Special Issue: Straight edge culture

Categories:  News    Dry Campus, Wet Town
Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 at 8:08 PM
Special Issue: Straight edge culture  by Emma Giering
Contributed Photo

“I’m a person just like you, but I’ve got better got things to do than sit around and smoke dope,” screams Ian MacKaye, lead vocalist of the punk band Minor Threat. While contorting his body on stage to the band’s song “Straight Edge,” circa 1981, MacKaye contributed, and arguably set into motion a history that was just beginning to materialize — the straight edge movement.

In fact, you might have even bumped into an “edger,” at the last concert you went to. If you’ve ever been to a club, bar, or concert where particular individuals are running around with black “Xs” on the back of their hands, chances are they’re either too young to consume alcohol or they’re subscribing to a new lifestyle that’s gaining momentum called “straight edge.”

Being “straight edge” is a lifestyle choice where self-declared adherents limit the type of substances they allow themselves to consume. From a declaration to not drink alcohol, to prohibiting cigarettes and recreational drugs, individuals who subscribe to the straight-edge approach to life are interested in improving themselves through moderating what they allow to influence their minds and consequent decisions.

There is, however, a rather radical fringe of those who partake in the straight edge culture whose lifestyle includes abstaining from sexual activity, avoiding caffeine, embracing veganism and rejecting prescription medications. This more extreme subscription to straight edge doctrine seems less commonplace, and for that reason the article will focus more strongly on the former rather than the latter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, studies show alcohol abuse can lead to pancreatitis, liver cancer, high blood pressure, and chronic health problems. Not to mention drunk driving is one of the leading causes of death among young adults involved in car accidents. As far as drugs are concerned, a study conducted by University of Cincinnati psychologist Krista Medina in early 2010, showed the brains of college students are impacted by abuse of prescription drugs and from the chemicals contained in marijuana. Medina’s research shows that abuse of drugs and alcohol can massively affect a student’s verbal memory and ability to focus, not to mention long-term mental effects.

For many, adopting the straight edge lifestyle has allowed them to experience a form of catharsis from past transgressions or actions that may not have been in their best interest. It’s a “rebirth” of sorts that allows individuals who may be dissatisfied with the trajectory of their life to step back, assess their mistakes, and participate in a culture renouncing what that individual might feel tempted by, had they not a group or cultural niche to fall back on.

Jessica King is an Erie resident and teacher at the Charter School of Excellence in grades 9-12 by day. By night, she is a mother, musician, and runner. She also plays in an all-female punk band called Dysmorphia, and happens to have been a subscriber to the straightedge lifestyle for nine years. When I asked her about some of the benefits to this lifestyle she was happy to respond.

“I first was introduced to the straight edge lifestyle through the local music scene and going to shows. When I was a teenager, there was a big following of edge kids at shows and I had befriended a lot of them,” King said. “Before claiming edge, I had some friends who liked to drink and smoke. I tried drinking once when I was 16 and I really didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t like the feeling of not being in control of myself, so I figured I would wait to try again until I was legal. The more I thought about it though, the more I knew I was happier being sober. In high school, I had sports, and in college, I had my opportunities to get a job after graduation. [This] kept me motivated to not want to screw up my chances by doing something stupid. For me, being straight edge keeps my mind clear and focused, allowing me to always do my best, whether that concerns my music, running or relationships. Now that I have my daughter, I really want to be a good role model for her and teach her it’s okay to be different and not go with the crowd.”

But what if you do “go with the crowd” to your own detriment? That’s just what happened to a nontraditional student named Luke, a sophomore at Edinboro who reached out to me when I asked for feedback from members of the “edge” community on campus. Luke asked for his first and last name to be changed, citing “embarrassment” for the life he, at one point in time, led.

“In high school I used to steal beers from my neighbor’s garages and bring them to weekend parties with friends,” Luke told me over dinner. “Everyone thought I was this great kid who got good grades and respected everyone, but it was like I had this dark side. It was like all the good things I was doing withmy life needed to be balanced out by the bad.”

A successful athlete, Luke went to the Pennsylvania state championships his freshman and sophomore year of high school.

“I was a wrestler, doing really well. My coach thought I had a chance at placing in states for my junior year, he really pressured me in my training and keeping my grades up.” The stress of expectations weighed heavy on Luke, and other student athletes for that matter, who would cite issues with cutting weight.

Toward the end of Luke’s sophomore year he began to frequent parties. “I didn’t even really want to drink at first. I’d have a drink or two, but I wasn’t doing keg stands by any means,” he explained.

“The people at the parties all knew me there, so they would keep bringing out red Solo cup after red Solo cup. By early summer I really started to like the taste of beer, which was weird because at first I thought it was disgusting. The first time I got ‘blackout’ drunk, I knew I had stumbled onto something very dangerous.”

Sadly, drinking to the point of unconsciousness isn’t all that uncommon; it’s happening to both underage and of age youth. Aron White is a senior adviser to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse. His research suggests that at least half of young people who drink experience a blackout before they graduate college.

While experiencing a blackout, one could be doing just about anything, from something mundane like brushing their teeth to something much more risky like having sex. During a blackout the receptors within the brain are unable to transmit glutamate, a compound that carries signals between neurons. This in turn disrupts long term potentiation (LTP), a psychological process that’s believed to be associated with learning and memory.

Using the vomit-inducing blackouts to lose weight, Luke began to drink heavily and frequently, often using drugs recreationally to assuage his tormented conscience. It was during one of these mind-altering evenings that Luke got his girlfriend of several years pregnant.

“That’s when things came crashing down.” “I was originally going to wrestle for Edinboro, major in biology, move closer to my mother, and live a quiet life,” he said. “An unplanned pregnancy going in to your junior year really changes your plans.” Dropping out of school to work and support the child he had fathered, Luke put his education on the backburner. His titles and trophies became distant memories, relics to collect dust in his closet.

“The people who listen to my story always feel bad for me; they assume I lost everything worth living for, but in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Now a nontraditional student, Luke commutes to work and visits his daughter on the weekends. Though he and his girlfriend are now separated, they remain on speaking terms. Luke sometimes goes to watch the wrestling matches on campus in the spring. “It’s bittersweet,” he said, “but I’m finally starting to believe I’m where I need to be, and I couldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t put all my faith in the straight-edge agenda.”

Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com

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