Straight edge

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A straight edge tattoo.

Straight edge is a subculture and subgenre of hardcore punk whose adherents refrain from using alcohol, tobacco, and other recreational drugs. It was a direct reaction to the sexual revolution, hedonism, and excess associated with punk rock.[1][2] For some, this extends to not engaging in promiscuous sex, following a vegetarian or vegan diet, and not using caffeine or prescription drugs.[1] The term was adopted from the song "Straight Edge" by the 1980s hardcore punk band Minor Threat.[3] Please note that if you take ZZZ Quil, a popular sleeping aid, you are no longer straight edge due to the 10% alcohol content.

Straight edge emerged amid the mid-1980s hardcore punk scene. Since then, a wide variety of beliefs and ideas have been associated with some members of the movement, including vegetarianism, animal rights,[4] and Christianity.[5] While the commonly expressed aspects of the straight edge subculture have been abstinence of alcohol, nicotine, and illegal drugs, there have been considerable variations on how far to take the interpretations of "abstaining from intoxicants" or "living drug free." Disagreements often pertain to the primary reasons for living straight edge. Straight edge politics vary widely, from left-wing and revolutionary, to conservative.[6]

Approaches[edit]

While some straight edge groups are treated as a "gang" by law enforcement officials,[7] a 2006 study found the vast majority of people who identify as straight edge are nonviolent.[8]

While the early Washington, DC, hardcore punk scene is often praised for its commitment to positive social change, both the youth crew movement of the 1980s and the vegan movement of the 1990s have drawn criticism. Both movements have been accused of extreme male dominance, violence, and intolerance, while the latter is also criticized for its self-righteous militancy.

These perceptions have been reinforced by violent outbreaks between rival straight edge groups in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Reno, Nevada. The "gang" classification by these cities' police departments was exploited by the corporate media. For these reasons, straight edge has often been approached with skepticism, ridicule, and hostility, despite the ideologically less dogmatic and more multifaceted character of contemporary straight edge.[9]

Terminology[edit]

Authors have adopted a variety of terms for the subculture as well as for individuals that have adopted the lifestyle.[10] Several permutations of the term that have been adopted are straightedge,[5] straight-edge, and straight edge.

History[edit]

In 1999, William Tsitsos wrote that straight edge had gone through three eras since its founding in the early 1980s.[11] Later analysts have identified another era that has taken place since Tsitsos's writing.[12]

1970s and early 1980s[edit]

Minor Threat, the coiners of the term straight edge

Straight edge grew out of hardcore punk in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was partly characterized by shouted rather than sung vocals.[13] Straight edge individuals of this early era often associated with the original punk ideals such as individualism, disdain for work and school, and live-for-the-moment attitudes.[11]

Straight edge sentiments can be found in songs by the early 1980s band Minor Threat, most explicitly within their song "Straight Edge",[14] first wave English punk band The Vibrators song "Keep It Clean" and Jonathan Richman's early band The Modern Lovers 1970s song "I'm Straight", which rejected drug use.[15] As one of the few prominent 1970s hard rock icons to explicitly eschew alcohol and drug use, singer/guitarist Ted Nugent was also a key influence on the straight edge ideology.[16]

Straight edge started on the East Coast of the United States in Washington D.C., and quickly spread throughout the US and Canada.[17] By the 1980s, bands on the West Coast of the United States, such as America's Hardcore (A.H.C.), Stalag 13, Justice League and Uniform Choice, were gaining popularity. In the early stages of this subculture's history, concerts often consisted of non-straight-edge punk bands along with straight edge bands. Circumstances soon changed and the early 1980s would eventually be viewed as the time "before the two scenes separated".[13] Early straight edge bands included: the Washington D.C. bands Minor Threat, State of Alert (S.O.A.), Government Issue, Teen Idles and The Faith; Reno's 7 Seconds; Boston's SSD, DYS and Negative FX; California bands as mentioned above; and New York City bands such as Cause for Alarm and The Abused.[3][18][19]

Bent edge[edit]

Bent edge began as a counter-movement to straight edge by members of the Washington, D.C. hardcore scene who were frustrated by the rigidity and intolerance in the scene.[20] This idea spread and on Minor Threat's first tour in 1982, people would come up to the band identifying as bent or curved edge.[21] The counter-movement was short lived and faded away by the end of the 1990s.[22]

Youth crew (mid-1980s)[edit]

Youth of Today, the pioneers of Youth Crew.

