The Ghetto Monopoly Belongs to the Rich

Mac Diva reports on Hasbro’s trademark infringement lawsuit against the Asian-American creator of “Ghettopoly“, an offensively racialized take-off on Hasbro’s “Monopoly”. Says Mac Diva:

I am heartened by this responsible leadership from Asian-Americans who understand the pain racist abuse causes its targets and the poison it infuses into society as a whole. Perhaps their message of tolerance will trickle down to Asian-American immigrants who have unthinkingly adopted the bigoted beliefs of many white Americans.

I also welcome Hasbro’s lawsuit. Most civil rights groups lack the funds to effectively confront people who engage in appalling acts such as Chang. However, Hasbro has the deep pockets to bring him to heel. Before the process is over, I will not be surprised if Chang has disgorged every cent he made from Ghettopoly. If legal fees don’t bankrupt him, a judgment against him likely will.

Like Mac Diva, I’m glad to see Asian-American groups speaking out and condemning the creator of Ghettopoly — which maligns both African-Americans, in its imagery, and Asian-Americans, in linking them to the game’s bigotry. However, I am disturbed by Mac Diva’s encouragement of Hasbro’s lawsuit, and particularly by the notion of the game’s creator being “brought to heel”. As with any other published material, David Chang, the mastermind behind Ghettopoly, has a right to free speech and free expression, no matter how offensive. To advocate the use of the courts to crush that expression seems to me a violation of that fundamental principle. It’s an admittance of the utter failure of imagination and progressive values — because we have been unsuccessful in destroying the demand for such racist representations, we will attempt to stem the supply by restricting what they are allowed to say.

And who will benefit from the outcome of this lawsuit? African-Americans? Hardly. Asian-Americans? Guess again. The only possible beneficiary will be Hasbro, who will use a set of laws that are antithetical to progressive values (anti-copyright laws that punish users and prevent innovation) to protect a game which is decidedly not progressive (with it’s integral system of class capitalism expressed through its low-rent, slum districts — the $12/night fleabag motels of Baltic Avenue — linearly opposed to the glittering mansions of Park Place and Broadway). While worrying about the derogatory black imagery of Ghettopoly is commendable, what about the absent black imagery of whites-only Monopoly?

Mac Diva frames Hasbro’s case as an extension of the work of civil rights groups who “lack the funds to effectively confront people who engage in appalling acts”. I can virtually guarantee that Hasbro is not making this mistake — they are interested only in protecting a trademark, and would have filed the same suit (and have, I’m sure) if the knock-off’s imagery consisted solely of unicorns and fluffy kittens. This is a company that has moved virtually all of its production into Chinese sweatshops and is the target of shareholder action from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility because of its racist protrayals of American Indians — I’m entirely sure that Hasbro is not the knight in shining armour for civil rights causes Mac Diva makes them out to be.

And even if they were motivated solely by civil rights-related concerns, even without their checkered record in this area, is this what we progressives want? Corporate crusaders to fight our battles in the name of anti-copyright law? I disagree heartily with Chang’s vision of African-American culture, and with the cynical detachment that, I’m sure, has him convinced that it’s “all in good fun” — but I disagree more with letting this be Hasbro’s fight. Chang is a pissant little nothing who has raised some dust — Hasbro is a giant corporation that is a near-constant presence in our lives and even moreso in those of our children. So ask me who I’m more afraid of.

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