Why Not Non-Fiction Lyrics?

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We expect news photos to be unretouched, but art gallery photos are fair game. Lingerie ads are in between – some think retouching is fraud, others don’t care. We also formally distinguish between fiction and non-fiction in books, and put them in clearly different sections in libraries, and we similarly formally distinguish documentaries from fiction movies. People get upset when they see fiction presented as if it were non-fiction.

I think the idea is while we know that all these things can persuade us via their styles and associations, non-fiction makes an additional bid to persuade us via its explicit reasoning or evidence. This added bid makes it a valid target for criticism; the non-fiction label tells us to hold it to this higher standard, complaining more loudly if it fails, and believing and celebrating it more if it succeeds.

We do not usually explicitly distinguish sculpture and paintings as fiction vs. not, though some of those are seen as “realistic” in the sense that they should be criticized more if found to be unrealistic. Yet for music, not only do we not explicitly distinguish fiction from non-fiction lyrics, there aren’t even some kinds of song whose lyrics are expected to be more realistic.

Why don’t we bother with the fiction vs. not-fiction distinction for music? That is, why isn’t there a distinguished subset of music which we hold to a higher persuasion standard, to be criticized more if it fails that standard, but accepted more if it meets the standard, as with books and movies?

One theory would be that we don’t think people can critically evaluate arguments in lyrics when the unreasonable persuasive powers of music are involved, so we just give up on that. But documentary movies add both music and images, which would seem to offer even more unreasonable persuasive powers; why do we think people can critically evaluate them? Another theory would be that songs are too short to encompass persuasive arguments. But many news stories are shorter than songs, yet are still explicitly distinguished as non-fiction.

I’m just puzzled.

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