Analysis of the ’90s Rambler

The ‘90s were marked by relative prosperity and economic growth, a time when the Cold War ended and America projected strength on the global stage. In the Rambler of this decade, there wasn’t an overarching crisis, social movement, or political development that students responded to, such as World War II or the women’s movement. Instead, students grappled with a variety of social issues, from the war in Kosovo to climate change, from the impact of Magic Johnson going public with his AIDS status to the question of whether Bush should have condoms in the bathrooms. Of these, I will focus on the advent of the internet and the Columbine massacre.

The internet:

In 1992, The Rambler published “The Future at Bush,” which details the school’s plans to connect its computers to the internet. As the author explains, “Probably, while you are reading this article, you are wondering what Internet is. Internet is a collection of networks and connection points that use a common space and that work together as a single network.” A 1993 Rambler contains the next mention of the internet in an article about the Internet AMP. In “The World At Students’ Fingertips,” the author excitedly marvels at the fact that the internet’s popularity at Bush is “quickly spreading.” They also make a few apt predictions, including that email will someday make paper mail obsolete. 

Probably the most interesting article about the internet, though, comes from a February 1993 Rambler. The piece, “Elias Called to Russia,” is still astonishing more than 25 years after it was written. It describes how Bush senior Elias Alvord was preparing to leave for a trip to Russia to “help evaluate what computer systems the new Russia government has and determine what is reliable.” Elias got involved in the project when consultant Ian Freed helped connect Bush to the internet and quickly noticed Elias’s hyper-competence with computers. Freed contacted the director of the project, economist Jeffery D. Sachs, who agreed to let a high school student help with this geopolitically important IT job. As the author Annie Robinson puts it matter-of-factly, “According to Headmaster Fred Dust, the reason Elias was selected was because he is so knowledgeable and ethical.” This project would’ve been interesting even if it didn’t involve an 18-year-old. After the fall of communism, Russia’s government still technically owned everything, but wanted to auction off assets such as land to citizens, and turned to Freed’s team for help setting up an online auction. Nowhere in the piece does the author note the profound strangeness of what they’re describing. Nonetheless, I love “Elias Called to Russia” for its intersection of Cold War history and technological innovation, and for highlighting that an ordinary Bush student could be involved in something extraordinary.

The 1994 article “In Case You Weren’t at Forum…” offers a distinctly different take on the advent of the internet. At an Open Forum, the subject of technology at Bush quickly became contentious. As the author tells us, “People who don’t use the internet were worried about all of the money that is being placed in the computer program, big screen TV’s, and other techno-toys.” In a complaint that rings true to this day, one student said, “A lot of the people in Basemont haven’t seen the light of day since the beginning of the year. I’m just worried about their health.” Most of all, “In Case You Weren’t at Forum…” indicates that the internet was not a universally supported innovation. Of a student who declared, “I hate computers,” the author tells us, “Such was the consensus among students who spoke.” Overall, the piece is a fascinating glimpse into the rocky introduction of the internet at Bush, both dated and with echoes of current-day school controversies. 

Gun violence:

The Columbine massacre shocked and angered the nation, generating pro-gun control activism that continues to this day. Two different Rambler articles focused on the tragedy, although their tones and perspectives are markedly different. In the article “Columbine: Flower No More,” the author focuses on their personal experience of learning about the shooting and also critiques subsequent news coverage of the event. Student Norm Johnson writes of coming home from school one day and turning on CNN to see “some of the most frightening news images I’ve ever seen.” After the shock and confusion of this breaking news story wore off somewhat, he began to think about the deeper causes for such a senseless tragedy. First, he asserts that easy access to guns is to blame for the massacre, pointing out that it would be difficult or impossible for the perpetrators to have killed twelve people with a knife. Echoing modern-day student activists, he characterizes the NRA as a “pro-death” organization, not a pro-gun rights organization. Secondly, he rejects a widely discussed explanation for the shooting. According to Johnson, the media’s fixation on the perpetrators’ outcast status—they wore black, hated jocks, and listened to Marilyn Manson—served only to detract from discussions of the deeper structural forces enabling gun violence. As Johnson puts it, “I’d hate to think that after this incident, any non-conformists might be considered dangerous . . . I can’t stand it when stodgy old adults blame teens’ trends for isolated incidents such as the Columbine massacre.” Johnson’s article stands the test of time as both an illuminating examination of the fraught discourse around the Columbine massacre, and an important reminder of how little the debate about gun violence has changed in the past twenty years. 

The second piece about Columbine, “The Columbine Assembly,” was strange and disconcerting to read in 2020. Rather than focusing on the impacts of the massacre that we now remember, the piece is essentially one student’s gripe about a mandatory Upper School assembly. The author, Ian McInerney, begins by asserting that the Upper School meeting about the Columbine massacre was “held at the wrong time and with the wrong process.” Objecting to its occurrence during Senate, a free period for students to do work, McInerney characterizes the meeting as “wrong because it forced people to give up their free time to do something less productive than what could have been accomplished.” Similarly, he dismisses the minutes of silence observed for the victims of the shooting as a “total waste of time.” In his opinion, students are too self-conscious to productively sit in silence in each other’s company: “[Y]ou can’t focus on deep thought when you have your best friend to the left and the fact that you didn’t do your homework is lingering in your mind.” The piece ends with McInerney defending his seeming coldness towards the tragedy, a sentiment relevant to our own age of mass shootings and numbness: “I can’t relate to heads on my TV screen, I can’t relate to the voices in my radio, and I can’t relate to what happened at Columbine High School.” Although we remember tragedies, we tend not to remember that ordinary life continued on, that students still complained about missing their free periods. Yet in this last line, the author forgoes high school preoccupations for something more honest and raw: an acknowledgement of the limits of their empathy. Of all the articles from this period, this was one of the most surprising to me. While many articles display their authors’ awareness of tragedies from deforestation in the Amazon to the war in Kosovo, this one reflects the apathy, frustration, and distraction that students have always felt. 

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