Many moons ago, the Colosse Spiders basketball team was aching for a new basketball arena. Around the same time the NHL was looking to expand. So the proposed basketball arena was also set to double as a hockey arena. This was meant to up the value to sell it to the public that would have to vote on it, but in some ways it hurt the referendum more than it helped.

There were two prospective owners for the NHL team we were trying to get. The first was Stephen Goldberg, the Jewish New York implant that owned the Colosse Spiders. The second was Miles Carpenter, the owner of the local power company and the minor league hockey Colosse Crushers. Since the new arena was primarily for basketball, Goldberg was in the driver’s seat in the referendum.

Asking that voters pay for a new basketball arena apparently wasn’t enough for Goldberg. He also wanted full ownership rights to the stadium even before the voters had finished paying it off. He wanted to be able to personally pocket naming rights, advertising, revenue from other events held there, and even street parking surrounding it. The big thing, though, is that in exchange for the voters building him a new arena, he wanted it written down that any NHL team that came to Colosse would be his. Essentially, he wanted to freeze Carpenter out.

Carpenter, needless to say, didn’t like this one bit. So while Goldberg, the city Chamber of Commerce, and the city government tried to sell the arena, Carpenter was one of only a couple major figures against it. Radio talk show hosts supplied the ground troops of the opposition, but Carpenter supplied almost all of the funding.

Colosse was the only city of twelve voting that actually had a team threatening to move to reject a stadium/arena referendum. That didn’t hold Goldberg and the Spiders machine back. They vowed to keep putting it on the ballot until it passed. What’s really interesting about it, though, is what happened to Carpenter.

Carpenter was a bazillionaire. He was the owner of the local utility company. He was buying companies left and right. He thought himself to be somewhat untouchable. He was wrong. Carpenter was shunned by the business community. He and (more importantly) his wife were shut out of all marquee social events. The influence he’d used to get his oldest kid into the prestigious University of Colosse was no longer effective as his daughter’s admission was denied even though she had a better academic profile than did the son who got in. His utility company was kicked out of the Chamber of Commerce on a technicality.

As far as I know, nothing he did cost him any money. You can’t boycott the power company, after all. But it was apparently more than he could bear. Two years later, they held another referendum. It wasn’t quite as skewed in favor of Goldberg, though he still got dibs on the hockey team. Carpenter campaigned for the second referendum, it passed, and he was suddenly no longer socially toxic.

I think of the story of Miles Carpenter whenever the subject of peer pressure comes up. Carpenter had it all, but in the end signed on to a deal that denied him one of his dreams simply because it wasn’t worth having it all if no one you cared about liked or respected you. He gave up the millions he would have gotten from the hockey team in exchange for a little social detoxification.

When I was in junior high I started hanging around with a kid that lived around the block with an unsavory reputation. My folks, for the first time ever, prohibited me from playing with him. They thought he was trouble and even at the time I couldn’t disagree. But I loudly declared that just because he does bad things didn’t mean that I would. Didn’t they trust me? They just didn’t understand, which is the last rhetorical refuge for a kid without a valid argument to make.

I first started noticing in high school that it did seem to matter a great deal who you hung out with. Some guys that I was friends with in junior high started hanging out with the wannabee gangbangers. Once they were the smart kids in the regular class like me, but I doubt half of them ultimately graduated from high school. Others started hanging out with “South will rise again” racists. Ditto for that.

Granted, in many cases there were likely other things going on that drove these kids to these groups, though they usuallywere the I-don’t-have-friends sort of problem rather than the I-was-born-a-bad-apple variety. I first smoked pot because I was around kids smoking pot. I taught myself to learn how to like beer because I was around drinkers. These things weren’t the end of me, obviously, but they’re things I would have been much, much less likely to do otherwise.

Much of what I’m saying here will be obvious to a lot of you. What I find most interest about it is how soooo unobvious it was back when I was young. How silly it was. How stupid old people were for believing it. It just didn’t make any sense.

Then I think of Miles Carpenter. If a rich millionaire can’t stand up to the pressure of his social environment, a pimply kid hasn’t got a prayer.

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7 Responses to Under (Peer) Presha

  1. Peter says:

    It’s hard to have much sympathy for a super-wealthy guy, but in one major respect Miles Carpenter was in a tougher position than a high school kid who finds himself hanging out with the wrong crowd. The high school kid may be able to avoid negative peer pressure by finding a more respectable group of friends, easier said than done of course, but nonetheless possible with enough effort. Miles Carpenter couldn’t find another top-level business/social set because almost by definition there’s only one such group in any community. His only choices were to cave into peer pressure and stop opposing the arena plan, or be a social outcast. Not much of a choice.

  2. trumwill says:

    There are all sorts of social systems in Colosse. Certainly many more than there are in any high school. Carpenter was seeking out the approval of a specific group: the elite. He could have done the equivalent of the rejected nerd and found likeminded group of band geeks to hang out with. Not going to parties and whatnot may have hurt his bottom line, but no more than it was likely hurt by taking a pass on a professional sports team.

  3. Spungen says:

    The old people are right, but they put the cart before the horse. One doesn’t usually have much choice with whom one hangs out. It’s probably not like the White Power kids were shunning the honor students and tearing up their party invitations, right?

    And the trouble one gets into by hanging with the “wrong” crowd might still be better than what happens when you have no crowd at all.

    Smoking pot did, in fact, help me gain some social acceptance in college. It was a common thing to do among journalism majors. Whether I smoked pot or not, most people around me were going to be pot smokers, so I had the choice of fitting in or not.

  4. trumwill says:

    It depends on the social environment, to an extent. The ones I’m thinking of were (prior to hanging around with the “wrong kids”) third-quartile sorts. Less than average popularity, but not completely bereft of options. The fourth-quartile sorts often had trouble even among the worst of kids finding people to hang out with.

    This is all dependent on a social environment with enough people that there are enough third-quartile types that aren’t looking to advance to form their own social support group.

  5. Spungen says:

    So why do you suppose they chose those bad groups? Was it pride (desire to rebel if they couldn’t fit in) or maybe some insidious, exploitive recruitment technique, like cults use?

    Your post reminds me a little bit of a David Sedaris story. I don’t remember which book it was. Sedaris in his early 20s hung around with a bunch of avant-garde types. He got his own show. They were jealous, so they shunned him until he debased himself to the group for “selling out.”

    It’s not the best analogy, because Carpenter wasn’t at all marginal, except in terms of being wealthy and highly successful. And Sedaris didn’t forego the show, he just acepted some undeserved lumps for doing it. But in both cases, one can picture people saying, “So who cares what they think, if you’re successful?”

  6. Spungen says:

    As an aside, you mentioned pimply kids. Are there really still pimply kids, or have Acutane and other advances pretty much wiped out acne as a serious teenage problem?

  7. trumwill says:

    I wasn’t there, so I don’t know, but I’d guess that the advantages of hanging out with those kids were more obvious than the disadvantages. That’s pretty much the same reason that kids do all the stupid things that they do, I suppose :). Though the people I’m thinking about weren’t socially desperate, they didn’t have as many friends as they wanted (who does?) and when reaching out made the wrong friends. There was likely other things going on in their minds or their families, as well, that made the misbehavior of their new friends less unappealing

    The neoconfederates that I knew got there by way of the JROTC, which had a racist subculture within it. Some started hanging out with the neos and then joined the ROTC, some joined the ROTC and then made friends with them. Some left the ROTC and stayed friends with them. A lot of the racists were general troublemakers and were kicked out of the ROTC so there was sort of a revolving door. But most ROTC people I knew had nothing to do with any of that and didn’t complain about the social pressures of it, though on the other hand the deeper they were involved with ROTC the less likely I was to continue to know them, so I’m not sure how strong the pull was within ROTC.

    The punks and thugs got their by way of abject youth rebellion, I’d guess. They felt that society had it in for them and started hanging around other people who thought the same. What was initially typical youth angst became something more with criminal records while other angsty youths like myself steered clear of all that.

    One thing that you could probably appreciate was that it was mostly kids I knew from junior high that were most susceptible and I went to the poor junior high. Maybe they had more to rebel against, maybe they were really on the wrong track all along and I couldn’t see it, or maybe their counterparts at the other (wealthy) middle school were already too far gone for me to become friends with and so I simply assumed that they were never at all like me. Some combination of the above, though despite my JHS being smaller than the one(s) we merged with most of the bad kids from high school were from my junior high school.

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