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Rhetorical Analysis: The Doomsday Clock

By Morgan McGrath


The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 by a group of Manhattan project scientists who named themselves The Board of Atomic Scientists. The scientists created the platform and clock to create awareness about the crises humanity has faced for a long time and still faces today. Highligting factors such as nuclear warfare, climate change, and "disruptive" technologies, the Bulletin frames these as the main contributors to the potential destruction of humanity itself. "The Doomsday Clock, symbolic clock adopted by atomic scientists to show how close human beings are considered to be to a global catastrophe, with midnight standing for annihilation, or “doomsday.” (Ostberg, 2008). The main text that will be focused on is the Bulletin website itself. The aspects of the website such as the consistent presentation of the clock, the interactive timeline, and the archives of the highlighted threats all serve as the foundation of the text being analyzed. Martyl Langsdorf was the designer of the Doomsday Clock. "For Martyl, a clock seemed like the perfect symbol for conveying the scientists’ sense of urgency. She set the Clock at seven minutes to midnight because as a graphic designer, she thought, “It seemed the right time on the page ... it suited my eye.” (Bulletin.org)*Show Website*

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Research Question

How does the clock, timeline, and archives impact humanities perceptions/formed meanings about nuclear warfare, climate change, and "disruptive" technologies? The question aims to seek how the presentation of specific concepts in a negatively portrayed way impact societies perceptions about those concepts. Due to the language present on the Bulletin, such as doomsday, risk, and threat, perceptions of the topics being highlighted may be changed. I aimed to find articles on different attitudes and perceptions around the time periods that the clock was clostest to midnight. Perceptions of nuclear war have changed throughout history. With there being more anxiety at points and less at others, it is a topic that is hard to comprehend. The use of apolcolyptic literature and symbols lead to specific perceptions about the text. "Influence of such beliefs is suggested by a Nielsen survey of television viewers conductedin October 1985, which found that approximately "61 million Americans (40 percent of all viewers) regularly listen to preachers who tell them nothing can be done to prevent a nuclear war in our lifetime" (Halsell 1986:11). Not all dispensationalists consider a global nuclear war to be a predetermined part of God's plan, but public opinion surveys and interviews indicate that beliefs about inevitable nuclear Armageddon are widely held and generally accepted within the dispensationalist subculture (see Boyer 1992:116-151; Halsell 1986; Mojtabai 1) (Wojcik, 1996, P. 303)“I think many people are aware of climate change,” even though “they may not have an opinion about it, or know much about it,” Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin, told NCR. As for nuclear weapons, “there is some knowledge that nuclear weapons are still around,” she said, but again, "polls suggest that people don’t really know how many we have. When asked, people said they thought we might have about 200. And when asked, ‘How many do you think we should have?’ They would say, ‘Well, maybe 100.’ So the fact that we have thousands isn’t clearly in their minds.” (Rotondoro, 2015, P. 36).

Sources/Literature Review


This article strives to support the idea that the Bulletin uses apocolypitic imagery to further instill the idea of the end of humanity. It describes what post-apocolyptic fiction is and how it functions in society. Apolocyliptic literature promotes change and awareness within individuals.The main seven functions of post-apocalyptic fiction are:(a) The aesthetic function – post-apocalyptic fiction gives us aesthetic and artistic experience,(b) The informative function – this kind of fiction extends the knowledge of the current worldand the reader’s sense of cognition,(c) The formative function – post-apocalyptic fiction forms the reader’s value system andstimulates their imagination,(d) The entertainment function – the reader expects to enjoy this kind of fiction,(e) The realistic evocative function – the use of realistic discourse and terminology to providethe reader with an impression of realism,(f) The educative function – post-apocalyptic fiction educates the reader in the field of culture, politics, ecology, etc. and gives him an idea of possible futures of the Earth,(g) The warning function – by extrapolating controversial and problematic aspects of reality, authors of post-apocalyptic fiction draw attention to them and warn of the danger which they can cause. (Houfkova, 2019, P. 63"

Embracing Doomsday: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalyptic Beliefs in the Nuclear Age by Daniel Wojcik

This article gave much insight into the already long-standing apocolyptic beliefs about the end times and destruction of humanity from a cultural/spirtitual standpoint. The article highlighted how these new forms of apoloclyptic literature are changing the ways culture and individuals view the end times currently. There are many time periods, organizations, and groups that have their own beliefs about the end times and this article addresses how those times compared to the new ways of viewing the end times. "During the last half of the twentieth century, how-ever, widespread beliefs about a meaningless apocalypse have emerged and now compete with traditional religious apocalyptic worldviews. The creation and proliferation of nuclear weapons, in particular, have fundamentally altered contemporary apocalyptic speculation, fueling fears of global annihilation and evoking widespread fatalism about the future of humanity." (Wojcik, 1996, 297).

