Getting out of this World: A Rhetorical Analysis of Technological Millennialism as Motive

By Isabel Pedersen.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

After the Y2K bug frenzy, apocalyptic murmurings, and revelation rhetoric smoke have cleared surrounding the new Millennium, it becomes more and more obvious that some significant rhetorical transformations took place in response to the notion of existing in a new millennium. The coming of the year 2000 caused a great deal of angst; commercial exploits raged, media warned of computer doom, people questioned their own destiny, and the occasional religious group warned us that the world would end. Of course, most of this frenzy came to nothing; however, this paper argues that some real events, both legitimate and illegitimate occurred as a response to millennial motives. The first event is NASA’s launch of the Mars Polar Lander in 1999 to “search for evidence of past or present life” on Mars. The second event is the Heaven’s Gate cult members’ mass suicide in 1997. Both events involved groups of people hoping to contact "beings" in outer space on the eve of the millennium. This paper analyzes the ways in which the rhetors, NASA and the Heaven’s Gate, use technological millennialism as motive for their actions in very similar ways. It draws on theory from Kenneth Burke, Paul Virilio, John Bozeman, Catherine Wessinger and others to analyze the discourse of the Millennium and arise with statements about motive within two representative texts.

Keywords: Rhetoric, Rhetoric of Technology, Kenneth Burke

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.9-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 511.939KB).

Dr. Isabel Pedersen

Assistant Professor, Department of Professional Communication, Faculty of Communication and Design, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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