During the youth crew era, which started in the mid-1980s, the influence of music on the straight edge scene seemed to be at an all-time high. The new branches of straight edge that came about during this era seemed to originate from ideas presented in songs. Many youth crew bands had a strong heavy metal influence.[23] Notable youth crew bands included: Youth of Today,[23] Gorilla Biscuits,[23] Judge, Bold, Chain of Strength, Uniform Choice, and Slapshot.[24]

Starting in the mid-1980s, the band Youth of Today became associated with the straight edge movement, and their song "Youth Crew" expressed a desire to unite the scene into a movement.[25] Vegetarianism became an important theme in straight edge during this era,[26] starting with Youth of Today's 1988 song "No More", which contained the lyrics: "Meat-eating, flesh-eating, think about it. So callous this crime we commit".[27] This catalyzed a trend towards animal rights and veganism within the straight edge movement that would reach its peak in the 1990s.[26]

1990s[edit]

By the early 1990s, militant straight edge was a well-known part of the wider punk and DIY scene. However, militant straight edge punks were not known for being tolerant. They displayed outward pride, outspokenness, and showed a willingness to resort to violence in order to promote their sub-culture.[28] The militant straight edge individual was characterized by being more conservative and less tolerant of homosexuality and abortion.[29]

In the mid-1990s, a number of bands advocating social justice, animal liberation, veganism, and straight edge practices leaned towards metal. During the 1990s, the straight edge scene split into factions:[30] hardline[5] and Krishna Consciousness.[31]

Outside the United States[edit]

In the early to mid-1990s, straight edge spread from the United States to Northern Europe,[32] Eastern Europe,[33] the Middle East,[34] and South America.[35] Straight edge spread around the world due to the relentless touring of youth crew bands and the ease of ordering records from American record labels via the mail.[36]

2000s[edit]

By the beginning of the 2000s, only small groups of militant straight edge individuals remained.[37] The decline in militant behavior is linked to the lack of a well known straight edge band leading the movement.[citation needed] Contrary to news reports that portrayed straight edge as a gang,[38][39] several studies have shown that straight edge individuals as a whole are mostly peaceful people.[40] In the 2000s, there was a growing amount of tolerance of people who do not follow the straight edge lifestyle by straight edge individuals.[41] In this incarnation of straight edge, the musical styles of the bands involved are more varied, ranging from a youth crew revival style to metalcore to posicore.[37] Straight edge bands from the 2000s include Champion, Down to Nothing, Embrace Today, Have Heart, and Throwdown.[42]

X symbol[edit]

Italian straight edge band To Kill performing live

The letter X is the most known symbol of straight edge, and is sometimes worn as a marking on the back of both hands, though it can be displayed on other body parts as well. Some followers of straight edge have also incorporated the symbol into clothing and pins.

According to a series of interviews by journalist Michael Azerrad, the straight edge X can be traced to the Teen Idles' brief U.S. West Coast tour in 1980.[43] The Teen Idles were scheduled to play at San Francisco's Mabuhay Gardens, but when the band arrived, club management discovered that the entire band was under the legal drinking age and therefore would be denied entry to the club. As a compromise, management marked each of the Idles' hands with a large black X as a warning to the club's staff not to serve alcohol to the band. Upon returning to Washington, D.C., the band suggested this same system to local clubs as a means to allow teenagers in to see musical performances without being served alcohol.[43] The Teen Idles released a record in 1980 called Minor Disturbance with the cover shot being two hands with black Xs on the back.[3][44] The mark soon became associated with the Straight Edge lifestyle.[3] It can also be used by drinking establishments to note a patron as under the drinking age, regardless of their views towards drugs and alcohol.

