Can The Simpsons tell the future? No, of course, it can’t. The idea that the animated show has some fortune-telling ability is explained more through longevity than magical prowess. With over thirty years of social and political material to dig through, it’s hardly surprising that some story plots or Gags have crossed the line between fiction and reality. While no one in their right mind would suggest a TV behemoth written by countless staff writers is prophetic, these coincidences are entertaining to ogle. Here are five times The Simpsons predicted the future.
Too soon? The pandemic that began in late 2019 and continues to hold the world in its grip has changed everyday life as we know it, perhaps forever. Many fell into the comforting grasp of classic TV shows, including everyone’s favourite yellow family, only to find a coincidental connection with our covid-era. In the twenty-first episode of season four, “Marge in Chains”, an infectious disease spreads from Japan to Springfield through packages. The disease in question receives the moniker “Osaka Flu”… yeah, I know.
Fear of covid spreading via packages and mail was a brief concern at the beginning of the pandemic, though we now know transmission through mail to be very low to nil. The flu in this episode is also visible to the naked eye as a kind of mist. Apart from being a funny episode, there’s nothing medically realistic nor prophetic about this 1993 episode. There are killer bees, though, so I suppose that’s something.
4. The Trump Presidency
Did The Simpsons predict the presidency of Donald Trump? No. Eighteen years ago, the episode “Bart to the Future” showed an older Lisa becoming president of the United States. She mentions that the economy is in ruins, devastated by former president Trump. Political bias aside, this gag was nothing more than a callback to Trump’s failed presidential campaign of 2000. No crystal ball is required here.
In 1999 Donald Trump announced his intention to run for president. Despite no experience in politics, Trump had been considering a run for years. Focusing his campaign on free trade and universal healthcare, the failing businessman did every media venue and daytime talk show that would have him. Many considered his campaign a joke, but it helped heal his public image from one of a comical, debt-ridding oddity to a supposedly successful property magnate and TV star. The rest is history, for better or worse.
3. The 9/11 Attacks
Even for a sceptic, this one is all kinds of weird and uncomfortable. In the premiere episode of season nine, The City of New York vs Homer Simpson, a drunk Barney steals Homer’s car and leaves it in Manhattan. Trying to figure out a way of getting to his car for the lowest cost, Bart holds up a flyer advertising a Greyhound-like bus service. The brochure shows $9 with the silhouette of the twin towers behind it – 9/11. This leaflet meant nothing when the episode landed in 1997, but four years later, it would become an uncomfortable reminder of one of the worst attacks in the United States history.
On the eleventh of September 2001, two aeroplanes crashed into the World Trade Centre. It’s an event that changed the world and is the worst attack on a democratic country in history. The event impacted all media, from comic books to video games. Perhaps as a way of minimising the full impact of the attacks, people grabbed onto this ludicrous idea that an established Comedy show had guessed this would happen four years earlier. In this minimisation, a kind of fatalism would help people cope with unimaginable pain and loss. This is by some margin the saddest entry on this list because it’s not a prediction of the future; it’s a longing for the past.
2. The Horse Meat Scandal
Not all Simpsons jokes are in witty quotable line, but instead conveyed through visual gags that’ve nonetheless “predicted” the future. In a 1994 episode, Lunch-lady Doris uses meat from a large barrel with “assorted horse meat parts” plastered on its side. In 2003 the British public was shocked to find that beef was often substituted for horse meat – upwards of 100% in some products. It was a massive scandal that led to widespread reform in the food industry. Hardly surprising that this scandal opened veganism and vegetarianism to more people and meat substitutes like tofu and Quorn.
The use of horse meat isn’t uncommon in particular countries across Europe but was generally considered below par for meat products sold in the UK. The food industry lied to the food standards authority and the people who relied on its products to feed their families. Sadly, I think this has less to do with prediction and more to do with the shockingly low standards the food industry had the things its sold for decades before being found out.
1. The Siegfried & Roy Tiger Attack
Let’s end this admittedly bummer of a topic on a lighter note, shall we? Well, if you consider tigers mauling beloved entertainers a “lighter note”, that is. If you’re under the age of thirty, you’ve likely never heard of Siegfried and Roy, the fabulous duo who, along with their tigers, wowed Las Vegas tourists for decades. The Simpsons often used the gambling Mecca when Springfield became too blasé and had their tiger-wielding showmen, Gunter and Ernst. In the 1993 episode titled $pringfield (or how I learned to stop worrying and love legalised gambling), the duo turns up to the new Burn’s casino but soon find themselves attacked by their white tiger.
Ten years after the episode dropped, an eerily similar attack occurred at the Mirage in Vegas. While performing a bit with a tiger named Montecore, the animal latched onto Roy’s sleeve, eventually biting his neck and severing his spine. The reason for the incident remained controversial, with the trainer claiming the pair had mishandled the animal and working with the hotel/casino to cover up the real reason to protect both their images. The show, which had wowed audiences since 1967, ended in 2004.
The Simpsons is the longest-running animated show in history. It’s older than the author of this article and doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon. Such unrivalled longevity is a testament to the writers who rely on real life’s strange, extraordinary and occasionally tragic events to influence the shows scrips. No crystal ball is needed for episode ideas – the world provides everything a budding satirist needs to entertain.
Every season of The Simpsons is available on Disney Plus.