Students of Blair's Straight Edge Coalition choose a lifestyle without drugs and alcohol
Dressed in a black T-shirt, baggy shorts and beat-up shoes, senior Jack Samuel could be an average garage rocker. But Samuel's hands, adorned with black, permanent marker Xs, distinguish him from other teens. Samuel is part of Blair's growing "straight edge" movement, a group of teens unified in their rejection of drugs, alcohol and promiscuous sex.
In addition to this commitment, teens who take on the straight edge adopt the history and unity of the straight edge lifestyle.
The straight edge subculture is an offshoot of hardcore culture, a suburban, white, music-based movement born in the late 70s. Like hardcore, straight edge started with the music. Ian Mackaye was the frontman for Minor Threat, a hardcore band that formed in 1980 in Washington, D.C. Mackaye coined the term in his cult classic song "Straight Edge," which glorified a "pure" life, free from drugs and alcohol. Mackaye sings, "I don't even think about speed/That's something I just don't need." Straight edgers show their solidarity by drawing black Xs on their hands, mimicking the common practice for clubs to mark underage patrons (who are not allowed to drink).
Straight edge Blair students like Catt Edgely, founder of the Straight Edge Coalition, share the conviction that people don't need drugs and alcohol to have fun. The decision to live straight edge is a personal one, according to Edgely. "Everyone has their reasons. Some people have parents who had trouble with alcohol. For me, it was my friends," says Edgely. After one of her friends passed out and was raped the first time she got high, Edgely says she had to rethink her ambivalent attitude towards drugs and alcohol.
Senior Ian Shiver says choosing to live straight edge can define a person's social situation. "It's depressing and lonely to watch your friends who used to be straight edge start drinking and doing drugs," he says. Many people give up the edge when they turn 21, says senior Jake Winfield.
Those who plan on ever drinking are not considered straight edge. "If you're not still strong, you never were," Samuel and Shiver say together.
However, the straight edge population has become inevitably limited to teenagers. Shiver and Samuel, both now 17, say they and about 15 of their friends started listening to hardcore and going to straight edge shows when they were 14 years old.
Since then, Shiver has watched many straight edge venues close. "It wasn't hard to be straight edge because there was a much bigger scene back then," says Shiver. As the scene diminished, so did their crew of friends. Now, Shiver and Samuel are part of a straight edge band called "Still Strong," which features the driving beats typical of hardcore music.
While Shiver and Samuel have a group of friends that are straight edge, Edgely says she has to deal with her friends' decisions to drink and smoke . "I don't want to hang out with people when they get drunk. I lose respect for them in that state," says Edgely. When peer pressure gets intense, Edgely finds that her best alternative is to leave. But some straight edgers are more militant in their beliefs.
An eighties straight edge band called "Judge" wrote the lyrics, "The drugs are going to kill you, if I don't get to you first." The straight edge movement has caused several troubling outbreaks of violence in Salt Lake City, where in 1999 straight edge teen Andrew Moench allegedly murdered a 15-year-old boy for disrespecting his beliefs. According to Winfield, violence mostly occurs in the west where straight edge gangs are "looking for trouble."
Edgely, Shiver, Samuel and Winfield all maintain that the vast majority of straight edgers are peaceful and resent the so-called "hate edge." "Any belief system can make people violent because they feel like they need to stand up for what they believe in," Edgely says, "but straight edge should revolve around a personal standpoint."
Extreme straight edge pride causes some teens to become annoyed with the movement's destruction and elitism, according to Winfield. "People get a bad vibe from it because all they hear about is the violence and the hating," says Winfield.
Shiver says he gets completely different reactions when he tells people he's straight edge. "I get excuses
from people all the time for drinking. The only person you need to justify it to is yourself," he says.
While the straight edge movement is now a worldwide phenomenon, it is, above all, a personal accomplishment. True straight edgers, says Winfield, know it's about personal strength rather than conformity. Says Samuel, "Ian Mackaye didn't make me who I am. I was straight edge before I knew what straight edge was."
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