What is Straight Edge? - Definition & Lifestyle

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  • 0:04 What Is Straight Edge?
  • 1:29 Mode of Expression
  • 2:35 Values and Purpose
  • 3:54 In Action (Music/Scene)
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Briana Marquardt-Hutto

Briana has experience teaching and tutoring students of a variety of educational levels ranging from kindergarten to college and has an MA in Applied sociology.

This lesson will cover the straight edge subculture, defining what it means to be straight edge by examining the values (like abstinence), motives, and actions of individuals who engage in the straight edge lifestyle. It will also address some variations in the subculture over time.

What Is Straight Edge?

Straight edge is a subculture, a lifestyle, a movement, and, for some, an identity. The term itself came from a Minor Threat song (Straight Edge) from the early 1980s, which decried the self-indulgent and nihilistic ways of the punk community at the time. It, and a few other songs with similar messages, provided the basis for what became 'straight edge'. The straight edge scene grew quickly within the U.S., peaking in the late 1980s and it soon spread to Canada and other cities across the world. While exact interpretations vary across locations, scenes, and individuals, there are some aspects of it which have remained stable over time and across the world.

No drinking, no drugs, no smoking, no casual sex - these are the primary tenets of the straight edge subculture. In general, it's centered around abstinence as a means of rebellion. Most would agree that to be considered straight edge, you must abstain from consuming alcohol and drugs, smoking cigarettes, and engaging in sex outside of caring relationships, but many 'edge' individuals choose to abstain from other substances as well. Some avoid caffeine and medicinal drugs and even more choose to be vegetarian or vegan. Fundamentally, they strive for clean-living and positivity and view alcohol, drugs, and sex as crutches for people to forget their unhappiness.

Mode of Expression

If you ever went to a club or bar (maybe for a concert) while you were underage, you may remember getting an X marked on your hand. Typically, it's a way for the employees of a place to identify people to whom they cannot serve alcohol. Straight edge people took this practice and made it their own. They began marking their hands with Xs to display their commitment to abstinence and the straight edge lifestyle.

While some people who are straight edge keep their lifestyle somewhat private, others proudly display signs and symbols to show they are straight edge. In addition to wearing Xs on their hands, some straight edge people wear clothes and accessories which contain phrases or symbols which espouse or represent the lifestyle, such as 'true till death', 'XXX', or 'only the strong'. They may also adorn their possessions and accessories, such as hats, backpacks, and skateboards, with representation. Some people even get related tattoos. In writing, they may refer to themselves as sXe, with the s and e referring to straight and edge, and the X being the primary symbolic representation of the movement.

Values and Purpose

Values have changed slightly over time and also differ between individuals, but choosing to be straight edge is making a commitment to clean living, positivity, and self-actualization. Other common values include a DIY (do-it-yourself) mentality, self-respect, vegetarianism (and animals' rights issues), and other socially progressive causes. Over the years, there have also been various offshoots, which combine other values into the mix, including Christian and Hare Krishna subgroups.

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