The End of the Worldby Helena Hörnfeldt

This article examines the relationship between how visual and textual anrritives that signify "doom" or "apocolypse" create room to expierence the emotion of fear. The article looks at how that fear is socially and culturally conditioned through these forms of texts. "Whether it is the fear of environmental catastrophes or the fear of terrorist attacks, many people currently live in astate of constant anxiety about the dangers that is presented daily in the media, in popular culture, the internet, emails and in many other ways (Bauman 2007; Pain & Smith 2008).2 “Some scholars go so far as to state that ‘public policy and privatelife have become fear-bound; fear has become the emotion through which public life is administered’” (Pain 2009:468; cf. Bourke 2005). The dangers and threats to mankind presented and circulated in different media have become increasingly dystopic over the past decade. It is, in any case, often so described." (Hörnfeldt, 2018)

5 W's


The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists


This text is based on the internet


The clock and the Bulletin website highlighting nuclear warfare, climate change, and disruptive technologies was put into action as a warning sign of the disasters humanity can face due to its own creations.


The Bulletin website. The clock, timeline, and archived information about the threats


The clock was created in 1947 and still stands currently

Forms of Criticisms

Visual Critcism - A form of criticism that aims to examine how images are organized and contexts they are presented in to reveal how they are interpreted by the audience. I will be using this type of criticism to discover the visual aspects of the text and how those contribute to a collected meaning among humanity. The visual aspects being looked at are the timeline and the clock, which both have rhetorical meaning tied to them. Visual criticism will also aid in the interpreation of the text to further reveal the meaning as a wholeDramastic/Narrative Criticism - This form of criticism believes that language and other forms of sign systems create the base system for human reality, perception, and motivation. It will be used to disocover how the symbols presented by the Bulletin are working within society. I will also use the aspect of narrative criticism to categorize the text as a apocolyptic form of literature. Also incorporating the Pentad in my criticism, will help further discover how the text rhetorically operates as a whole.

The rhetorical form of the text is presented in a way to cause society potentially view specific crises in a certain way. The text is filled with negative connations pertaining to worldy disasters. The whole purpose of the Doomsday clock and its detailed components is to persuade humanity to change and take a stand against the uprising technologies of our own creaton before it is too late. The way that the text places itself as being persuasive is combonation of the heavy topics, the uncertainty that surrounds it, and the use of negative language to create a sense of urgency. With the audience being humanity, this factor leaves room for massive interpretation about a vast topic. The use of the timeline, the clock, and the archives all contribute to narrating the topics in a very strategic way. .

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Rhetorical Form of Text + How the Form Functions

The form functions as a long-standing representation of how specific human-made factors have impacted how close humanity is to self-annihilation. The clock works as a constant reminder that nuclear warfare and rising technologies have been affecting humanity and are currently still impacting it as a whole. This form also functions as a warning that if these threats keep occurring, it will lead to the worst possible outcome. The form functions as a constant reminder and warning of these posed threats. "Post-apocalyptic fiction is an increasingly important area in science fiction as well as a genre popular among readers. Besides, the genre plays an important part in highlighting the significance of human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems. Post-apocalyptic literature plays a key role in warning and educating society about climate changes, ecological dangers, risks of technology or social issues.” (Houfková, 2019, P. 60).

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  • Background of the Doomsday clock/Bulletin
  • The text that will be analyzed is imbedded in the contents of the Bulletin website
  • 5 W's
  • A visual and narrative lens will be used to critique the text
  • The rhetorcial form of the text and function of the form

The Doomsday Clock is a design that warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet. (Bulletin.org, 2024)

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Trick: Interactivity is the key to capturing the interest and attention of your audience. A genially is interactive because your audience explores and engages with it.