Politics Fatigue Syndrome — it strikes many people in many ways. Swelling anger. Watery expectations. Sniffling insecurity. That nagging sense of hopelessness when it comes to the efficacy of political action.
Historically, one of the salient symptoms is extreme lethargy. A while back, a reporter from the Atlanta Constitution noted that there was not much interest in the congressional elections in New Hampshire: "The people are utterly tired of politics." The year was 1877.
Another is headaches. "Don't talk to me about politics. They're a headache. The heck with it," George Upton Harvey, a New York City borough president, told the Hartford Courant in 1941. "I want to grow things. Cabbages, for instance."
And there is an odor of something amiss. Michael Reagan, son of President Reagan, recently wrote on The Cagle Post that "I'm tired of politics. We need to wake up and smell the stink coming from DC."
Even President Obama observed that "people are tired of politics" during an Iowa speech in 2011.
Everywhere you look, Americans are politically pooped.
Only 16 percent of Americans are paying attention to the upcoming midterm elections, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.
Recent research by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate reveals that voters are not showing up for primaries this year. The Associated Press notes that "15 of the 25 states that have held statewide primary elections each reported a record low percentage of voters who cast ballots." And "of the almost 123 million voters who were eligible to cast ballots in primaries, only 18 million have done so, and states with same-day voter registration actually saw their turnout rates drop."
Political strategist Diana L. Banister of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs — with a client list that includes Hobby Lobby and the Tea Party Patriots — agrees that Political Fatigue Syndrome has set in and "seems to be spreading across the country."
She points to four potential causes:
1) Widespread Malaise: "A feeling that the systems — that is, the federal and state governments — are too big and too bureaucratic to do any good for anyone."
2) Misguided Media. "News outlets are about the sensational and, in turn, ratings — not necessarily about news and what is important to the American people. Most may tune them out altogether."
3) Disgust With The Process. "Those Americans who are engaged," Diana Banister says, "try to get their candidates elected and still nothing good happens. So, out of frustration they give up."
4) Disillusionment With Politicians. "They run as a family values candidate and then take lewd pictures of themselves and text them out or make out with an intern in their office. But, the fact that they are more focused on running for office than actually governing, leads the American electorate to rate used car salesmen higher than politicians."
And the remedy? Diana Banister says. "It may take years, maybe decades, to find a cure."
Or maybe more politicians should become cabbage farmers.
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers - Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj
What would you do if you could access 100 percent of your brain's potential processing power? Reverse climate change? Pick up new languages while you sleep? Pay your rent on time? Invent an iPhone capable of making and receiving telephone calls?
More important: Would you savor the salty, crunchy, hot-buttered freshness of writer-director-mogul Luc Besson's wiggedy-wack but truly, madly deeply watchable thriller Lucy — a Ritalin-spiked pixy stick of a movie that pinches almost as much from Tree of Life as it does from The Matrix — even more? Or considerably less?
If it's the latter, then I pity you, Mr. or Ms. Fully Self-Actualized.
Look, this was already Scarlett Johansson's year: Just in the last eight months, she's given movie-elevating performances as the voice of Samantha, the self-aware operating system in Her (way to steal a film where we never even see you!); as the canny covert operative Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (way not to get buried amid all that expensive pixel-smashing!) and most spectacularly, as a mysterious being on a mysterious mission in Under the Skin, 2014's most purely cinematic film to date. Though made for a modest $13 million, it's recouped less than 20 percent of that in U.S. theatrical receipts. This is why we can't have nice movies, America. (In fact, we've had rather a lot of them this summer, no?)
Anyway, Lucy feels like the pre-chewed multiplex companion piece to that arthouse provocation, and a victory lap for its fascinating star. It isn't, how you say, smart, but — like last month's terrific Edge of Tomorrow — it's smarter than you expect. Which, adjusted for blockbuster inflation and high fructose corn syrup intake, feels like Very Smart Indeed, at least for the svelte 89 minutes of your life this film demands. At last, a would-be summer blockbuster that respects your time!
Arriving on the heels of the fifth Spider-Man and the seventh X-Men, Lucy channels the "Hey, Kids — SCIENCE!" spirit of early '60s Marvel Comics more truly than either of them. In those scripts that Stan "The Man" Lee used to grind out at a rate of six or seven per month, exposure to radiation invariably conferred superpowers instead of cancer. Well. Lucy does for recreational drugs what The Fantastic Four did for Gamma Rays. If the overdose is massive enough and the dope powerful enough, it unlocks doors previously accessible only to those who've read The Secret. Or Flowers for Algernon.
