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Sunday, Mar 03, 2024

The Simpsons: When jokes become reality

The Simpsons: When jokes become reality

The long-running series The Simpsons is a lasting part of pop culture and has built a reputation over the years for predicting the future.

Matt Groening’s animated sitcom has become notorious for some of its episodes and jokes becoming eerily accurate, in what some choose to believe is a stranger-than-fiction power of “prediction”.

Adhere to this or not, this past week has seen the show foretelling three unrelated current events.

On the lighter side of things, a 1996 episode titled ‘Homerpalooza’, which saw Homer join the fictional travelling music festival ‘Hullabalooza’, included a banana-skinned roadie claiming the members of hip-hop outfit Cypress Hill “ordered the London Symphony Orchestra” while high and therefore must perform with them.

For years, there has been a running joke that one day Cypress Hill will work with the London Symphony Orchestra to create the mashup. And this week, Cypress Hill responded to an Instagram Reel of their Simpson’s cameo saying they plan to “make the gig with the London Symphony a reality.”


More real-life inspiring itself than proof of prophesy, this is still impressive.

The other two examples of Simpsons-soothsaying this week hark back to a 1994 episode, which seems to have foretold the recent Barbie hysteria linked to the release of Greta Gerwig’s upcoming film (the posters and trailer dropped this week) and Donald Trump’s recent indictment. Both in the same instalment.

The episode titled 'Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy' saw Lisa strive to make the Barbie creators come out with a more feminist toy to empower young girls. Springfield’s TV anchor Kent Brockman addresses her campaign: “Though it was unusual to spend 28 minutes reporting on a doll, this reporter found it impossible to stop talking. It’s just really fascinating news folks.”

Then, in a deadpan whiplash pivot, Brockman concludes the segment by announcing that the president has been arrested.

Needless to say, fans of the Simpsons deemed this their most prescient prognostication yet.


 Granted, the divination loses some of its mystique considering the episode took place in the 1990s, when Barbie’s popularity was off the charts, but the president’s arrest in the same segment could lead some to suspect the writing team of having some sort of time-travelling technology. After all, the main two social media talking points this week have been the new Barbie trailer and how Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has slapped former president Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records - marking the first-ever instance of a former president being indicted. And an early Easter treat.


Considering this is far from the first time fans have pointed out the show’s art-anticipating-life precognitive powers, let’s (non-exhaustively) look at some other instances when The Simpsons had an uncanny knack for “predicting” future events.


The censorship of Michelangelo's David (Season 2, Episode 9)
The censorship of David


Another timely example … This 1990 episode sees Marge attempt to get the cartoon The Itchy and Scratchy Show to be less violent. She then realizes how censorship works both ways when the town protests against the nudity of Michelangelo’s “David”, calling the artwork obscene.

This satire of censorship not only came true in July 2016, when Russian campaigners voted on whether to clothe a copy of the Renaissance statue, but also last month, following an uproar over a Florida school’s decision to force the resignation of its principal over complaints about a lesson featuring the statue.


Donald Trump as President (Season 11, Episode 17)
Trump's election


This is the big one. In the now infamous 2000 episode, 'Bart to the Future', the show went full on Mystic Meg when it namedropped Donald Trump as having been POTUS. The episode explores what Bart's life would be like when he got older. It features Lisa as president, and while in the Oval Office, she says: "As you know, we've inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump."

As we all know too well by now, Darth Cheeto became the 45th President of the United States in 2017, and the week after the election, the recurring chalkboard gag at the start of the show read: “Being right sucks.” Their prediction became all too accurate when you consider that Trump’s administration oversaw the third-highest deficit increase of any president. More recently, The Simpsons gained further validity when Trump announced he had plans to run for president again in 2024 - the year that The Simpsons had originally predicted.


Malfunctioning voting machines (Season 20, Episode 4)
The McCain machines


Sticking with politics, a 2008 episode ('Treehouse of Horror XIX') showed Homer trying to vote for Barack Obama in the US general election. However, a faulty computerized machine changes his vote for Republican candidate John McCain. When Homer tries to alert people to the error, the voting machine kills him.

