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Exploring Prejudices, Youth, and Straight Edge: A Call for Understanding

Wasted on the Young or is Ignorance Bliss

It was brought to my attention that one of my daughter’s best friends hates pickles. Despises them and wants nothing to do with them, ever. Normally that opinion wouldn’t mean shit to me. Who cares? I’m sure lots of people don’t like pickles. They’re sour, tart, salty, and full of dill and garlic. Maybe they’re an acquired taste, like olives. Or maybe it’s a certain type of pickles she hates. For example, my wife can’t stand sweet pickles like bread and butter, or warm pickles on her hamburgers. So be it.

Not this girl, though. She hates all pickles. Sweet ones, sour ones, big ones, small ones, crunchy ones, soft ones, all of them. What got me thinking about straight edge compared to her disdain for the crunchy cucumber preserved in brine was that she has never, ever, even once, tasted a pickle. Nope. Nada. Never. The entire concept repulses her, and she refuses to even sample one to confirm her displeasure. To me, that’s ludicrous! How do you know you don’t like something if you won’t even try it?

The Scent of “Stinky Tofu”

There’s a popular street vendor food in Taiwan whose direct translation to English becomes “stinky tofu”. On the surface, that sounds funny, until you smell it. It’s pungent and repulsive. It smells like sweaty, dirty gym socks sitting in a vat of rotting, dank cheese. It’s absolutely horrendous. Do you think I ever bothered to try it? Of course, I did! How can I know anything about this cringe-worthy smelling dish if I don’t at least give it a sample?

Just like a bunch of strong odor cheeses (sorry, vegans), the taste was delectable! Scrumptious, savory, mouth-wateringly perfect. If we are to ever judge anything without any experience with said item we would all be ignorant, judgmental jerks whose opinions are worthless.

The Dangers of Claiming Straight Edge at a Young Age

It was this concept that got me thinking about straight edge and the potential dangers, so to speak, of claiming it at a young age. Of course, Bane already thought about this with their song Wasted on the Young, long before my fingers began to click on this keyboard, but what ideas are original these days anyway? So, as I’m thinking about pickles, ignorant youth, straight edge at a young and inexperienced age, listening to The Note by Bane, I’m transported back to a simpler, more judgmental time in my life, known as my twenties. Cue, wavy, squiggly video transition, and…

The Twenties and the Coolness of Straight Edge

Here we are, the start of the new millennium. I’m young and dumb, full of piss and vinegar, know little to nothing but am quite convinced I know it all. I have several years of punk points and cred under my belt by now, and straight edge is the coolest thing since grunge died. I have just begun to step away from party favorites as I’m beginning to recognize the dangers and appeal to my fragile and still undeveloped mind. Although straight edge is what we call it when you go to shows and don’t indulge, I will vehemently deny any association with that term if anyone asks. This was back during the macho, tough guy, jock, crew mentality that dominated the straight edge scene.

Straight Edge in a Changing World

Straight edge and its’ popularity was kind of a running joke at this time. At least between me and the ones I associated with. I was living clean for my own reasons but had zero intentions of ever claiming true til death or taking an oath or getting an X tattoo. These were the kids we were laughing about. These were the kids that were buying into it with their entire life savings, x’ing up and shadow boxing their way across the dance floor until they didn’t. Suddenly, these same, passionate edge or nothin’ kids with the coolest X tattoos were at all the basement shows and after-parties the rest of us were at and they were drinking.

Walking around and mingling with a genuine beer in their hand and sitting in on pot sharing circles. When questioned, it was a simple shrug of the shoulders, a swig of their beer, and a discussion on what their cover-up tattoo is going to be. Young and inexperienced, rash and moody, angst-driven, and changing like the seasons. This sums up youth for most of us.

The Importance of Experience and Growth

Now, if I had taken my commitment to straight edge in my twenties more seriously, like it was a lifelong pledge, like I was part of a crew and an oath and got a tattoo, where would I be today? Judging by my experience and how I was feeling for the two years before I decided to start indulging again, I can safely say I would be miserable. I would be bitter, resentful, hostile, and angry with myself and everyone else.

I needed that experience of reckless abandonment, carefree lifestyle choices, comradery in poor decision making, and just a senseless chance to blow off steam and throw caution into the wind. Of course, it’s all stupid in hindsight, but I believe it’s absolutely necessary. That’s an integral part of growing up. Making poor decisions and learning from them. Learning from experience, not from reading a book, listening to your parents or following sound and good advice. Learn by fucking up.

The Journey of Self-Discovery

It’s too damn easy to stop doing something you never started. Where’s the glamour, commitment, and self-righteousness the rest of us have earned in an empty declaration? So, you’ve never smoked a cigarette, drank a shot, or puffed on a spliff, and you think this makes you better? This makes you inexperienced and naïve. It’s like me vowing to never drive a corvette or wear a thong again! Big fucking deal! How do you know what you’re missing or what others enjoy if you’ve never even tried it?

Does this mean that I think everyone who stakes a claim against smokes, drugs, and alcohol should at least have some experience with the substances before abstaining? Not exactly. But, it wouldn’t hurt. At least if they’re choosing restraint from the start, have the decency to admit that it’s a personal choice and don’t condemn or fault anyone else for their own experiences and choices. If an undeveloped mind of an easily influenced youth is drawn into straight edge for all the right or wrong reasons but deters from that path later on in life, make sure the road is still open for them to find their way back if they should choose to.

Reconsidering the Essence of Straight Edge

As I’ve been working through these thoughts, ideas, and opinions, it got me thinking about why any of us are drawn to or claim edge in the first place. It’s got to be more than hardcore and cool bands. It’s got to be more than going against the grain or simply being different from the rest. At the heart of it, I’m sure it’s rooted in making positive, healthy, personal choices for optimum growth and well-being. Now, if that’s the general consensus amongst the X’ed up, then where does sugar fit in? And how come no one’s talking about it?

Sugar, Straight Edge, and Health

Growing up in North America, I’ve been watching the rise of obesity reach epidemic proportions over the last two to three decades. This isn’t news to any of us. Documentaries, news stories, school lessons, articles, so on and so on, we’re all probably oversaturated with this awareness already, but the results aren’t going anywhere.

Excessive sugar consumption and empty, flour-dense carbohydrates are destroying our bodies in unprecedented numbers. Does anyone know a vegan straight edge who is in poor shape and health? I sure do. It seems to defeat the point in refraining from intoxicants if we neglect and poison our bodies in other ways. Especially if we have the audacity to ridicule or judge someone else for their less than ideal and unhealthy choices.

The Pleasure and Peril of Sugar

The result of high sugar and carbohydrate ingestion is increased serotonin levels and heightened dopamine response. In layman terms, it’s like a little high. It stimulates our body’s pleasure response system. Have you heard the expression “sugar junkie”? That’s not too far from the truth. So, where do a straight edgers’ vow to stay away from drugs start and the human beings’ actions end? In no way am I suggesting a militant, hardline approach to what it means to be straight edge. I’m not saying that we all need to refrain from any type of drug or stimulant including, caffeine, Tylenol for pain relief, sugar, or any other type of medicine or pharmaceutical in order to wear an X.

Being Human: A Call for Compassion

What I am suggesting is that maybe we need to concern ourselves less with what it means to be straight edge and more with what it means to be human. We are all going to struggle with something at some point in our lives. We are all going to slip and we are all going to fall.

Being a part of something as personal and intimate, bonding and building as a hardcore and punk scene, we should all have our hands extended to help others up if they do fall. Not just in the pit. And let’s all hope that someone will be there for us when we’ve fallen. It’s slippery out there and a hand up makes it that much easier to stand.

Moderation and Personal Choice

Drugs are bad, cigarettes are bad, booze is bad, but so is sugar, flour, and forgetting to blow out the candles. Any one of those things done in excess can have disastrous effects on us. But done in moderation, with understanding, experience, and caution, they can all be enjoyed without many repercussions. I would never want to deny anyone the bliss and simple pleasure of a piece of cake, a chunk of chocolate, a sweet and soft cookie, or a perfectly paired wine with their dinner. (Ask Ray Cappo)

If a youth changes their mind on their stance against anything at all, give them the room to grow, experience, fuck-up, and decide for themselves what they think is right and when. If they decide at a later point that they are indeed ready to take that oath and commitment seriously this time around, let them. Don’t discourage someone from being a part of something you and they love because of some petty disagreement on what it means to you. I’m a firm believer in trying anything twice. Once is never enough to know for sure.

Let’s be understanding, compassionate, helpful, and welcoming.

Don’t push, don’t judge, don’t condemn, and don’t be a bigot.

Be the person you want to meet, be the person you want to be around, be the person you know you’re going to need. Be human.

Eat a pickle.

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