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Straight Edge Subculture: Hardcore Punk Music and Abstinence From Alcohol Research Paper

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Straight Edge is a subculture embedded on the hardcore punk music, which is characterized by strict abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and other frivolous drugs. According to Muggleton (2000) Straight Edge subculture emerged as a result of direct reaction to profligacy and sexual recreation in the late 1970s. The Straight Edge movement comprises of youthful people seeking more freedom, as shown by their tendency to engage in doing forbidden things.

As it has been observed, the Straight Edge subculture comprises of a way of life having its own ideologies, clothing fashion styles, music art, and literature (Haenfler, 2006). Diversity in religion is also explicit in the group’s members where some of them are followers of Christianity, while others follow the virtues of agnosticism. In Straight Edge subculture, music forms the realm of the group’s values as it is the fundamental basis of its ideology through the message conveyed through the lyrics.

As reported by Wood (2006) the Straight Edge cultural group plays hardcore punk-rock tunes, though they have gone through various periods of rigorous alliance with punk musicians. One of the predominant popular symbols of the cutting edge sub-cultural group is “X”, which is worn as a tattoo or made on their clothing (Wooden and Blazak, 2001). It is also important to note that, Straight Edge group members are considered gangs by law enforcers, despite the minority of the group being identified as being violent.

History of Straight Edge Subculture

Straight Edge subculture has its origin in the late 1970s, and was characterized by shouted vocals and lyrics. The adherences of the Straight Edge movement constituted of white middle working class adolescents associated with punk ideals like individualism and live-for-the-moment lifestyles (Haenfler, 2006). Straight Edge outlooks can be found in lyrics of early 1980s pop group Minor Threat, most unequivocally in their lyric ‘Straight Edge’.

The ‘Minor Threat’ band, which was led by singer Lan MacKaye, was the leader of the revolutionary music movement which advocated against drugs and sexual recreations. As noted by Wood (2006), the ultimate idea of the movement was evacuate drugs addition from the youthful society, and establish a strong basis for marriages where they advocated for abstinence from sex without love. The symbol “X’ was adopted by the group followers in the year 1985 when the group was reaching its extreme levels of hostility by the government.

The reason why the group was being fought was due to the high likelihood of war emergence between the Straight Edge followers and the entire members of the society who violated the ideas of the group (Williams, 2004). As a result, the entire sub-culture of Straight Edge has been considered as an illegal group, whose members are perceived as having potential threat to the peace in the society.

Early Straightedge pop groups in Washington DC were the Minor Threat, Teen Idles and State of Alert, which seemed to be homogeneous until late 1980s when some disparity started emerging within the subculture (Kaplan and Lööw, 2002). By early 1990s, the Straight Edge subculture had segregated into various levels, as opposed to the initial situation when Straight Edge group was homogeneous without disparities.

One of the levels of the straight edge constituted of the strict followers of Lan MacKaye’s imperatives which included zero tolerance to alcohol, and smoking of tobacco. The second level of the Straight Edge subculture was called ‘The H.C Straight Edge’ alias the Hard-Core group (Haenfler, 2006). These people were considered as activists of the straight edge group, as evidenced by their tendency to follow music scenes closely, especially those songs which advocated for anti-drugs.

The last level of Straight Edge subculture constituted of individuals who seemed less concerned on being strict followers of Straight Edge group, but their in their personal lifestyles they upheld the core values of the Straight Edge sub-culture (Wooden and Blazak, 2001). By the year 2000, very small number of revolutionary Straight Edge followers had remained. This decline in the radical behavior in the straight edge sub-culture can be associated with the lack of well established Straight Edge pop group leading the entire movement.

As a result, wide disparity in lyrics and musical lifestyles among straight edge bands was experienced by the end of the year 2000 (Kaplan and Lööw, 2002). Though the symbol ‘X’ remained outstanding among the followers of the Straight Edge subculture across all the levels, the entire group had experienced subsequent disintegrations by the year 2008. By analogy, hardcore punk pop-rock followers constituted of persistent touring of youths throughout the revolution of the Straight Edge subculture (Regoli et al, 2011).

The Major Activities of the Straight Edge Followers

The initial main activity which the followers of Straight Edge group engaged in was pop music with punk. Tattooing practices have been meticulously considered activity in the Straight Edge sub-culture, though very few followers of the group have been reported as being experts of tattooing practices (Williams, 2004).

It is important to note that, tattooing practice has predominantly been considered as a form of insolence in social situations like prisons among others. In this regard, the underlying perception of straight edge activists was that, they were dangerous groups like other rebellious subcultures like gangs and carnivals. By remaining inseparable from the hardcore music based on punk genres, the Straightedge subculture the Straight Edge pop group has largely impacted on the entire subculture (Haenfler, 2006).

Rather than engaging in hedonistic and physically destructive activities, Straight Edge followers adopted defiant groups like ‘original’ Punks, Skin Heads and Ravers among others. In order to promote their message of personal appeasement and control, Straight Edge followers associated themselves with tattooing practices (Wooden and Blazak, 2001). For instance, the Riot Grrls defiant group had all its members tattoo their hands with the subcultures mark of “X’ as a means to promote the message of personal pacification.

As a result, there have been in-house apprehension and debates about the authenticity of the Straight Edge sub-cultural beliefs and physical activities. The lifestyle upheld in the followers of the group seems questionable in the way they engage in various resistances. For example, Wood (2006) reports on how 31 Canadian followers of Straight Edge group resistance against tolerant corporal excess alerted the government since this action implied a sense of defiance.

