Haenfler, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi and a specialist in youth subcultures, plays two roles in the primetime documentary: expert and member.
Kirsten Dellinger, chair of UM’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, said she is not surprised National Geographic contacted Haenfler. “His book is the most comprehensive ethnographic study of this subculture available,” she said.
Straight Edge refers to the lifestyle and scene that started within the Washington, D.C., hardcore punk subculture whose members refrain from drinking, smoking or doing drugs. Some youths who participate also abstain from caffeine, psychiatric medicine and casual sex. The term was coined by the 1980s hardcore punk rock band Minor Threat.
“Straight Edge subculture is about finding a place where a young person can feel cool without using drugs or alcohol; it’s about fitting in without giving in to peer pressure,” Haenfler said.
The subculture, however, has been classified as a violent gang in some large cities, including Reno, Nev. In 1998, Salt Lake City, Utah, police classified the entire group as a gang, pointing to the death of 15-year-old Bernardo Repreza as proof. Repreza was beaten and stabbed to death Halloween night, police said, by two Straight Edge members.
National Geographic, with Haenfler as consultant, delved inside the ever-growing youth movement that seems to be caught between being a refuge for American teens and a dangerous gang wanted by authorities.
“National Geographic is known for its interest in different cultures,” Haenfler said. “The idea of young people with tattoos who listen to punk music but don’t do drugs is intriguing. The show focuses on the positive – which is the vast majority – and negative of Straight Edge. Straight Edge is not a gang as labeled by Salt Lake City. In fact, I think that’s a mislabel. Straight Edge is a social group with many different faces.”
An estimated tens of thousands of youths from all over the world are part of the Straight Edge culture, although “it’s impossible to count the total membership,” Haenfler said. “It’s a large scene, especially in the states.”
Besides appearing on the show, Ross has been asked to promote the documentary for National Geographic and may travel to New York during the week of the premiere.
Haenfler is also the author of “The Better World Handbook: Small Changes that Make a Big Difference” (New Society, 2007) and a specialist in social movements, social change and gender. He is researching with plans to write a book on other youth subcultures, including skinheads, Goths, virginity pledgers, hip hoppers and computer geeks.
For more information on sociology and anthropology at UM, visit https://www.olemiss.edu/depts/soc_anth/.