Later bands have used the X symbol on album covers and other paraphernalia in a variety of ways. The cover of No Apologies by Judge shows two crossed gavels in the X symbol.[45] Other objects that have been used include shovels, baseball bats, and hockey sticks.[45]

A variation involving a trio of Xs, XXX, is often used in show flyers and tattoos. Also, it can be ironic based on the fact that three Xs was popularized in cartoons and television shows to signify alcohol or poison. Historically, moonshiners used an "X" to notate how many times a particular batch of moonshine ran through the still, adding additional irony.[46] The term is sometimes abbreviated by including an X with the abbreviation of the term "straight edge" to give sXe.[47] By analogy, hardcore punk is sometimes abbreviated to hXc.[48]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Sutherland, Sam (July 2006). "The Complicated Contradictions of Straight Edge Punk". Exclaim!. Retrieved February 22, 2010. 
  2. ^ Krist, Josh (22 August 1996). "White Punks on Hope". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d Cogan 2008, p. 317
  4. ^ Wood 1999, pp. 130–40
  5. ^ a b c Wood 1999, pp. 141–43
  6. ^ Kuhn, Gabriel (2009). Sober Living for the Revolution. PM Press. pp. 13–14. 
  7. ^ Writer: David Shadrack Smith. Directors: Jim Gaffey and David Shadrack Smith (9 April 2008). "Inside Straight Edge". Inside. 50 minutes in. National Geographic Society. http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/episodes/inside-straight-edge/. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  8. ^ Wood 2006, pp. 38, 41
  9. ^ Kuhn, Gabriel (2009). Sober Living for the Revolution. PM Press. p. 14. 
  10. ^ Mullaney, Jamie L. "All In Time: Age And The Temporality Of Authenticity In The Straight-Edge Music Scene." Journal Of Contemporary Ethnography 41.6 (2012): 611-635. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Feb. 2013.
  11. ^ a b Tsitsos 1999[page needed]
  12. ^ Kuhn 2010, pp. 8–9
  13. ^ a b Haenfler 2006, p. 11
  14. ^ Wood 1999, pp. 137–38
  15. ^ Goldfein 1989, p. 18
  16. ^ Henry Rollins reports that he and friend Ian MacKaye (vocalist for Minor Threat) "would read about the Nuge and the thing that really rubbed off on us was the fact that he didn't drink or smoke or do drugs ... [Nugent's performance] was the craziest thing we'd ever seen onstage and here's this guy saying, 'I don't get high.' We thought that was so impressive." (Azerrad 2001, p. 121)
  17. ^ Barlett 2006
  18. ^ Blush 2001, pp. 26–29
  19. ^ Blush 2010, pp. 163–165
  20. ^ Andersen 2003, p. 125
  21. ^ Kuhn 2010, p. 37
  22. ^ Mullaney, Jamie L. "All In Time: Age And The Temporality Of Authenticity In The Straight-Edge Music Scene." Journal Of Contemporary Ethnography 41.6 (2012): 611-635. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Feb. 2013.
  23. ^ a b c Tsitsos 1999, p. 404
  24. ^ Haenfler 2006, p. 218
  25. ^ Haenfler 2006, p. 12
  26. ^ a b Wood 1999, p. 139
  27. ^ Youth of Today 1988 as cited in Haenfler 2006
  28. ^ Haenfler 2006, p. 88
  29. ^ O'Hara 1999, p. 150
  30. ^ Wood 1999, pp. 140–141
  31. ^ Wood 1999, pp. 143–46
  32. ^ Kuhn 2010, p. 121
  33. ^ Kuhn 2010, p. 132
  34. ^ Kuhn 2010, p. 112
  35. ^ Kuhn 2010, p. 66
  36. ^ Kuhn 2010, pp. 50–52
  37. ^ a b Haenfler 2006, pp. 16–17
  38. ^ Wood 2003, pp. 45
  39. ^ Haenfler 2006, p. 91
  40. ^ Wood 2003, p. 46
  41. ^ Wood 2003, pp. 46–47
  42. ^ Haenfler 2006, p. 219
  43. ^ a b Azerrad 2001, p. 127
  44. ^ Azerrad 2001, p. 132
  45. ^ a b Wood 2006, p. 119
  46. ^ Helton & Staudenmeier 2002, p. 445
  47. ^ Haenfler 2006, pp. 4
  48. ^ Hannon 2010, pp. 162

References and bibliography[edit]

