In the Green Lantern post I mentioned “The Rocky Syndrome.” That’s what I call the common American trope where a single hero prevails after having the living crap beat out of him (or her) and being at the edge of defeat. (I’m going to assume you’re all familiar enough with the Rocky films to know what I’m talking about.)
A more modern example is one of the first (and greatest) action films of its kind: Die Hard. (Obviously, I’m talking about the first one. The others are… okay, but that first one is a classic. One of those films you can watch many times and still enjoy.)
In fact, that’s such a great film that one of these days I’ll have to write a post about it, but for now I want to talk about what I call, “The Boston Syndrome.”
I’m not talking about the city (or the clam chowder); I’m talking about the band, Boston (who came from Boston and no doubt ate plenty of clam chowder there). Another name for this syndrome might be “The Heavy Metal Syndrome,” which might lead you to think this is about music, but I mean another kind of Heavy Metal entirely.
Those of you who were around in the 70s and 80s, and who listened to rock music, will remember Boston. Their first album is one of the great classic albums. The band had a distinctive sound; you recognized a Boston tune immediately. Part of that came from the band’s musical arrangements, but a part of it was from technical innovations by Tom Scholz, guitarist and songwriter. (If I recall an article I read long ago, Scholz over-drove the output amplifiers and used bigass resistors to dampen the output. This is in contrast to over-driving the pre-amps.)
Anyway, here’s the point. The first album (Boston, 1976) was a rock and roll classic. Their second album (Don’t Look Back, 1978) was… more of the same. It did about half as well as the first. Granted, some of the problem was strife within the band, but a bigger problem is that it was… more of the same. The band capitalized on their unique sound, but that works only once. After than, the novelty is gone.
It would be 1986 before the band released another album, Third Stage. Two more albums followed, Walk On (1994) and Corporate America (2002). And while their first album went platinum 17 times, the second went platinum only seven, their third only four, their fourth only once, and their fifth has zero.
Which brings us to “The Boston Syndrome,” or more properly, “doing a Boston.” The idea is of monster success followed by never living up to that first time ever again. And let me be clear: it’s not that their other albums are bad in any way. It’s just that they were so much less than the initial outing.
Another example of this–albeit a much more prolonged decay–was the magazine Heavy Metal (which was based on the French SciFi/Horror magazine, Métal Hurlant). When Heavy Metal first came out in 1977, it was awesome; it was another classic among all that followed.
As with Boston (the album), it was in part based on being the first and being unique. But as the magazine aged, it became less and less interesting. The problem was that when they started they had a vast pool of current and past work upon which to draw. Once they exhausted the cream, they had to rely on the small amount of new cream and a lot of old milk. The quality of the stories began to slip, and by 1986 they went from monthly to quarterly.
It did spawn some movies, and–like Boston (the band)–it’s still around, but it’s no longer the cultural landmark it once was. In both cases, part of the reason is that they created many followers, and that dilutes the primacy of the creator.
I’ll leave you with one more example of “doing a Boston.” Here’s another classic among peers that has never been matched since: the movie, The Sixth Sense.
M. Night Shyamalan created a movie that everyone was talking about. It was a phenomenon. (It’s one of my favorite movies; it easily makes my top 25 favorites of all time.) He’s never matched the sheer impact, surprise or quality of that movie since. He second, Unbreakable, wasn’t bad–most people rank it near the first, but it didn’t have the impact of his first. Just about everyone agrees his films went sharply downhill from there (hitting a serious low point with The Last Airbender).
I think his most recent film, Devil, wasn’t bad. He continues his trick of having a twist ending that he telegraphs early, but it’s toned down and rather loudly telegraphed (one would barely call it a twist ending). Actually, there’s two twists. One involves who the Devil is, and I guessed that one. It’s the unexpected twist that’s his signature move, and it’s fairly subtle here. One thing that is increasingly clear is that he’s a horror film director. That’s his element.
But I have once again digressed off the main topic, so it’s time to quit. But now you know what I mean when I say, “They did a Boston.“