Theoretical Framework Underpinning Straight Edge Subculture

Sociologically, defiance is a well-to-do drapery woven by litany of hypothetical and substantive outfits. Theorizing how corporeal activities like piercing can be carried out in the course of representing cultural dissension. Among the various sources of physical resistance, marginalization and racial stereotyping have been considered as the core foundations of the rise of defiance among youths (Regoli et al, 2011).

As reported by Wood (2003), one of the social theories explaining the development of Straight Edge defiant group is the social control theory. One of the assumptions of the social control theory is that, if an individual does not develop self-control early in life, he/she is not likely to be bonded psychologically to society. The actual source of defiance according to this theory is defective socialization within the individual.

In this regard, families and schools are important to ensure socialization and control of the young individuals so that they can embrace the social norm trends in the society (Williams, 2004). According to Muggleton (2000), theory of social control through social bonds is an individual-level theory, which focuses on social-psychological processes. This theory has found its significance in explaining the emergence of youth defiance as evidenced in the Straight Edge subculture.

With the youths adopting their own way of life, it is evident that the followers of the Straight Edge sub culture have deviated from the societal lifestyle trends. Kaplan and Lööw (2002) argued that as individuals develop, they form bonds to other members of society and institutions within society and that defiance is deterred by the threat of losing these bonds. Precisely, defiance behavior is said to occur when an individual’s bonds to society are weakened or get broken.

The key control variables acknowledged by McCrea (2007) in the social control theory are attachment (affection for others), commitment (one’s investment in the society), participation in conventional activities, and belief in the societal rules. Despite that figurational sociology has been largely under-utilized in the exposition of social conflict; Irwin (1999) has clearly pointed out how social dissent and defiance are closely related.

Precisely, the values of enlightened behavior are propagated within defense figurations of inter-reliant actors, and the overriding social regulations. By sidelining its values from the societal mainstream course of values, the Straight Edge subculture can be considered as being defiant. Though the group comprises of few violent individuals, the ultimate outlook of the entire group can be attributed to social resistance.

Society’s Response towards the Straightedge Subculture

Through focusing their messages at their relatives, sub-cultural peer groups, the conventional youth and the society at large, the Straight Edge subculture produced a multifaceted disagreement that individuals could adapt their own interests. One of the most fundamental movements in the subculture was the identification with cleanliness, where their positive living ended up in their resistance to societal norms (Helton and Staudenmeier, 2002).

While the followers of the subculture were largely involved in societal recreational projects, the government perceived such people as defiant and a potential threat to the internal peace. As a result, the law enforcers were extremely hard and strict on such groups whenever they were identified in various projects. Since this subculture was largely involved in fighting fir human rights, some members of the society ended up conforming to its customs (Haenfler, 2006).

However, the engagement of the group in resistance or disapproval of certain aspects of societal dominant culture and making of invisible ideologies visible aroused a lot of conflict between the society and the followers of the subculture.

By having illusionary tendencies, the Straight Edge movement contradicted its values in the way it advocated for anti-sexism, yet it had male-centered ideology (Haenfler, 2004). I thus suggest that, participation has actual penalties for the lives of its affiliates, other peer-groups, and perhaps the conventional society.

Conclusion Straight Edge subculture has been evidenced to be associated with some defiance in the way the members enforce their families, and peer members to customize to the groups values. Having its core activities embedded on music and tattooing, the sub-cultural group can be considered to be constructed on both personalized and collective basis.

The social control theory has been considered as one of the most accurate social theories that can be used to explain the existence of Straight Edge subculture. Though the group has been engaging in various recreational projects, the law enforcers has always perceived the entire group followers as being defiant in the way they seem to enforce the society to customize to their lifestyles.


Haenfler, R. (2004). Rethinking sub-cultural resistance: Core values of the Straight Edge Movement. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 33(4), p.406-436.

Haenfler, R. (2006). Straight Edge: Hardcore punk, clean living youth, and social change. Rutgers University: Rutgers University Press.

Helton, J. and Staudenmeier, W. (2002). Re-imagining being ‘straight’ in straightedge. Contemporary Drug Problems, Vol. 29 (2), p. 445-446.

Irwin, D. (1999). The Straight Edge subculture: Examining the youths’ drug-free way. Journal of Drug Issues, Vol. 29 (2), p. 365-380.

Kaplan, J. and Lööw, H. (2002). The cultic milieu: Oppositional subcultures in an age of globalization.

Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. McCrea, R. (2007). Out of step: Faces of Straight Edge subculture. Philadelphia: Empire Press.

Muggleton, D. (2000). Inside subculture: The postmodern meaning of style. Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers.

Regoli, R., Hewitt, J. and DeLisi, M. (2011). Delinquency in society: The essentials. New York: Jones & Bartlett Learning Publishers.

Williams, J. (2004). “Authentic identities: Straight Edge subculture, music and the internet,” in K. Odell (ed.), Contemporary readings in sociology, pp.25-34. Korgen California: Pine Forge Press, 2008.

Wood, T. (2003). The Straightedge youth sub-culture: Complexities of subculture identity. Journal of Youth Studies, Vol. 6 (1), p. 33–52.

Wood, T. (2006). Straight Edge youth: The complexity and contradictions of a subculture. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Wooden, W. and Blazak, R. (2001). Renegade kids, suburban outlaws: From youth culture to delinquency (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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