating, because there’s a huge assumption that people from other countries than the usual Western Anglophone suspects (US/UK/Can/Aus/NZ) cannot possibly write in English and that ‘international SF’ is shorthand for ‘translated works'”

And that is just one example. When the mainstream — or the people in power — do the appropriation, however, the concepts are either corrupted or its origins are lost and forgotten. Take a look at Catholicism (and Christianity), for example, and how a religion that began with Jesus of Nazareth evolved into a tool for subjugation and colonialism. Or George Romero and Night of the Living Dead, and how most people nowadays associate the word Zombie with his interpretation, rather than its West African origins.

As a gamer, and I am reminded of the history of Monopoly. The original version was titled The Landlord’s Game and invented by Elizabeth J. Magie:

“Her invention, “The Landlord’s Game,” spread as a folk game, designed to show the downsides of capitalism.”

Christopher Ketcham’s Harper’s Magazine article “Monopoly is Theft” tackles the subject more comprehensively, and here are parts I’d like to highlight:

“Three decades before Darrow’s patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land… The Landlord Game’s chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property’s title holder but into a common pot—the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, ‘Prosperity is achieved.'”

That history is a stark contrast to the game currently published by Hasbro, with an agenda that favors them and their mentality.

Currently, terms like diversity are at a crux. On one hand, the word has momentum and is currently being used by the publishing industry. On the other hand, it is also in danger of being appropriated (assuming it hasn’t been already), as can be seen in Sofia Samatar’s blog post “On Diversity: Two Sadnesses and a Refusal”. One problem is that it loses all its meaning:  when a publisher asks for submissions for diversity, what do they mean? People of color? Authors outside of the US? Contributors falling under the QUILTBAG spectrum? Stories featuring protagonists with disabilities?

That’s not to say the term should be eschewed entirely, but when it becomes too vague or simply a buzzword, it becomes a marketing tool appropriated by the status quo instead of being an agent of change and improvement. When you use the word diversity, what do you really mean? What are you looking for? And how are your projects aligned with that goal?

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One Response to “Monopoly and Appropriation”

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  1. Links: 09/19/14 — The Radish. - September 19, 2014

    […] Monopoly and Appropriation […]

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