Sunday, 20 May 2018

How The Simpsons Actually Predicts the Future

The Simpsons is the longest running prime-time television series in American history. Since its first appearance on the Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, the show has developed from a quick-last minute pitch by creator Matt Groening to nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, thanks to not only a beloved cast of characters, but also to the genius writing staff the series has employed over the last three decades; and through the series’ dose of self-aware, witty humor, The Simpsons has become a core part of television history, and a show clearly decades ahead of its time.

However, The Simpsons has become notorious in recent years for the show’s incredible ability to predict future events, such as Mutant Vegetables, Smartwatches, the outbreak of the Ebola Virus, the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, and even the election of President Donald Trump, among many other eerie similarities. 

For a show that has been in syndication for over 25 years, and one which constantly tries to poke fun at popular culture, it’s not surprising that the show may have predicted one or two events during its tenure, however the sheer amount of bizarre similarities between The Simpsons and real life events have made many people theorise that the series  actually predicts the future. 

While there are many cases of life imitating art by sheer coincidence or accident, there are instances in which the notoriety of The Simpsons actually pushes this dynamic along.  In 1999, The Simpsons produced the episode, “E-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)”, in which Homer inadvertently invents the Tomacco plant.  A plant which fuses together the elements of the tomato and tobacco plants. 

Four years later, a fan of The Simpsons, Rob Baur, grew his own real-life version of the plant. The basis of the story on The Simpsons was built upon actual fact, that one can graft a tomato plant onto tobacco root.  This may have been coincidental on the part of the writers, that such a plant could be physically possible, but this is an example of The Simpsons causing life to deliberately imitate art.

Tomacco? That's pretty clever. I mean, for a product that's evil and deadly

This sort of dynamic is not unique to The Simpsons by any means, it is somewhat common to the science fiction genre, as technology often advances to catch up with what had been seen in Star Trek or Star Wars, for example. The Simpsons have dabbled in making these kinds of predictions as well.  

The Season 6 episode, “Lisa’s Wedding,” predicted several pieces of tech we use today. Stuff like Lisa video-chatting with her mother, or her fiance communicating with his smartwatch.  They didn’t quite get the robotic exploding librarians or gardeners correct, but they at least nailed the “Rolling Stones” reunion tour prediction. Still waiting on Britain to bail us out of World War 3, though.

So, Hugh, have you heard all the latest American jokes?'s a good one: pull my finger!

One of the most brazen predictions by Simpsons writers is contained in the Season 3 episode, “Lisa the Greek.” The climax of that episode hinges on Lisa’s prediction for Super Bowl 26, between the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills, with Lisa picking the Redskins.  In The Simpsons universe, the Washington Redskins do indeed win the Super Bowl, fulfilling Lisa’s love toward her father.  This would have been quite awkward and hilarious in hindsight if the Bills did end up winning the game, especially now that the episode is preserved forever in DVD and syndication.  

The following years, Fox re-aired the episode before the next 3 Super Bowls, re-dubbing a few lines with the new teams’ names.  Lisa correctly predicted the next three winners in each successive year: the Cowboys over the Bills, the Cowboys over the Bills once again, and then finally the 49ers over the Chargers in Super Bowl 29.  It may be possible The Simpsons got lucky with their dub, and simply picked against the Bills each year, to make things easier.  Poor Buffalo.  But regardless, The Simpsons managed to make an accurate prediction of the future for four consecutive years.

What could be more exciting than the savage ballet that is pro football?

The most popular of all of these predictions however, comes from a Season 11 episode titled “Bart to the Future” (first aired on March 19 2000), wherein Bart is shown a glimpse of his future; where he is a washed-up, wannabe rock star living with Ralph Wiggum, while his sister Lisa has become President of the United States. However, the notable part of this future is whom Lisa took over the role of President from. In the episode, Lisa makes reference a budget crunch which America is faced in… one she has inherited from President Trump. This now-17 year old clip went viral online soon after the real Donald J. Trump announced of his intentions to run for office in the 2016 Presidential Elections, an election he would win, becoming the 45th President of the United States. 

When asked about the reference, the episode’s writer, Dan Greaney, told The Hollywood Reporter that "It was a warning to America," adding that “it just seemed like the logical last stop before hitting rock bottom. It was pitched because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane." 

Furthermore, after the official inauguration of Trump as President on January 20th 2017, series creator Matt Groening told The Guardian: "We predicted that he would be president back in 2000 – but Trump was, of course, the most absurd placeholder joke name that we could think of at the time”, and describing it as “beyond satire.”

While the show definitely does have a knack for ironically predicting the future, I wouldn’t call it anything other than coincidental. And while it’s possible that the show has inspired some of these incidents, and some theorise that The Simpsons is at the epicentre of a larger worldwide conspiracy, I’d say it’s more likely that, like Groening stated, it’s simply their attempt at satire in world which just so happens to be too self-satirical for comfort. 

As stated by Dr. John Donaldson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, the reason for all of these coincidences is because “it's a show about life. It deals with situations close to our own hearts and touches on themes we see in our day-to-day lives, so it's unsurprising that some of the things they touch on can become a reality.” 

Furthermore, as Kevin Dettmar stated in ‘Counter-cultural Literacy: Learning Irony with the Simpsons’, the show is “the most consistently, intelligently ironic show on television”, and while many other traditional American sitcoms attempt to “resolve the large structural problems of American culture”, the Simpsons instead attempts to satire these issues, offering the notion that despite these problems, “one can remain happy and sane living at a somewhat oblique angle.” 

To The Simpsons, irony is the analytical tool of choice, and the show uses it to great effect, which is the reason why it attempts to satire modern society and culture so much, and why, therefore, it predicts so much. The Simpsons seeks to discuss the world around it through humour and satire, holding a fun-house mirror up to the world, distorting its reflection; its just sometimes, the world it’s trying to distort isn’t perfect itself.

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