Three Reasons Why Combining Two Awesome Things Can Sometimes Be Less Awesome

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before (I had a sudden moment of deja vu halfway through writing the article), but I thought that I’d look at one of the more paradoxical things that can happen with creative works.

This is when something either directly combines two incredibly cool things or takes inspiration from two incredibly cool things, but somehow ends up being mildly less awe-inspiringly magnificent than it should logically be.

For example, I’m a massive fan of both Iron Maiden and “Blade Runner“. So, you would think that “Somewhere In Time” would be my favourite Iron Maiden album.

After all, Derek Riggs’ ultra-detailed cover art for the album is inspired by “Blade Runner”, there are a couple of sci-fi themed songs on the album (with the opening track being one of Iron Maiden’s best songs) and, when the band originally toured the album during the mid-late 1980s, they apparently played the “Blade Runner” theme on the PA before each concert.

Yet, it isn’t quite my favourite Iron Maiden album (that title probably goes to either the criminally under-appreciated “Virtual XI” or possibly to “The Book Of Souls). Sure, “Somewhere In Time” would probably appear in my top five or top ten Iron Maiden albums, but it isn’t my absolute favourite.

So, why can combinations of awesome things somehow end up being slightly less awesome than they “should” be?

1) Creativity isn’t maths: This one is fairly self-explanatory really. With something as subjective as both the creator’s imagination and the unique tastes of each audience member, creativity doesn’t exactly follow logical mathematical rules.

Merely adding two cool things together won’t always produce something better than either thing for the simple reason that it depends a lot on how those two things are combined and how the audience expects them to be combined. In other words, everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes something awesome – and they will focus on these elements when either creating things or being a member of the audience.

For example, one of the reasons why I don’t consider “Somewhere in Time” to be my favourite Iron Maiden album is because it really doesn’t focus that much on the philosophical themes or the cyberpunk atmosphere in “Blade Runner”. Then again, the album is Iron Maiden’s interpretation of the science fiction genre, rather than my own interpretation of it. So, it’s going to be different.

Once again, creativity isn’t maths. Merely adding two things together won’t automatically produce something even greater because creative works are made and consumed by humans rather than machines.

2) High expectations: This is also another self-explanatory reason. When you hear that something has combined or taken influence from two of your favourite things, then it’s only natural to expect it to be the best thing in the world. And, even if it’s just as good as one of the two influences, then it’s still going to fall short of the impossibly high expectations that you have about it.

Going back to “Somewhere In Time”, it’s a very good album. In fact, it’s one of those great albums that doesn’t contain a single “bad” song. But, because it presents itself as being Iron Maiden’s version of “Blade Runner”, I kind of expect it to be twice as good as I would ordinarily expect an Iron Maiden album to be. And, given that I already consider this band to be perhaps the best in the world, not even they could surpass themselves to that extent.

So, yes, hearing that something combines two of your favourite things can sometimes create unrealistically high expectations that can lead you to look down on things that, on their own merits, would otherwise be considered great.

3) Crossovers and Canonicity: Although this isn’t a problem with original works that take inspiration from two great things, it can be a problem with “crossovers” between your favourite things. Basically, as cool as crossovers are, they often carry less dramatic weight than each of their component parts do.

The reason for this is simply to do with canonicity. Basically, because a crossover consists of characters from two completely different fictional “universes” meeting each other, there usually has to be some kind of convoluted explanation for it. Likewise, it’s not usually considered to be an “official” part of either story. As such, there can’t really be any significant character or plot developments in many major crossovers.

So, if the characters from two great stories happen to meet during a crossover film, comic, novel, TV episode etc.. then it will often be more like “Hey! These characters have met each other and gone on a fun self-contained adventure!” rather than a more complex story like the one you would find in either individual thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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