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The Cultural Clash Of Johnny Damon

Amanda's mention of Johnny Damon reminds me of a Cultural Theory post I meant to make a while ago. Damon was a central figure in the Boston Red Sox' historic World Series victory a couple years ago, but he then signed with to the Sox' arch-rival, the New York Yankees. His switch has been greeted with great hostility (and the inevitable insulting T-shirts) by Red Sox fans. I think this incident provides a good example of how different cultures depend on each other.

The issue here is the clash between the Egalitarian culture of the fans and the Individualist culture of the teams. Sociologists and anthropologists have long pointed out that the experience of a group of dedicated fans -- even those who are strangers -- watching the game together produces the same kind of experience of shared identity as a religious service. Red Sox fans are an especially Egalitarian bunch, bonded together by the team's long and storied history and the shared oppression of the "curse." Damon's championship team added to the Egalitarianism with its scruffy grooming and declarations that they were just "a bunch of idiots." The key point here about Egalitarianism is its expectation of loyalty. Mmebers of an Egalitarian group -- whether fans or players -- have an obligation to stick with the group and work for the collective good.

But as Egalitarian as many of the fans are, the actual clubs work on an Individualist basis. Players, managers, and owners are all in it for the glory and the paycheck. Damon, or any other player, would feel little compunction about ditching the Sox if another team made him a better offer. When Damon revealed his Individualism, Sox fans -- who expected him to be an Egalitarian -- were outraged.

But for all the anger expressed over Damon's betrayal, in the long run the cultural clash is beneficial to the Egalitarian fan culture. Egalitarians face an important organizational dilemma, as they demand solidarity while refusing to enact coercive rules to enforce it. A key way that they keep the community spirit in place is by pointing to threats and betrayals from outside. A defection like Damon's reinvigorates the Egalitarianism of the fans.

On the other hand, the Individualism of the clubs relies on the Egalitarianism of the fans. From an Individualist point of view, putting so much time and money into watching a game is ridiculous. Luckily for them, Egalitarians have different values, and the community experience of shared fandom adds value to the hats and tickets and so forth that the Individualists are selling.


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