For the first 10 minutes, our Lucy (ScarJo) is just an party-loving American expat in Taipei who has fallen in with a really wrong crowd. A family of mobsters commanded by Choi Min-ski — the South Korean star of Park Chan-wook's admirably sick-minded international hit Oldboy — sews a bag of super-dope inside her gut against her will, which is as every bit as gross and terrifying as it sounds. When the bag ruptures, instead of expiring in a blast of endorphin-soaked euphoria, our Lucy finds herself crabwalkin' on the ceiling like Linda Blair. Or Lionel Ritchie. Or Spider-Pig, depending on what decade this is.
But these are mere growing pains on the bumpy road to post-biological omnipotence (So long, deodorant! Smell ya later, dental floss!), a road that — as Brilliant Neuroscientist or Something Dr. Morgan Freeman, Ph. D. (Morgan Freeman) explains in a lecture at L'Académie du Cinéma la Fausee Science et Exposition that's intercut with the drug-smuggling story — we too could travel If We Only Had The Full Use of Our Pre-Installed Brain, as the song goes.
It's actually a different Suspiciously Well-Informed Movie Doctor who has the duty of explaining to ScarJo that the stuff in her system is in fact a synthetic version of a chemical expectant mothers produce naturally to nourish the babies in their wombs. As that baby formula swims through her all-grown-up bloodstream, ScarJo begins another cycle of rapid evolution, developing the ability to manipulate her body at the cellular level, to see and manipulate radio waves, and eventually, to surf the space-time continuum from an office chair.
Which is not where I was expecting this movie to go.
Sorry, what's that? Yes, of course she's gonna take care of the rapey, tatted-up creeps who tried to make her their drug mule. Lucy goes from tearful sheep to cold-eyed wolf in one scene, but why make us wait? After efficiently sating our bloodlust for those degenerates, the movie gets on to other, more interesting business. Namely, Lucy has to get herself to Dr. Freeman so her unprecedented advance in human evolution can be observed and documented and written about in goop magazine. She also needs to acquire the rest of the stash — there were other mules, you see — "for medicinal purposes," as she deadpans. (This is a movie that confidently understands what its druggies want: More drugs! ALL OF THE DRUGS!)
Besson — best known for the odd and visually rich action pictures La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, and The Fifth Element — churns out a films at a tireless pace, but it's been a long while since a picture he directed made much of a splash in Cinémas américains. Last year, his witness protection comedy The Family did a fast fade, despite the presence of Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones and the too-seldom-seen Michelle Pfeiffer. We tend to prefer the Transporter and Taken franchises, wherein Besson, credited as a writer and producer, seems to scribble a few notes on a bar napkin and leave the stunt coordinators to work out the rest. (Which is not to deny Liam Neeson's A Very Particular Set of Skills telephone monologue from Taken its rightful place as the St. Crispin's Day speech of the 21st century.)
Lucy is a welcome reminder of just how much Besson's wry sensibility as a filmmaker adds to movies like this. It opens with a shamelessly prurient extreme close-up of cell division while Eric Serra's vaguely porn-y slow-jam score bumps and grinds along. When Lucy is in danger, Besson (who also edited the picture) cuts to shots of a big cat stalking a gazelle. Later, we get flashes of animals (and humans) mating and giving birth, a real-time, channel-surfing commentary on the story we're watching. It seems impossible that no filmmaker has thought to do this already, but I can't think of one offhand. Good job, Monsieur Besson.
Like so many other movies this summer, this is an international affair, traveling from Taipei to Berlin to Paris. Egyptian actor Amr Waked even gets a second-banana role as a bewildered Parisian police captain.
But Besson finds a way to make his obligatory superhero origin scenes feel fresh. In the funniest doctor visit in a movie since the xenomorph-abortion in Prometheus, Lucy corrals a surgeon at gunpoint and orders him to remove the leaking bag of super-dope. While he's doing that, she phones home. One of the drug's early effects is total recall of everything she's ever experienced. "I can remember the taste of your milk," she tells her bewildered mom. At least one person in the theatre groaned in revulsion, but I thought it was touching.
The climax, set in Paris, crosscuts Lucy's meetup with a roomful of the World's Most Brilliant Scientists with a gun battle between the French police and the Taiwanese gangsters in the corridors outside. (Smuggling drugs through customs requires surgical rape, but flying from Taipei to Paris with enough fully automatic weapons to storm the Bastille all over again ain't no thing, apparently.) Besson cuts the shootout in a way that conveys his diminished interest in it: One insert shows a statue, probably hundreds of years old, losing its nose to a stray round. Always these morons and their guns, its expression seems to say.
Meanwhile at the growup table, ScarJo holds court with the eggheads. "Now that I have access to the furthest reaches of my brain, I see things clearly," she begins.
It doesn't even sound clunky when she says it. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a movie star.