Monday, December 15, 2008

On The [Straight] Edge

I don't think anybody could call me 'straight edge' (or, symbolically, sXe), that phrase used to describe all them hardcore partying punks who don't drink, smoke, do drugs, have casual sex, and maybe, depending on who you ask, consume caffeine or modern medication. For one thing, I'm probably not really part of the hardcore punk scene. Okay, not at all. And secondly, I really like alcohol. Like, a lot. Yum. Ooh, I think I'll go pour myself a glass of wine and settle in to write this blog!

It's not that I have a problem with people living clean lives. I actually think it rocks, a lot. Alcohol, drugs, and mindless promiscuity all have their hand in creating serious problems in our nation. It can devastate lives. And let's face it- in a world where those are often the norm, people choosing to take the road less travelled is pretty inspiring. I like people who go against the grain. Abstaining in this way is just cool.

So why do I cringe when I hear it? It turns out that I have a lot of beefs with this subculture, and in fact, they have nothing to do with the murmurs that straight edge is a cult, that it's been connected in several cases to violence, arson, and even murder, or the enormous backlash against it, usually to the not-so-eloquent tune of "wussy faggots". Without further ado, a break-down of my criticisms, after the jump.

* "Moderation? What Moderation?"

Straight edge makes a big deal out of the dangers of drug and alcohol consumption as risky, self-damaging actions. Which is good; it needs to be pointed out. People need to bring attention to this phenomenon. Punk identity and the musical scene need to deal with the disturbing trends of blackout drinking and dangerous drug consumption. And therefore straight edge, with its pledge against all this, is great.

Except . . . where is the place for moderation? What ends up happening is that all of those hardcore folks who do engage in dangerous behavior laugh and mock our straight edge kiddies, said straight edge kiddies often get all snooty and self-righteous (though, to their credit, I will note that there's a strong and reassuring trend of straight edgers who stress the very opposite), and like with anything that is avoided completely, if the straight edge kiddies slip, they'll tend to fall hard. In our society, curiosity reigns king, particularly with those taboo things like sex and drugs. And the choices that greet the curious are either complete abstinence or going overboard. I'm not saying that straight edgers are stupid or weak for not engaging moderately in alcohol, drugs, or sex. Please. Some of us are cut out for these vices, and others, for whatever reason, were not made to do moderation. If you have the power to figure out that you can't cut it off at two drinks and therefore decide to abstain, more frickin' power to you. I don't have a problem with the choices the straight edgers make; I have a problem with the fact that the picture painted of the punk landscape by straight edgers is a cliff- you're either on the edge, having fun but safe, or you've crashed and burned by going over. In reality, isn't it far more likely to be a slope? There's the high level spot of pure safety, a little lower down where there may be a danger of slipping if you're not careful, and the bottom. But people who want to engage moderately are not addressed by anybody. Want to know a little bit more about how much alcohol is good for you to have a nice time but not become sick or seriously impair your judgement? What about figuring out how to safely hook up with a stranger, including navigating safe sex and not being robbed, raped, or murdered by a serial killer? What if you want to better understand your own personal limits for doing drugs safely, or not contracting diseases through dirty needles? Too bad. The straight edge movement has nothing for you.

* "At Least I'm Not Some Loser Druggie Slut!"

I've talked about it before in my other blog, "I Smoked Marijuana Once" . . . weed snobs. Or, in this case, snobs against any type of behavior non-sanctioned behavior. I'm getting tired of people's mindless separatism and using others to make themselves feel superior. It used to come from the people mocking those who didn't do drugs, alcohol, or casual sex, throwing names like "nerd" or even the old-fashioned "goody two-shoes". Now, as retaliation, it comes from the other side, as they smirk, brag about their pure, untainted bodies, crticize the mental health and decisions of those who do choose to indulge, and otherwise create this divide. It doesn't even have to be so outright as the above quote. Often, it's this smugness that translates through their words that seem kind on the outside, but have these hidden barbs as the straight edge individual sweetly flashes you a patronizing smile, condescenion dripping. "Of course everyone has the choice to live their lives like they want. It's just that I'd rather live healthy, you know, be a good person." It's just not impressive. You know what will really impress me? When people stop characterizing others in this ridiculously shallow way and stop stroking their egos by creating moralistic divides.

* "C'mon, Don't Be A Dork, Just Don't Do It!"

