I occasionally write short essays about classic films, and have been thinking about converting them into video essay for YouTube.

What I observe are 2 very different types of essay – I'm not sure what to call them.

One type approaches the work as a superfan. The canon story is revered, and the details are often about explaining the ending, or discussing plot points that are entirely within the work. When this type of essay turns critical, it often takes the form of "fixing" the story. Sometimes these videos are clickbait, "trashing" the bad choices of the filmmakers, but since the criticisms are still mostly canon and in-world, I put these in the same "superfan" category.

The other type of essay is more aligned with social criticism. The details in the story are not as important as the technique and intent. The work is put in cultural and historic context, stepping out of the "review" to discuss broader themes, compare other work that covers similar ground, its impact on the entertainment industry or its place in the career of the actors and director, or how the work reflects (or ignores) social conventions of its time.

There is crossover between the two, but the approach is so fundamentally different it's usually easy to separate the two essay styles almost immediately. A superfan review expects the viewer to be familiar with the subject, and speaks as one fan to another. They can feel a bit naive and consumerist. There is social cache in being an authority of the canon.

The social criticism essays don't presume the viewer has seen the film, and can be pretentious and pondering, speaking as one savvy intellectual to another. The viewer probably needs an awareness of film theory and an interest in film as an artform. The social cache is being an authority of art history and social movements.

The films I write about are not current box office, so my essays tend to lean towards the latter rather than the former. Are there any accepted terms – or maybe other cues I can use to signal the difference?

  • This reminds me of an article I saw recently: vox.com/2019/7/20/18638718/… -- VOX has been exploring types of fandom for a while know, and I really like that. It sounds like you're, if not fully doing a transformative creation, are more on that side than the curatorial side. Jul 29, 2019 at 15:32

3 Answers 3


I would recommend watching SFDebris' various "Opinionated Guides to Star Trek" (which to date have entries for all 6 live action series, the Animated Series, and the Films). He is of course a Superfan who describes the origin of the site as having a college assignment to make a website but no content for the website, and to his mind "bitching about Voyager seemed natural". Definately a Superfan and will gush about certain characters.

To offset this, he actually shows the a serious amount of critical work. He is/was a high school English teacher and his appreciation for stories and the elements that contributed to them. This tends to show up in his non-star trek stuff, but he it's there too (for a famous episode "Damok" of TNG, which deals with a language that is based entirely on cultural references, he releases a companion video to discuss how it's entirely possible for this to occur in the real world, and how several languages are gibberish unless you get the references (namely Chinese characters). For his Star Wars review, he discussed the history of George Lucas' development of the series and the various plans and how they evolved into the very well known stories we have today, because he felt that he had nothing new to contribute by reviewing the films. It's more of a biography of George Lucas than a critique of his film. In his review of "The Day After" he opens with a history of the development of the Atomic Bomb and the Cold War, as well as a discussion of the Cold War Politics that influenced the film as well as the nature of Nuclear Warfare Strategy amounted to two guys holding guns to the others head, threatening that not only were we going to shoot back if you shot first, but also that we're just crazy enough to shoot FIRST! He did this because the review aired nearly 30 years after the film was made, and the general audience may have not even been born during the cold war at all, let alone remember how scary it was.).

One notable feature is that (in the Star Treks series at least) SFDebris rates individual episodes by comparing their quality to that of others in the series, but not in the Franchise ("All Scores are Relative to their Series"). This is done on a Bell Curve so that there would be an equal number of scored 1 (the worst) and an equal number of Scored 10 (the best) but their would be more Scores of 5 than either of those. Each series also has exactly one Score of Zero, which is reserved for an episode that is so bad, it damages the Franchise by association (Though the movies do not have zeroes, as there are so few) and the most recent series is (Star Trek: Discovery) has no scores at all, because the series is ongoing and could get better or worse over time and this could effect scores). And will discuss why he feels the episode deserves the score (which can range from long winded explanations to "It's good, but there are better offerings in this series".

In all, it's a nice blend of the two and you can tell when he's gushing as a Superfan (especially in DS9, which is probably one of his favorite Trek Series) and when he's being analytical and explaining nuances in his story. He's also very funny about to boot in both forms (for example, in his Godzilla review, he explains the story of the inspiration was the Castle Bravo Nuclear Test Incident and the Contamination of the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru as the result of someone not being there to tell the Mathmatician in charge to "carry the one", resulting in the never good situation of saying "Whoopsie" in relation to a Nuclear Bomb. Which is a very silly way to talk about what essentially went wrong.).


Superfan videos often have the word "reaction" in the title or are named after certain in-universe plot points (such as "Theory: Mon-El returns"), since knowledge of the basic plot points is assumed.

Superfan video titles often put certain words in all-caps. Critical video titles may be click-batey (such as "Top 10 Problems with X" or "7 Feminist Messages you Missed in Y"), but the atmosphere of one intellectual speaking to another demands proper grammar and capitalization.

Critical videos tend to focus on a specific social or technical aspects of the piece (feminist theory, gay representation, music, etc.) while often covering a greater amount of footage than a superfan video. A superfan video might cover a single episode of a television show or a single movie, but a critical video might cover an entire series or several films. A descriptive title for a critical video will include both the aspect that is being analyzed and the scope of film being analyzed.

(In addition to videos about social criticism, there are several channels that take the same tone but address a different facet of film theory, such as music composition or editing.)


A simple suggestion: just adding the word "Critique" to the title may communicate a lot of what you want. Also, probably in the first minute, perhaps make it clear that:

  • you are A Fan (and you're not just ripping apart, say, Trek, because you hate all scifi),
  • but you think the show/episode/series/character is expressing more than just the surface level characteristics,
  • you want to expose and explore them (possibly through XYZ lens)
  • critique comes from respect -- of both the original material, and other ways of encountering the world.

(Lani Diane Rich ("How Story Works" podcast, and "Still Pretty" Buffy podcast) calls it the terroir -- just like weather affects the grapes which affects the wine, society affects the creators of an artwork which affects the final product. Joss Whedon may have thought he was being actively feminist, but a lot of his less "woke" thoughts come through Xander. And even Oz, who is normally our 100% ideal guy, doesn't call Xander out, because the 1990s didn't have that call-out/call-in culture to ask people to reconsider their assumptions. And just like some grapes are going to be more sweet or dry anyway, some creators are more or less racist/sexist/imperialist than their culture. Also, her cohost may mention a throughline signaled by a color choice in an outfit, a room, a prop, also -- classic film criticism focusing on the visual storytelling.))

So a quick way of doing it may be to say something like:

This is a critique of The Fifth Element: a fun movie, perhaps [director]'s best work overall, yet that perhaps respects Milla Jovovitch's character a lot less than it appears to at first glance.

That makes it clear that you like it, you know some of the director's other work, but I immediately know this will be a feminist critique. (For me, that's a plus. For others, they'd turn it off.)

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