“Inside Straight Edge”
Wednesday, April 9, 10 p.m.
Thursday, April 10, 1 a.m.
Sunday, April 13, 4 p.m.
National Geographic Channel
“Inside Straight Edge” is one of those investigative reports that begins with a question — only to conclude that there’s no easy answer.
In this case, the question is: Is Straight Edge a safe refuge or a militant subculture that feels justified in committing violence to disseminate its beliefs? And actually, the producers of this hour-long documentary do come up with an answer: It’s complicated.
Straight Edge, a teen and 20-something lifestyle that eschews drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and (usually) premarital sex, provides a common bond for kids who don’t want to be the only “straight” one in the crowd. It’s described here as “a brotherhood of outsiders” who live a “posi” — that is, positive — lifestyle.
Seems like a good idea, right?
But Straight Edge also creates a group-think mentality that has led to violent behavior. Police in some cities treat these militant Straight Edge kids as just another street gang and, as we see here, they do have ample reason to worry.
So Straight Edge turns out to be whatever kids want to make of it. But whatever it is, it’s certainly worth knowing about — and that’s what makes this show worthwhile.
The Straight Edge movement has been around since the 1980s; its name comes from a line in a song by the hardcore punk band Minor Threat. (In Indianapolis, the movement originally seemed to center around the local band Split Lip in the early 1990s.) Unless you travel in youth circles, you don’t hear a lot about Straight Edge, but you don’t have to look far to find it. There’s a Facebook group called “A Straight-Edge Life is a Happy Life,” and another called “Oh, You’re Straight Edge? I’ll Drink to That.” The WWE even has a Straight Edge wrestler named CM Punk.
“Inside Straight Edge” shows the state of the movement in three cities: Boston, Salt Lake City and Reno, Nev. Along the way, we meet people like Elgin James, a Bostonian who rejected his ’60s activist parents and their pot-smoking ways in favor of robbing drug dealers and spreading around their money to help others. The producers also talk to Jeremy Nelson, who gave up Straight Edge and became a Salt Lake City police officer who tracks gang activity.
The show is a little heavy-handed on the negatives — we see much more of the hardcore music and violent dancing than we do of average Straight Edge kids — but then, people don’t usually turn on the TV so they can watch other people standing around NOT doing things.
Sonic Youth singer/guitarist Thurston Moore narrates “Inside Straight Edge,” which gives the report a little extra street credibility as well as a rich, authoritative voice out front. Moore ends the show by talking about the future of Straight Edge and whether it will be “just another problem, or be part of the solution for kids facing an already challenging world.”
He doesn’t have an answer. But it’s certainly an issue worth raising.