One term I hear bandied about in promotion of straight edge is "positive peer pressure", which, to me, seems like an oxymoron. It's like "positive racism". Peer pressure is not bad because your peers are egging you on to do bad things. In my mind, at least, peer pressure is bad because it's somebody else pressuring you. It robs you of your individual powers to think, to reason logically, to listen to yourself, to be independent, and to suffer the consequences or enjoy the rewards of your actions (not to mention that it's bad because your so-called friends don't respect your wishes and instead try to impose something on you). But of course the term 'positive peer pressure' is the key word for parents, who heave big sighs of relief and shell out money so that their sons and daughters can wear the sXe sweat shirts and go to the straight edge bands to rock out. I can almost hear them now. Thank God our children have peers who will pressure them to do healthy, safe things! That way, when our children inevitably meet people who are not so healthy and safe, they will be just as malleable to that similar pressure! Yay! Who knew raising kids and lemers was so similar? (Note: my obvious sarcasm may taste bitter to unaccustomed readers).

* "As I was saying, drugs are bad, m'kay. You shouldn't do drugs. If you do them, you are bad. Because drugs are bad, m'kay."

Casual sex, alcohol, and drugs are suddenly, wholely bad. Every time I hear somebody bad-mouthing alcohol, drugs, or sex as some sort of evils, I have to laugh. All three have such long, esteemed histories, not only in our own culture, but in the world. Alcohol has long been hailed as a part of social gatherings. Granted, it doesn't- and shouldn't- have to be imbibed to have a good time. Of course not. But it brings people together, acts as social lube, greasing the wheels of conversation. I have some of my best memories of occasions with alcohol . . . and I'm not talking about the times I've went overboard into stupidity (though those are fun to look back on, too, in a different way). It's a rite of passage, and you find it in all sorts of happy memories- that glass of champagne at your wedding, the buddy-bonding beer at the game, that first ushering into adulthood at 21 (or, more likely, the giddy feel of trespass earlier). And the same goes with casual sex- it's a common and rather natural occurrence in our society, a time-honored tradition. And yet there is still a surprising condemnation of casual sex. First it was the morality crowd, condemning casual sex as immoral, a sin against God. And then, when that wore out, the pscyhologist's side has come in- telling us these casual hookups are either the cause or the symptom of emotional disconnectedness, lack of self-esteem and worth, and self-destruction (in itself a blog I'd like to pen later). Nevermind that there are millions of young men and women who enjoy casual sex without any bad effects, and, in many cases, positive feelings. That doesn't fit in with our preconceptions. Straight edge is just another in the growing list of people who have no room for nuance in their discussions. Sex, drugs, and alcohol are harmful activities. Period. Anyone who does them, even with a great deal of forethought, discussion, and a healthy emotional outlook, are harming themselves. I'm sorry, but I'm just not buying it.

* "It's A Lifestyle, You Know!"

And lastly, the whole thing just feels kind of pathetic and purposeless to me. For those who are in the punk/hardcore scene and aren't straight edge, there is no marker. They do not wear shirts that proclaim that they don't drink, do drugs, or have casual sex. This is a province of the straight edgers, who seem to feel that their choices must be made public. Why does the drug/alcohol-free lifestyle have to be proclaimed at every turn? More importantly, why does it need a label? And, indeed, the fact that there is a label then leads to huge controversies- people fighting over the purity of the straight edge identity, and whether being vegan or getting a tattooo will invalidate your straight edginess. I guess that when I hear about straight edge, it kind of reminds me of those previously-blogged-about g0ys, a separate subculture that puts down and condemns the larger culture from which it branched in order to make its members feel cool and normal. Straight edge is less about the choices of the lifestyle and more about, again, fitting in and getting attention. It feels like banging on your chest and screaming "Look, look how wonderful I am! Look what I'm doing! I'm different! I'm rebellious! Ha ha!". Nothing about straight edge has a message of responsibility and common sense; instead, it's another fad. The minute you start proclaiming yourself straight edge, in my opinion, you've taken a step down, even if you haven't changed a bit of your action.

So that's it. For now, at least. It's been pretty interesting avoiding my final projects to troll around the internet as witness to the fight between the sXE crazies and the druggie crazies. In the end, I suppose it's a fight waged not in the mainstream world, but supposedly in the mosh pits of the punk scene. And yet it calls to me because so many of the pitfalls befall its system as do the mainstream system: nobody wants to think or allow for complexity. Black and white is much simpler, is it not? As is rejecting everyone not like you and justifying it in your mind. Whatever. Time for another glass of wine ;)

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