Here is an article written by a journalism major, Brittany Byron, who contacted me online and asked for my thoughts on being Straight Edge. This is the final piece, with excerpts of my written response used toward the end. I will be the first to say that I’m not an incredible authority when it comes to the history of Edge culture, however I have created a rapidly growing online community dedicated to student outreach and Straight Edge activism, and am always researching information and growing as a voice in this community. I will post what was my entire orignal response soon, but for now please enjoy this piece and spread it around wherever you can. I was given a copy of this article around 1/23/07. Thank you Brittany. For questions or comments regarding Straight Edge or anything else, email MikeOVideo@gmail.com
“It’s your typical Friday night at the fraternity house. Music blaring, crowds of people, kegs strewn about. Nearly everyone has a red cup in their hand, not-so-inconspicuously hiding the fact that orange juice isn’t their beverage of choice for the evening. As the night progresses more and more people start to feel the effects, and before you know it every person in the room is under the influence. Well, almost every person. While a member of the fraternity, Dustin Paulik is without a red cup in his hand, and plans to keep it that way.
Three years ago, Dustin made the decision to live his life “Straight Edge”: without the influence of drugs, alcohol or premarital sex. This decision may sound extreme, but it is a more common lifestyle among todays young people than you may think. Today there are an approximate 6,000 young people who call themselves “Straight Edge”.
However, while this may sound like a great way for young people to live their lives, Straight Edge-ers are often on the receiving end of some pretty harsh criticism and negative stereotyping by not only the media, but their peers as well. Straight Edge is a lifestyle closely associated with punk music, even getting its start from the 1980s punk rock band Minor Threat. During their time, the punk rock scene, like most rock and roll scenes, was filled with substance abuse and violence. As a response to what was going on, Ian MacKaye wrote the song “Straight Edge”, which speaks to his feelings that substance abuse was something he just didn’t need.
“I’m just a person like you/ But I’ve got better things to do/Than sit around and fuck my head/ Hang out with the living dead/ Snort white shit up my nose/ pass out at the shows/ I don’t even think about speed/ that’s something I just don’t need I’ve got the straight edge”. After hearing the song, many fans began to call themselves “Straight Edge”, abstaining from all drugs and alcohol. They even began identifying themselves using X symbols, which are what bouncers at shows would draw on the hand of anyone underage so they could not be served.
Today, punk rock and the X symbol are still two major factors of the Straight Edge lifestyle. And this is where a lot of the negative stereotyping comes into effect. Because many Straight Edge-ers are still avid punk rock fans, many incorporate other aspects of the genre into their lifestyle as well, such as clothing and hair choices. Often times this means dark clothing, piercings and either long or Mohawk style hair. Add some X’s either tattooed to their body or showing somewhere on their clothes and many people rushed to yell “Cult!”. This is just one of the many misconceptions Straight Edge-ers are eager to clear up.
When asked about the connotation of “cult” Dustin says it is one of the biggest misconceptions society has about the Straight Edge lifestyle. “People think that straight-edge is a cult or religion.” says Dustin. “The truth is, the lifestyle has nothing to do with religion. I am a firm Christian, and I do believe that straight-edge is used as a way to better myself and to be good to those around me. As far as it being a cult, you take on the straight-edge as an individual, not as a group.”
Growing up in Pittsburg, Dustin says drugs were a huge problem in his hometown.
“In my town, a lot of smuggling occurs and it is very common to see someone high or drunk. About 3 years ago, some of my closest friends became involved with drugs. I immediately thought to myself ‘Why do I need to poison my body with that crap?’ Over time, I developed a deep hatred for drugs and alcohol and determined that going straight-edge is the best move I could make.” Says Dustin.
While Straight Edge is an individual endeavor, the members of it have an uncommonly tight bond, and like to fell as if they work as a support system for one another.
“There’s such an emphasis on the connection between youth and the drug culture, that it’s nice to know that there is an alternative support system out there. At a time when a lot of young people are looking to belong, Straight Edge validates those that are strong enough to stray from getting caught up in destructive behavior. The beliefs are only one piece of it. The idea that there is a culture with its own history, and an active community that promotes healthy living and togetherness, is empowering.” Says Mike Phelan O’Toole, a 20-year-old Straight Edger from Massachusetts. Unlike Dustin, Mike had previously experimented with drugs and alcohol, but says he learned quickly they just weren’t for him. Once learning about the Straight Edge movement, he says the choice was simple.
Overall, Straight Edge isn’t about simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol. For those who embrace the culture, it is about embracing the decisions that are best for them, and being secure enough in themselves to make those decisions despite the cultural norm. Sometimes the red cups just aren’t for everyone, and Straight Edgers are okay with that.”
CREDIT: Brittany Byron