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Cheaters Are Prospering. Let’s Not Let Them.

by on February 07, 2018 5:00 AM


Have you ever robbed the “bank” during a heated game of Monopoly? Ever accidentally-on-purpose drove your race car or walked your terrier the wrong number of spaces so you could snag prime real estate or avoid checking into an opponent’s hotel? How about adding two houses to your property at Marvin Gardens for the price of one?

If so, you’re in good company. Or maybe not good company. Let’s say you have lots of company: Half of the respondents to a Hasbro survey admitted to cheating at the grand old game.

Knowing this, and hearing that Hasbro plans to issue a new edition of Monopoly this year, you might assume that the latest version will make it harder to cheat. Au contraire, you moralist you. Hasbro’s takeaway from its survey is that Monopoly players consider cheating part of the game, maybe even think it spices it up a bit. And so, coming this fall: Monopoly: Cheater’s Edition.

If that isn’t a sign of the times, I don’t know what is.

Cheaters have always prospered, but however much we may have admired them privately, our public pronouncements valorized winning “fair and square.” Or in Joe Paterno’s parlance, “success with honor.”

And indeed, we Americans are a rule-following, law-abiding bunch, relatively speaking. Worldwide, the organization Transparency International found that more than a quarter of the people it surveyed had paid a bribe to a public official. In the U.S., only one in 14 of us had done so (the numbers were lowest in Denmark, Finland Japan and Australia).

When I arrived in Ukraine in 2012 to teach for a semester, I attended a briefing at the U.S. Embassy. One of the warnings all of us newbies received had to do with driving: There was a good chance we’d get pulled over for no reason whatsoever and have to buy the cops’ permission to be on our way.

I also heard that parents slipped cash to their kids’ underpaid teachers in exchange for better grades, and that patients were likely to get better care in hospitals if their families pre-tipped the docs, techs and nurses. I do not know how rampant such practices are in Ukraine, but I have never heard of such things happening in the USA (which isn’t to say they never do).

Yet there has long been a nagging suspicion here in the land of Cherry Tree George and Honest Abe that the bromides about fair play and following the rules are a way to keep the little people in line while hotshots like Donald Trump do whatever it takes to win, which mostly entails retaining lawyers expert at finding loopholes in contracts, regulations and the tax code.

Trump’s ascension to the presidency is the ultimate triumph of the winning-is-all ethos. His election has emboldened both his fellow moguls and the corner cutters among us commoners alike.

Consider what happened at Newark Airport last week. A passenger tried to pass off her peacock as her “emotional support animal,” an increasing problem as travelers try to transport their furry, feathery and slithery friends without paying for the privilege.

Amusing as it is to think of modern jetliners becoming like goat-and-chicken-bearing buses on a Third World highway, some of the critters, inevitably, are biting, causing allergic reactions and “doing their business.” New York Times columnist David Leonhardt called it “a fascinating case study of how mass cheating can become acceptable.”

And speaking of mass cheating, among college students it’s practically an art form, as my fellow columnist Patty Kleban attested recently.

Ah, but those cheaters’ chickens may be coming home to roost. So much brazen skullduggery all at the same time has caught our attention at last. Thanks to Trump, Weinstein, camera phones, some good journalists and a growing number of brave souls, all the formerly under-the-radar ways in which the powerful have abused their power are coming to light: cops brutalizing blacks, political parties disenfranchising voters through gerrymandering, members of Congress selling their souls for votes and campaign contributions, men with corner offices and fancy hotel suites sexually harassing or molesting those with less power than themselves, university administrators building gaudy sports palaces while ignoring the safety of their students.

The nagging suspicions have been confirmed. The black mold of corruption behind America’s pretty wallpaper has been exposed.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “All this in response to Monopoly: Cheater’s Edition? It’s only a game!”

Yeah, well, so is the Super Bowl. When Bill Belichick stood behind the microphones after Sunday’s little game he looked and sounded like his emotional support animal had died.

Maybe we need games like Monopoly: Cheater’s Edition as an outlet for our collective case of integrity deficit disorder, the way games like football slake our bloodlust. Cheat at board games if you must, just don’t cheat in the boardroom, or anyplace else where it really counts.


A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won second place in the Humor category in the 2018 National Society of Newspaper Columnists writing contest. The winning columns: One Day at the Zombie Apocalypse Poultry Auction, Deux Nuits à Paris: A French Farce and A Shaggy Dog Story. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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