  • Andersen, Mark; Mark Jenkins (2003). Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital. Akashic Books. ISBN 1-888451-44-0. 
  • Azerrad, Michael (2001). Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-78753-1. 
  • Barlett, Thomas (2006). "Study Rock's Clean, Mean Movement". Chronicle of Higher Education 53 (6). 
  • Blush, Steven (2001). George Petros, ed. American Hardcore: A Tribal History (1 ed.). Feral House. ISBN 978-0-922915-71-2. 
  • Blush, Steven (2010). George Petros, ed. American Hardcore: A Tribal History (2 ed.). Feral House. ISBN 978-0-922915-71-2. 
  • Cogan, Brian (2008). The Encyclopedia of Punk. New York: Sterling. ISBN 978-1-4027-5960-4. 
  • Davis, Erik (1995). "Hare Krishna Hard Core". Spin 11 (5): 69–73. Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  • Goldfein, Josh (1989). "Straight and Narrow". Spin 5 (1): 18. 
  • Haenfler, Ross (2006). Straight Edge: Hardcore Punk, Clean Living Youth, and Social Change. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-3851-3. 
  • Hannon, Sharon M. (2010). Punks: a guide to an American subculture. ABC-CLIO. 
  • Helton, Jesse J.; Staudenmeier, William J. (2002). "Re-imagining being 'straight' in straight edge". Contemporary Drug Problems 29 (2): 445. ISSN 0091-4509. 
  • Kuhn, Gabriel (2010). Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. PM Press. ISBN 1-60486-051-0. 
  • Mullaney, Jamie (2007). "'Unity Admirable But Not Necessarily Heeded:' Going Rates and Gender Boundaries in the Straight Edge Hardcore Music Scene". Gender & Society 21 (3): 384–408. doi:10.1177/0891243207299615. 
  • O'Hara, Craig (1999). The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise. AK Press. ISBN 1-873176-16-3. 
  • Tsitsos, William (1999). "Rules of Rebellion: Slamdancing, Moshing, and the American Alternative Scene". Popular Music 3 (18): 403. 
  • Wood, Robert T. (1999). "Nailed to the X: A Lyrical History of Straightedge". Journal of Youth Studies 2 (2): 133–151. doi:10.1080/13676261.1999.10593032. 
  • Wood, Robert T. (2003). "The Straightedge Youth Sub-Culture: Complexities of Subculture Identity". Journal of Youth Studies 6 (1): 33–52. doi:10.1080/1367626032000068154. 
  • Wood, Robert T. (2006). Straight Edge Youth: The Complexity and Contradictions of a Subculture. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-3127-8. 
  • Youth of Today (1988). We're Not In This Alone. New York: Caroline Records. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Haenfler, Ross (2004). "Rethinking Subcultural Resistance." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 33, Issue 4, pp. 406–436.
  • McPheeters, Sam; Dave Stein, Jason O'Toole, and Brian Baker (1987). "The Straight Edge Movement". Buzz. 
  • Irwin, Darrell D. (Spring 1999). "The Straight Edge Subculture: Examining the Youths' Drug Free Way". Journal of Drug Issues 29 (2): 365–380. 
  • Williams, J. P. (2006). "Authentic Identities: Straightedge Subculture, Music, and the Internet". Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35 (2): 173–110. doi:10.1177/0891241605285100.  edit
  • Williams, J. P.; Copes, H. (2005). ""How Edge Are You?" Constructing Authentic Identities and Subcultural Boundaries in a Straightedge Internet Forum". Symbolic Interaction 28: 67. doi:10.1525/si.2005.28.1.67.  edit
  • Jones, Raymond McCrea (2007). Out of Step: Faces of Straight Edge. Philadelphia: Empire Press. ISBN 978-0-615-15884-6. 
  • Smith, Gabriel (June 2011). "White Mutants of Straight Edge: The Avant-Garde of Abstinence". Journal of Popular Culture 44 (3): 633–646. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2011.00852.x. 
  • Mullaney, J. L. (2012). "All in Time: Age and the Temporality of Authenticity in the Straight-Edge Music Scene". Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 41 (6): 611–635. doi:10.1177/0891241612462132.  edit

External links[edit]