We had a recent question about a series of YouTube videos. The question boiled down to "this line seemed to reference something that was said in a previous video, what is it referring to?"

The poster defended the question as follows:

I am hoping that in the broad definition of literature that our site is using, the series itself counts as literature, and questions about it will be on topic, at least if I ask about narrative elements rather than production techniques specific to videos. I know this might be controversial but I prefer that we find out the site scope together experimentally, rather than just refrain to post questions that may be found off topic.

To which another user rebutted:

... this question ... doesn't seem to be about literature as our site defines it. We tend to focus on written works. When we do entertain questions about performed works (movies, tv, opera, plays), they appear to be about the relationship between those shows and their written counterparts (novelizations/screenplay/original book/script/libretto).

Meanwhile, our help center currently reads as follows:

We interpret ‘literature’ in a broad sense, including written, spoken and sung works, in all genres, languages and forms: poetry, plays, stories, novels, lyrics, comic books, essays, belles-lettres, and so on.

Note that the list conspicuously excludes movies, TV shows and videos.

I can see objections to all three of these perspectives:

  • Against the poster: this would broaden the scope of the site well beyond what the average person thinks of as "literature", and potentially open us up to a flood of lower-quality questions.
  • Against the rebutter: the YouTube videos in question are clearly working from a script of some kind, as they are well-researched and tightly constructed. It seems restrictive to say that what we can learn about those scripts through the videos is outside the realm of analysis.
    (As an additional thought experiment: suppose we had a video capturing an epic poem from some oral tradition, which had never been written down anywhere at all. Would we consider that to be "not literature" until somebody sat down and transcribed the whole thing?)
  • Against the help center: it strikes me as arbitrary to categorize plays as "literature", while implying that movies and TV shows are not. They all have scripts, they all employ actors, and they all include visual elements as integral parts of the work.

What kinds of questions about movies/TV shows/videos should we allow, if any?

  • 1
    One possible answer to this (I'm not sure if I can defend it, hence posting as a comment here) would be to apply the principle suggested for non-fiction: "the nature of the question determines if it is on-topic, not the nature of the work".
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    May 22, 2023 at 9:53
  • I asked about this in chat a couple months ago; there was a little discussion, but no conclusions.
    – DLosc
    May 25, 2023 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


Expanding on Rand al'Thor's comment, my suggestion would be to allow any question that concerns literary elements (characterization, plot, theme, storytelling devices, subtext, cultural context, etc.) of any work, regardless of the nature of the work itself.

Thus a question about the theme of corruption of the American Dream would be on topic, whether the work under discussion was The Great Gatsby, Chinatown or Brother, Can You Spare a Dime. Questions about the music of Brother, the cinematography of Chinatown or the typeface or binding used when printing Gatsby, being non-literary in nature, would be out of bounds. And yes, the same criterion naturally lends itself to works of non-fiction, especially dramatized non-fiction or partial-fiction.

This addresses all of the objections outlined by the OP, except perhaps the one about low quality questions. If we restrict ourselves to questions of a literary nature, however, as we already do with questions regarding written works, I can't see any reduction in quality.

There is one type of question I can think of that I, at least, would like to allow but that doesn't fit this criterion: the identification question. I do think we should stick to identification only of written works, since other forums exist that would better serve to identify works in other media.

  • I understand if people don't agree with this answer; what is surprising to me is that no-one has bothered to suggest an alternative or made a comment. I was originally going to propose an answer along the lines of interpreting a work as "a sequence of words possibly containing other elements", and questions about the words would be on topic while the other elements wouldn't; but I couldn't reconcile it with the idea that graphic novels should be included, and I think they should. Jun 1, 2023 at 21:57

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