In an e-mail conversation I read recently a writer’s opinion that it is perfectly acceptable for writers to exaggerate, use hyperbole, as a rhetorical method to bring their points across more forcibly. The scientifically trained side of me balked at the idea. The whole point of science is in objectivity, and I’ve been taught to think that press and writers are supposed to cherish that concept too. Exaggerating something means that you play down other aspects and thus the truth behind the matter becomes warped.
It depends on what you write about, of course. The rules are completely different for a fiction writer, since with fiction you can go wherever you like and the world’s thine oyster, but for someone who writes about the real world and follows its laws, you need to keep objectivity with you. Don’t you?
When writing I find myself often drawn to using hyperbole. One of the reasons for this is the fact that it is so common. If I write an article that states all arguments perfectly equitably, I end up saying nothing at all. This is not interesting to anyone and doesn’t lead to discussion. It’s like cooking the fish with only the slightest bit of salt so as not to offend anyone’s senses. The problem is that the fish won’t taste savory to anyone either. You’ll end up with a fish that’s not objectionable to anyone, but neither does anyone want to eat it. What’s the point in writing if it’s the equivalent of serving a dull fish dish?
I’ve been told that psychologists are not particularly desirable witnesses in court since if you ask a psychologist about a phenomenon, they’ll say that half of the evidence points this way and the other half that way. The end result leads nowhere. This doesn’t serve people’s purposes in court, even though it is how the scientific facts in reality are. Science with its objectivity can often be bothersome.
So I don’t know if we should be too scientific in real life, particularly since other people aren’t either. We might get the pleasure of being right, but we won’t find an audience for our truth. How sad is that? We shouldn’t lie; I’m not suggesting that. We shouldn’t cherry pick evidence and just ignore everything that doesn’t support our views, but I don’t see the problem of using some rhetorical devices to bring our points across more forcibly.
News reporters are supposed to be objective but I’m not so sure. Political aims and opinions are everywhere in what is being published, which point-of-views are presented in human interest stories, and how much coverage a certain news item gets. Anyway, people prefer to read stories that grab their attention and appeal to their emotions. These are the stories that sell, not the dry objective stuff and this is true to an extent even in quality publications. A presentation of reality is always from someone’s point-of-view, there’s no escaping it.
Objectivity is an illusion and maybe not even something we should fully aim for. We should write in a way that opens discussion and raises interest, all the while keeping our hearts open for new ideas and remembering that the real world is an extremely complicated place and none of us have a complete understanding of it. Maybe hyperbole is not a problem as long as it is only a device for getting the point across, and not a sign of closed eyes and a closed heart.