I'm not sure how much is universally "how literature is done" and how much is mostly pertinent to a particular system or program. I'm USian, and did a bachelor's and a master's degree in English (that is, primarily lit). I'm not fully convinced of the utility of much of what we were doing in those literature classes, either in terms of the kinds of texts most of the courses focused on or the methods. The most interesting literature course I ever took was one titled "The Victorian Tipping Point" that clustered a set of texts published in England in 1859 and included On the Origin of Species
; probably second on my list was a samurai film course by the same instructor. I had numerous meaningless Shakespeare classes that treated the text as capital-L Literature and were mostly about bullshitting defenses of anachronistic meanings to project onto the plays and a (much better) Chaucer course that used The Canterbury Tales
as a tour of history and linguistics and wasn't really arsed with any artificial apparatus.
TVTropes does fine work, and I appreciate the candor and the breadth of the connections drawn. I think it's still a limited and specific purpose it's serving that isn't fundamental, let alone an exhaustive method, to either enjoying or understanding literature or media (whichever term seems more appropriate; the broadest applicable senses are basically synonymous.) Color theory doesn't explain all of visual art, either. It's just ... one of the tools out there. Being able to say that you can list all the parts of a thing and that you have names for them is never a complete account of that thing. Some people can be misled or deluded to believe it is. At the same time, it is
one useful tool.
I think another potential hazard is when "thinking critically" about media becomes "thinking like a critic", normative commentary on how sophisticated or original or whatnot a particular work is based on some particular set of criteria. A ranking things "from best to worst" impulse, really. I think that's a reflex reaction to things, to the point that it feels like an obsessive undercurrent in a lot of critical work. It's useful in film and book reviews because those things are product reviews of things that are commercial products
Better examples to me of what can be done
with those kinds of critical tools, particularly when they're a way of looking beyond the work into its role and context, would be things like Lindsay Ellis's Loose Canon series and PBS Idea Channel on YouTube. When you can really start to ask questions about a work or a social phenomenon that dig into why people engage with it and what role it plays, that's a pretty meaningful endeavour to me. I'd really defy anyone to claim that that kind of work doesn't allow for more meaningful engagement with the media in question. Sample
I think the question of "what can I
take away from this piece of media" can be an important one that can get lost in the process of any effort to study or define what a piece of media "is" or "does". A lot of things can be made more interesting by reading against the text or nurturing pet versions of fictional events, fanonizing and so on. That creative and interactive relationship to any piece of media can be a beautiful thing, and I can see preferring that kind of approach over one that, whether in a very naive way (intricately detailing in-universe realities like a Star Wars fan, or simplistically claiming single symbolic meanings to stories in the decoder-ring sort of way) or a comparatively sophisticated one (a pages-long thinkpiece on queerbaiting in popular television, or just Idea Channel again.) If you want to approach media really creatively as a space to play in and just ignore the directions on the box, I can understand and respect that approach. I have
noticed (and I mean this entirely anecdotally and interpersonally) that precisely the people who tend to do so also tend to have a similar approach to their interpretation of reality, though.
On the other hand, if you'd prefer to just sort of soak in the construction and ignore the places where it breaks down, use media as just the consumable emotional back-scratcher it is and not think about it too hard - yeah, I don't have any sympathy for that at all. Not because it's an insufficient approach to literature, but because it's an insufficient approach to experience. I want to know how everything
is constructed and where the clever tricks are. That's no more or less true of literature or art than it is history, electronics engineering, biology. Hell, science itself; individual facts about the cosmos or chemistry or paleobiology are of limited practical significance to me, and all the human narrative of how we come to know a thing is often at least as interesting as the fact itself.