Lexicon:Straight Edge

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Even after 20+ years since the name was coined, Straight Edge continues to be one of the most controversial sub-cultures and ideas that have been derived from Punk Rock.


What Is Straight Edge?

Well.... that's a tough one, son. It is open to different interpretations, and there are those out there that believe in two types of straight edge. The section below expands and explains in detail what those types are, but for the easiest way to answer the question, your Straight Edge friend might go out to the bar with you, but isn't going to smoke or drink with you while you all are there. Get over it, be a friend, and stop trying to pressure them into being like you.

What's with all the Xs? Do you all really like Porn?

DC Hardcore

Uh, no. As misleading as the multitudes of XXX billboards for Adult "novelty" stores may be, Straight Edge's adoption of the roman character X has nothing to do with porn. The generally accepted reason for the X to be symbolic of straight edge has to do with the practice of bar bouncers/door attendants marking underage people with an X to show the bartender that they were not old enough to drink. In the early days of punk rock (and sometimes now as well), the only place to have shows was in bars, which sometimes did not close the bar section (although now, because of stricter liquor laws, this isn't as common), this was the method chosen instead of checking the ID of everyone who came up to the bar.

Straight Edge kids took this symbol as a mark of pride, instead of a mark denying them something. They started wearing it outside of bars/shows, and thus the symbol was born. The first recorded image of the X being used in relation to Straight Edge was on the cover of the Teen Idles' 1980 7" entitled A Minor Disturbance.

Do Straight Edgers beat up non-Straight Edgers?

Just like any sub-culture, there are going to be total fools that miss the entire point of what the sub-culture is about. These people have no heart, conviction, or honor (yet sing along to the atrocious amount of SxE hardcore songs about those subjects), and are only trying to prove how "cool" and "hip" they are. You should discount these people completely (or take the high road and try to educate them, which is VERY preferrable, but harder), whether you are Straight Edge or not. They will not stick with it.

There have been reports of "straight edge gangs" such as Monster Crew in Salt Lake City roaming about picking on people, but this is far from the norm. Monster Crew was responsible for pipe bombings of McDonalds and other places in Salt Lake, as well as a violent attack where a large X was cut into a guy's back with a beer bottle. However, these incidents are about the only cases of anything like this happening, and 99% of what you hear is fabricated rumor (especially in regards to the Midwest's Courage Crew). So don't trust it.

Why does so much I read on message boards about Straight Edge seem negative?

It has been proven over and over again, that 99% of all message board threads about Straight Edge are the opposite of intelligent. While there may be a few posts that stand out and have something well thought out to say, the majority will contain knee-jerk reactions from Straight Edge and non-Straight Edge people alike. The wisest course of action is to avoid these topics at all cost if you are the message-board type.

Different Kinds of Straight Edge?

This is going to be the most controversial part of this whole section by far...

Most people consider there to be one kind of Straight Edge. This one kind is drasticly different than what the idea was in the beginning (as all ideas are). So I have broken this down into two sections, or the two theories/ideologies behind Straight Edge. The first is the most common, well known type which I will call the "3 Rules". The second, I will just simply not call it by anything but Straight Edge.

The 3 Rules.

Simply put, the 3 rules idea of Straight Edge is focused almost solely and squarely upon 3 things that are mentioned in the song "Out Of Step" by the late, great Washington DC hardcore band Minor Threat. The three rules are as follows:

    1. Don't Smoke. This is talking about cigarettes, but logically flows to related things like cigars, chewing tobacco, etc... and expands greatly from tobacco products to any kind of drug. The extent is constantly debated, ie. can a straight edger drink coffee?
    2. Don't drink. Focusing on alcohol (of course, no one is going to swear off water) due to the high focus on alcohol not only as a rite of passage from childhood, but as a social interaction device throughout life and a frequent target of peer pressure.
    3. Don't Fuck. When this is being explained, it frequently comes up to translate as "No promiscuous sex", as opposed to total abstinence.

While the intentions of the band were not as such, many people took the words to the song to heart and formulated a way of living fashioned around (at least partially) denying themselves things such as smoking, fucking (in extreme examples), or alcoholic beverage. In fact, a second version of Out Of Step was recorded late in Minor Threat's existence where in the "breakdown", singer Ian McKaye says

"I'm not telling you what to do. I'm just thinking of like... 3 things that are so important to the  
whole world... that i don't find much importance in... whether it's fucking... or whether it's   
playing golf... none of that, i feel .. I can't keep up, I can't keep up, i can't keep up.. Out Of 
Step, with the world." 

However, as stated above, the 3 rules came to define what "straight edge" was , as the damage had already been done. Before the second version of Out Of Step was produced, Boston's SSD (Society System Decontrol) had taken the 3 rules to heart (especially guitarist Al Barrille... commonly thought of as the first "militant straight edger"). SSD was instrumental in taking Straight Edge farther than Minor Threat and making it into a national movement* of youths rebelling against the pressures of western culture, manifested in promiscuous sex, booze, and addictions such as smoking.

