There are shows and movies that habitually break the 4th wall, like The Office and Deadpool. And then, there're other shows like House of Cards that only do so casually.

Is there a term that describes the degree of how much actors break the 4th wall? E.g., how frequently and how long they do so.

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    Doubtful that there would be any consistent industry-wide teminolgy for this as it's entirely subjective. For instance there is no terminolgy for degress of drama, science-fiction etc.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 16:38
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    The Office doesn't break the fourth wall: the concept of the show is that there's a documentary crew filming it all.
    – BCdotWEB
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 16:43
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    @BCdotWEB The Office does break the 4th wall. Just because it's [portrayed to be] a documentary doesn't mean the 4th wall doesn't exist/can't be broken.
    – Charles
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 16:49
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    interesting. I think you might remove/rework the last paragraph as it comes off as too broad/primarily opinion based
    – DForck42
    Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 17:04
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    @BCdotWEB The nature of The Office’s framing device is such that in one sense it obviously breaks the fourth wall while in another sense it never does. It’d be easier to compare this type of metafictionality to others if we could utilize some sort of established terminology... Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 4:31

1 Answer 1


The terminology that Community creator Dan Harmon employs is "meta," used as a comparable adjective. In a 2010 interview with Uproxx:

“We don’t go to our Thursday night half-hour shows hoping to have our illusions subverted,” he said. “We don’t hope someone will kick us in the ass and say, ‘You’re watching television, stupid! Stop doing it!’ We go there because we want a half-hour break, and we want to escape into a place that has a fourth wall… How meta is too meta? The answer is simple: it’s too meta when you’re being punished for watching the show.”

The title of the article is "For 'Community,' How much meta is too much?"—using "meta" as a noun. But Harmon's version seems to be the more prevalent: As of January 2018, "how meta" gets 167,000 Google hits, to "how much meta"'s 8,100.

Adjectival "meta" is very useful for comparisons of this type. We can say, for example, that later episodes of Community were more meta because they referred to the show's tumultuous production history. Parks & Recreation is more meta than The Office (for my money), because while characters acknowledge the camera/viewer in both shows, The Office rigidly follows the documentary conceit that Parks & Rec doesn't think too hard about.

We can even argue that House of Cards is more meta than either of these shows because Underwood looks right into the lens, while talking head segments on The Office and Parks have characters typically make eye contact with "interviewers" somewhere off to the side.

These examples are all subject to opinion, interpretation, and discussion. But using "meta" as a comparable adjective makes that discussion a lot easier.

  • This defines a "term" but otherwise does not actually answer the question. The question is about degrees of metaness, for want of a better term. There really is no answer to the question because no such mathematical expression exists.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 14:39
  • I'm not sure that "meta" is quite the same as addressing the audience, though the two are related and one can be an example of the other. "Meta" is more about the authors' intent, drawing attention to the fact that the work is a fiction, and the fact that it exists in a wider medium with its own tropes. Addressing asides to the audience, meanwhile, can be more of a stylistic choice, either to advocate directly to the viewer (Spike Lee loves to do this) or to help develop a character (Frank Underwood narrates to the camera to make him seem more conniving and underhanded.) Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 14:40

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