Bizarrely, exactly the same thing (minus the murder) happened in 2012, when a voting machine in Pennsylvania had to be removed after it kept changing people's votes for Barack Obama to ones for Republican rival Mitt Romney.


The horsemeat scandal (Season 5, Episode 19)
Horse for lunch


In the 1994 episode 'Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song', Lunchlady Doris used "assorted horse parts" to make lunch for students at Springfield Elementary.

Little did she know that she was quite the trailblazer, as nine years later, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found horse DNA in over one-third of beef burger samples from supermarkets.


Disney buys 20th Century Fox (Season 10, Episode 5)
Disney buys 20th Century Fox


In the 1998 episode 'When You Dish Upon a Star', a scene takes place on the Fox studio lot, where a sign reads: “20th Century Fox… A Division of Walt Disney Co.”

And wouldn't you know it, this also became reality in 2017, when Disney bought Fox’s entertainment division (basically everything except Fox News and Fox Business) for an estimated $52.4 billion.


The discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle's mass (Season 10, Episode 2)
Higgs Boson particle mass


In a 1998 episode titled 'The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace', Homer becomes an inventor and in one cutaway gag, is shown in front of a blackboard on which features an equation.

The Higgs-Boson particle (also known as the “God particle”) was first predicted in 1964 by Professor Peter Higgs and five other physicists, but it wasn't until 2013 that scientists discovered proof. They were flabbergasted when they found its mass was similar to Homer’s mathematic scribbles. Indeed, according to Simon Singh, the author of "The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets," the equation predicts the mass of the Higgs-Boson particle.


Predicting Nobel Prize Winners (Season 22, Episode 1)
Nobel predictions


In 'Elementary School Musical', Lisa and her friends fashion a prediction sheet for the Nobel Prize announcements.

Although the character Milhouse lost on his 2010 prediction that Bengt R. Holmstrom would win the Nobel Prize in Economics, he was proven right in 2016 when Holmstrom ended up bagging the coveted honour.


The FIFA corruption scandal (Season 25, Episode 16)
FIFA member arrested


In 2014’s 'You Don’t Have to Live Like a Referee', Homer is selected to be a ref for the World Cup after FIFA reveals that all their referees have been bribed. The FIFA executive says at one point: “I myself am about to be arrested for corruption.”

Just one year later, infamously shady FIFA would be rocked by a very real bribery scandal, with accusations of bribery, fraud and money laundering. Almost 40 people were indicted and the ensuing investigation provided evidence that a great many World Cup host nations won their bids through bribes – including Qatar in 2022.


Ebola and a global pandemic (Season 9, Episode 3 & Season 4, Episode 21)
Conspiracy fodder


Some fans maintain that The Simpsons predicted the 2014 outbreak of Ebola 17 years before it happened. In a scene from the 1997 episode 'Lisa's Sax', Marge holds a book titled "Curious George and the Ebola Virus."

While Ebola was first discovered in 1976, Ebola had its largest outbreak on record in 2014 and 2015.

Bit far-fetched, this one, to say the least. Just wait until the pandemic prediction…

In 1993’s 'Marge in Chains', a viral outbreak from Japan called the “Osaka Flu” makes its way to Springfield. Chaos ensues.

A little unconvincing when it comes to accurately foreshadowing the future (who wouldn’t panic when faced with a global pandemic?), but the show’s fans have elevated this episode to infamy status because of its numerous similarities to 2020 and the COVID era.

Granted, the coronavirus outbreak originated in Asia and the episode does predict the mass hysteria a pandemic would trigger. The interesting (read: eye-rollingly predictable and downright terrifying) aspect is that the alt-right media used this episode as a scare tactic during the pandemic, equating the show’s search for a cure and landing on a placebo to heavily imply that vaccines didn’t work.

Bit too close to the bone, even if this is one of the less convincing predictions. Unless you’re an unhinged Fox News anchor. In which case, apparently The Simpsons is a documentary sent from the future.

All 33 seasons of The Simpsons can be streamed on Disney+.

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