The Column With No Name #2: CM Punk is Straight Edge. You’re not.

CM Punk is Straight Edge. And so am I.

You’d think that would automatically make me a fan. But it doesn’t. Which isn’t to say I’m not a fan of Punk; in fact I’m actually a pretty big fan of Punk, and especially his “Straight Edge means I’m better than you” routine. He has had matches I’ve enjoyed immensely (mostly in ROH, but also all of his recent matches with Morrison and Hardy), and matches (mostly as a face in WWE) that I’ve found to be just ok. I find his heel mic work and facial expressions to be top of the line. The feud with Jeff Hardy has finally brought WWE Punk back up to par with the ROH Punk that brought him to my attention in the first place. And I won’t deny it gets me psyched seeing a pair of X’d up fists holding up the big gold belt. So yeah, I’m a fan. But it’s not because he’s Straight Edge. In fact, some days I wish his gimmick WASN’T that he was Straight Edge. There’s a part of me that would like it better if he was just drug free.

Let me explain. As I said, I’m a big fan of the “Straight Edge means I’m better than you” heel character. As has been said many times, the best characters in wrestling are often the ones where it’s the wrestlers real personality turned up to 11. And whether anyone who is Straight Edge wants to admit or not, deep down, you occasionally find yourself thinking that way. You put up with a lot not drinking in a country where alcohol is such a major part of social activity, and where experimenting with drugs is considered a normal part of growing up. Just saying no gets you a lot of negative feedback, which in turn creates it‘s own negative emotions. Even people who don’t drink and do drugs but aren’t a part of Straight Edge probably feel that way sometimes. But Straight Edge doesn’t apply to every single person who chooses to be a teetotaler or drug free.

Straight Edge came from  the underground world of punk rock, specifically hardcore punk. I’m not going to do a full blown lecture on the roots, as sadly Straight Edge and hardcore have their own wikipedia entries, but suffice to say calling yourself Straight Edge and being a part of the hardcore scene go hand in hand. It was created because of the drinking and drugging nihilism of the punk scene in early 80s DC and Boston. It experienced a resurgence and became a “movement” in response to the drinking and drugging nihilism of the New York City hardcore scene of the late 80s. It was given mainstream media exposure courtesy of the militant Vegan Straight Edge offshoots in the Syracuse and Salt Lake City hardcore scenes of the 90s, who took the movement idea literally. Yet the whole time, there was one constant: the hardcore scene.  No hardcore scene, no Straight Edge “movement”.  To me, they are inseparable.

Now look at CM Punk in the WWE. Specifically, look at the merch produced during his baby face run. Straight Edge and it’s symbols are everywhere, without a hint of it’s relationship to the hardcore scene in sight. The closest thing is a CM Punk Straight Edge Hardcore pendant. Why does it mention hardcore? I have no idea. The X that has long been the symbol of Straight Edge now comes with a WWE logo. You can even buy your own X’d up wrist straps. The WWE has nothing to do with Straight Edge Hardcore, doesn’t mention it’s roots ever, yet they’re slapping it on CM Punk’s merch like they own it. Given Vince’s track record with claiming others ideas as WWE property once they sign a contract, that makes me nervous. Will the WWE soon be slapping Straight Edge bands with cease and desist notices for including Straight Edge Hardcore or X’s on their merch? Unless Punk by some miracle becomes the next Hulk Hogan, I doubt it. Nor do I begrudge him the right to make some money off of t-shirt sales. But that doesn’t mean seeing it doesn’t bother me.

The other thing that nags at me when it comes to Straight Edge showing up on Punk’s merch, and in his WWE character, is that the current WWE product is being sold to kids. And while being drug free and not drinking under age is a great (if unrealistic) thing to expect from your children, Straight Edge is not the same thing as those. A 10 year old WWE fan isn’t Straight Edge because he’s making a choice, he’s Straight Edge because he’s 10 years old and most likely hasn‘t had to deal with that choice yet. When high school comes, most of those kids will outgrow Straight Edge the way they outgrow wrestling, and start drinking and experimenting. Breaking Edge is actually a pretty huge deal to Straight Edge kids (and for the most part, we always call ourselves kids, even when we reach adulthood. Not “Edgers”). It’s meant to be a choice for life. Because so many of us get into it in high school, the odds are already against most genuine Edgemen making it to 21, let alone past 30. For a bunch of kids to take up the mantle with no knowledge of the history, when any adult knows they will one day cast it aside… that bothers me. It makes the idea of being True Till Death (one of Straight Edge’s “catchphrases”, if you will) even more meaningless. It’s already hard enough convincing people you’re sincere about wanting to go to your grave without delving in drugs and drink. But you can’t blame a kid for being a kid and outgrowing something they should have never been in a position to outgrow in the first place.

Now that Punk is a full blown heel, the kid factor is less of an issue. Ironically, the now child friendly WWE wants the kids to boo the superstar with the drug free message, and boo him they shall. But teenagers and adults are far more likely to find Punk’s heel character cool.  And while they’re old enough that they’re not going to play “monkey see monkey do” because of a wrestling character, there are still some who have taken up the mantle of Straight Edge. They do this based on their belief that not doing drugs or drinking means they’re living the same lifestyle as Punk. Every so often I see one posting on a message board somewhere, and when I check out their profile, they are always just a regular Joe who likes wrestling and is into bands like Three Doors Down and Creed.  While I appreciate those people living a similar lifestyle, that’s not the Straight Edge lifestyle. You aren’t a punk or a hardcore kid, you aren’t a part of an underground subculture with it’s own rules. You just agree with some of our beliefs. Hare Krishnas don’t drink or smoke or do drugs either, should the average man on the street start saying he’s a devotee just because he doesn’t do them either? Of course not. I’m not saying Straight Edge is a religion or anything, but the reality is that Straight Edge doesn’t exist outside of the hardcore punk scene.

And then of course there’s the question of whether or not Punk using Straight Edge to become a mainstream wrestler is selling out Straight Edge and the hardcore scene or not. That‘s a can of worms I‘m not even going to touch (at least not this week), and in the end, my quibbles are minor. What really matters to me as a Straight Edge kid is that CM Punk isn’t a wrestler who was assigned the Edge as a gimmick. He’s an actual Straight Edge kid who decided to be a wrestler, using that aspect of his personality.

There’s a difference.

Tags: , , , , ,