RONZONE: The cruelty of culture

 

 

Raquel Ronzone

In a world where TV commercials present alcohol as a mandatory step in gaining respect, where drugs provide all the thrills and none of the consequences for its users in films and where racy advertisements in magazines encourage status-raising hookups, the male straight edgers stand out.

Straight-edge lifestyles eschew the reliance on detrimental substances and meaningless sexual gratification as a means to earn respect from peers, to relax and to socialize. It is a resounding “no” to the mind-altering practices accepted or even expected from young people by other members of society.

Adherents to the straight edgers’ cause often begin this substance-free, sexually modest lifestyle in adolescence or young adulthood and maintain their commitment to mental and physical purity for the rest of their lives. Some extend their principles to animal rights, veganism, feminism and religious and political activism.

Their willful and definite abstinence from alcohol, drugs and sexual promiscuity has come to embody radicalism, however, as by today’s standards the straight-edge movement is decidedly countercultural and therefore outside what society deems appropriate and beneficial for its citizens. In theory and in practice, however, this active drive toward physical and mental purity is not radical but logical.

Make no mistake: the straight-edge lifestyle is one of the most positive, respectable and historically peaceful movements in international society. Yet violence has marred this lifestyle and created aggressive straight edgers.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, local authorities consider the entire straight-edge community a gang, pointing to the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Bernardo Repreza by 18-year-old straight edger Colin Reesor on Halloween, 1998. Deputy Brad Harmon of the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office called the country’s straight edgers “nothing more than suburban terrorists” during an interview with a correspondent of ABC’s “20/20.”

Ross Haenfler, an assistant professor of sociology at Ole Miss and author of “Straight Edge: Clean Living Youth, Hardcore Punk and Social Change,” reasons that such behaviors stem from a conflict of masculine identity.

“In many ways, [male straight edgers] are rejecting what it means to be a young man” in society, Haenfler writes. In doing so, they endanger their perceived masculinity, and so they reinforce their maleness “with physical intimidation and dominance.”

Haenfler’s explanation of straight-edge hostility’s source is plausible, as he does not attribute the problem only to those youth involved but implicates their environment as well. Rejecting society’s immoral definitions of masculine youth, straight edgers are left only the violent male stereotype with which to prove their masculinity. The world in which all straight edgers live is therefore culpable to an extent for the brutality that violent straight edgers use and must pre-emptively eliminate it, not just legally condemn its effects.

The definitions of culture and counterculture remain the same over time, but the specific factors that constitute each are contingent upon what is deemed appropriate and beneficial by society at various periods. By today’s standards, the straight-edge movement is decidedly countercultural, revealing so much about the norms of current society.

We as a society are partly to blame for Repreza’s murder. Our dependence on external objects instead of qualities within ourselves has created a generation with a lethally misguided mentality. A shift in societal values would eliminate the “hate edge,” the militant aspect of the straight-edge movement, that senselessly killed the teenage boy on Halloween. It would also render invalid the idea of straight edge as an exception to the rule.

Only when we take responsibility to end the myth that drinking alcohol, using drugs and having hookups are necessary steps towards social inclusion will the dependence on those actions relent. Only when young men and women feel confident, safe and accepted as themselves, their minds and bodies free from harmful substances and the unfavorable ramifications of empty sexual encounters, will straight-edge violence and the radicalness and underground status of straight edge cease.

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Raquel Ronzone is a freshman from Philadelphia, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected]