With the pandemic causing the topsy-turvy emotions of a cat that wants in, out and back in again, we decided to give ourselves a distraction in the form of a good old fashioned board game.
We have Pandemic the board game but given the last time we played it we lost…we thought it best not to pre-empt anything. Instead, we chose to distance ourselves from current events by dusting off a game created in the much less turbulent time of the 1950s.
Remember the 50s? I don’t, I wasn’t there. I’d imagine it was a time when mothers would play games with the children sporting a full face of makeup and high heels, and fathers would be in the den practicing their golf swing awaiting their whiskey refill. A time when children would play games and expect there to be true winners and losers and no “participation awards” for just showing up.
Park & Shop - the nation’s traffic game sensation!
In the 80s I used to play my beloved 1950s Park & Shop with my mum, and occasionally with my brother if he promised not to behave like a maniacal sore loser.
Unlike a competitive chess tournament, it is a basic game one can easily play even after a moderate amount of gin.
The object? To drive your car from your home to the nearest Park & Shop parking lot, park your car, then move your pedestrian marker to all the stops on your shopping list, return to your car, and move your car back to the starting point.
The shops on the board are still those you’d see today, except perhaps Furs and Linoleum Wallpaper. The fun really begins with what are called the Motorist Cards and the Pedestrian Cards.
Really, what self-respecting 50’s board game would be complete without a statement like, “There’s a woman driver in front of you. Lose one turn.”
I love when Mr Slager gets this card! Beep beep!
Optimistic 50s and the power of art
The artwork design of Park & Shop is so reassuringly bouncy and idealistic, it fills me with nostalgia for a time I never actually lived through.
According to my always accurate internet research, the 50s was a decade of consumerism. Optimistic baby boomers infatuated with the latest appliances. Adverts promoted a positive post war future, full of whitegoods, “heathy” cigarettes for expectant mothers and amphetamines to keep you “fit and slim”. What a time to be alive! Nothing brought you more emotional security than the latest Hoover Cleaner or Van Heusen necktie!
The nostalgic feeling I get when I play Park & Shop shows the strong psychological effect images can have. I too imagine excitedly motoring into town, parking the Pontiac, and mincing into the linoleum store with a wad of my husband’s money.
Sometimes you’ll hear the Bazza’s and Shazza’s of this world say things like, ”I don’t get the point of art? It doesn’t do anything.” To refute that notion, we need look no further than colourful advertising.
Aside from evoking nostalgia, the artwork used in advertising has persuaded millions to buy things they don’t need (Mr Slager, if you’re reading this, does the word Armatron mean anything to you?).
Shiny adverts sell you on just the thing needed to be light years ahead of your friends and the envy of the neighbourhood. “Wait until Miss Fancybritches next door catches sight of our new 24 inch high definition black and white television. That’ll get her tongue waging.”
Advertising can empower women to open sauce bottles without the aid of their big strong husbands!
Advertising can empower men to bake fluffy potatoes even though they’ve never cooked a day in their lives. (I’m guessing men had to resort to baking potatoes when their sauce-opening wives realised husbands were becoming redundant.)
Like traditional art, advertising art tells a story. It communicates a message, something that cannot be told with words alone. Like a beaming housewife expressing the thrilling thought that “Washdays are Holidays” now she has an Inglis washer-dryer.
In fact, the whole reason my treasured Park & Shop game was created, was to generate buzz for none other than parking and, you guessed it, shopping.
The layout of the board was based on downtown Allentown Pennsylvania and aimed to encourage customers to park in the newly built parking lots instead of on the street*. The popular brightly coloured board with its frenzied supermarket-sweep-style play, took advantage of people’s desire to keep up with the Joneses, thus increasing consumer sales for the local shops. Advertising mission accomplished!
I think this is Allentown today.
Art or ad?
Some will say all art is commercial, some will say all commercials are art.
Weirdly, today we find ads from decades such as the 50s hanging as contemporary art in cafes and restaurants, not as ads, but creating much sought after retro vibes for the ever faddish Millennials and Gen Z.
An artist can even find success in merging their art with traditional commercials, think Andy Warhol and his ’Campbell’s Soup Cans’ painting. Another lesser known but very prolific example is graphic designer Saul Bass. Bass is known for designing countless film posters and movie title sequences for famous Hollywood filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese.
Here is his famous movie poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film ’Vertigo’ (Like most Hitchcocks, it has a hilariously shocking ending!)
Bass describes his main goal for his title sequences as being to “try to reach for a simple, visual phrase that tells you what the picture is all about and evokes the essence of the story…Getting the audience to see familiar parts of their world in an unfamiliar way.” In a sense, all modern opening title sequences that introduce the mood or theme of a film can be seen as a legacy of Basses’ innovative work. (Source: Wikipedia)
Check out a list of Bass’ work here. You might be surprised how many you recognise!
Where that leaves us in 2020 - the feelings
I find the crossover between art and commercialism fairly grey. However, what I do know is that art in all its forms can be very powerful. Art can make us ponder, remember, feel nostalgic, change our thinking, see ourselves, envy others, make us laugh, cause us to dream, make us hopeful, and of course, make us all buy useless junk! Well, not all useless. The plastic Tupperware is needed for my husband’s badly cooked potatoes.
I know I’ll play my Park & Shop many times again and always revel in weird feelings of 1950s gooey bliss.
Do you have retro board games in your house? Do their vintage artwork and lack of all the necessary playing pieces spark some misty eyed nostalgia? I hope so.
Well friends, my Pedestrian Card says I’ve “created a disturbance and have been arrested.” So it’s off to Gaol for me. See you in 2 turns.
* Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1324790/park-and-shop-history-and-optional-rules