Another perspective on the edge

While the "3 Rules" version is what well... everyone thinks of when they hear straight edge (and those that don't seem to think it's some kind of gang thing), have you ever stopped to think about why say... the originators of Straight Edge think it's a horrible thing? It's because, by many accounts, Straight Edge was not in the beginning what it is now. There were no rules.. no restrictions... no living your life through a statement of negatives.

From a Minor Threat interview in Touch & Go zine:
   "Ian: Like Straight Edge, people have taken it to an extreme...as far 
   as i'm concerned all we did was put out an idea... if people wanna 
   hear it as preaching if that's what they want.  Straight edge to me
   is someone who is alert enough to benefit from what he or she is 
   "Lyle: the drug and alcohol is only one side of it anyway, it's alot
   more than that, there are other things that can sidetrack you...
   "Ian: That's what "don't Fuck" means... alot of people think that to 
   be straight edge you can't drink, smoke, or have sex and that's 
   silly... what the don't fuck thing is that the whole getting laid 
   and getting head thing 
   "Lyle: living for sex
   "Ian: following your penis around is fucking people up more than 

As shown by this Minor Threat interview from shortly before the band broke up, they were already starting to feel quite unsettled at this monster they had created. They meant to find something to better themselves by and make themselves feel positive in a culture/world of obsession over intoxication/sex/what have you. Moderation was more of the "rule". Not letting any one thing - be it booze, "pussy", "dick", coke, skateboarding, music, or STRAIGHT EDGE, rule your life. Thinking about it - what better way to enjoy all the various things in the world than not putting a majority of your focus on one little sub-culture or product?
While maybe not as developed as this "article" might seem to make it, the ideas of the early Straight Edge "movement" seem by all accounts to more follow this than any "3 rules ideology".
In this version of straight edge, it is completely inconcievable that people would be beat up or disowned for "selling out". Which, in this version, wouldn't be drinking a beer on occasion, smoking a clove cigarette once, it would have to be truly selling yourself out, changing who you are to make a buck or fit in with a "cooler" crowd, no longer following your heart, your dreams, and pursuing your own personal passions. If that happened, the person was disowning you, and it wasn't worth worring about. Maybe some day the legions of straight edge bands dedicating their songs to "sell outs" will come to the same conclusion - that it doesn't matter. Maybe not.

Straight Edge as a "Movement"

With years of being called a movement, tons of lyrics/fanzine pages dedicated to the topic, and a By The Grace Of God album adorned with "Straight Edge is a Non Violent Movement", the idea of Straight Edge kids around the word united by one strong cause has become a common one.

Thanks to Dictionary.com's word lookup service (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=Movement), we see that the most common usage of "Movement" in regards to Straight Edge is #3-B "# An organized effort by supporters of a common goal: a leader of the labor movement.". Now ask yourself for a moment... towards what common goal are Straight Edge people working towards? Seeing as there are no meetings about it, one would have to assume that they would possibly be working towards the eradication of illegal drugs in our communities/cities/countries. As a person who has been involved in Straight Edge for over 8 years, I can definitely say that is a flawed assumption. In fact, there are many different stances, with some people favoring a return to the Prohibition of the 1920s. Others favor a continuation of the Regan-era "War on Drugs", which the CIA has not only had a part in perpetuating through inner-city drug trade, but admits that the war is "being lost". Still other people who sport an "X" on their hand or clothing favor a relaxation of federal, state, and municipal drug laws in favor of the money moving from court costs and incarceration to one-on-one rehabilitation programs.
Think that's it? Wrong.
There are still other people out there with other opinions on the matter. Anarchists that are straight edge who want an immediate stop to the US "Drug War" and all similar programs across the world in addition to the capitalist trades that allow such wars. People who want drugs legalized, but do not partake in any themselves. There are hundreds, if not thousands of other viewpoints on the subject within the boundaries of people who live by a "straight edge" lifestyle.
Can a "movement" really be made up of such disparate parts? Can a movement towards a common goal be founded on only negations ("I will not do this..." "I will not do that...") instead of a baseline goal set out as "We are all in argreement to work towards goal "A""? These are questions that many might struggle with, but until there is a mass agreement on some sort of goal such as eliminating marijuana and alcoholic beverages, there can be no "movement" except as definied by #4.. A tendency or trend...".
The "trend" in this case would be a reference to a statement such as the following... "Out of people who closely follow music derived from the early 1980s punk/hardcore music scene, there is a tendency to associate ones self loosely with the ideals of the time, mainly Straight Edge."
If this is the way in which bands and kids want to describe themselves, and their friends who also claim the same label, this can be the only kind of "movement" that can describe them at current time.

"Pro"-SxE External Links:

Definitely anti-Straight Edge links:

Louisville Straight Edge stuff




  • Louisville Straight Edge t-shirt (2004) Front