Imagine being “interviewed” by someone who hasn’t the slightest interest in what you say or think, and is only using the interview platform for self-promotion. This interviewer has total control of the microphone, can cut you off at will, and will decide what gets left in and what gets cut out in the final edit of the interview. What are some of the rhetorical techniques he will use to distort your views? How will you answer? Why will you answer, when there’s no space for your answers, and the questions serve only the host? What can you do to rescue some dignity, if not the entire interview?
This kind of interviewer, with his total control of the mic, the questions, the space for answers and the final edits, perhaps even a laugh track or two, and his pernicious self righteousness unleavened by self awareness, is only waiting to pounce. Waiting for what? Perhaps wondering if before or after the commercial break would be a better opportunity to embarrass you. If he were sufficiently educated in the techniques of rhetoric, he might have planned the questions with the following rhetorical devices in mind, though more likely he is too lazy to plan and believes enough in his own cleverness to be “spontaneous”. It is irrelevant that what he considers spontaneity is merely regurgitating slogans with a lilt at the end of each sentence, as if he is asking questions:
- Meiosis is a type of euphemism that intentionally understates the size or importance of its subject. It can be used to dismiss or diminish a debate opponent’s argument.
- Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that conveys emotion and raises the bar for other speakers. Once you make a hyperbolic statement like “My idea is going to change the world,” other speakers will have to respond in kind or their more measured words may seem dull and uninspiring in comparison.
- Apophasis is the verbal strategy of bringing up a subject by denying that that very subject should be brought up at all.
- Hypophora is the trick of posing a question and then immediately supplying the answer. It’s useful because it stimulates listener interest and creates a clear transition point in the speech.
- Expeditio is the trick of listing a series of possibilities and then explaining why all but one of those possibilities are non-starters. This device makes it seem as though all choices have been considered, when in fact you’ve been steering your audience towards the one choice you desired all along.
- Antiphrasis is another word for irony. Antiphrasis refers to a statement whose actual meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning of the words within it.
- Dysphemism is an offensive or detrimental phrase deliberately used in place of a nicer one. This applies to everything from using an insult instead of someone’s name, to phrases like frankenfood and junk food that try to influence what we should think of genetically modified crops and take-out restaurants with just a few choice words. It’s the mirror image of euphemism.
- Anthypophora is posing a question for dramatic effect and then immediately answering it yourself.
What chance does poor little you have against such an arsenal (if we were British I could shorten arsenal to arse, and leave it at that)? There is one thing you can do to turn the tables. First of all, just repeat each question back, with a fillip of your own, without answering any of them. Each time just say “next question.” Finally, when the interviewer is frustrated, lean forward and with a very earnest expression ask, “what is your gospel?”
The interviewer will inevitably ask, “what do you mean?” You: “I know you have all this airtime to fill, and you have questions designed to demonstrate your cleverness and your contempt for your guest, but there is only one question that matters. What do you believe in, and on what basis? That’s what I call your gospel. Mine is what Jesus Christ taught, that his apostles expanded. What is yours and where does it come from?
Commercial break, anyone?