Predictions from ‘The Simpsons’ Can Actually Be Explained
Whenever something noteworthy or downright idiotic takes social media by storm, a diehard Simpsons fan will appear in the comments with a GIF, video, or screen grab to prove that the brilliant prognosticators on the show’s writing staff predicted the event and/or calamity long ago. What became something of a meme on Twitter and other social media platforms resulted in a slew of list-based articles opining the show’s divinely accurate soothsaying. But many of these so-called predictions can be boiled down to a philosophy one might refer to as Simpsons’ razor. This is a humorous spin on an actual real philosophy, Occam’s razor, which suggests that the simplest explanation is often the best one. Simpsons’ razor, in contrast, is a philosophy stating that the dumbest possible result is often the most likely. The comedy writers on The Simpsons may appear to be predicting future events, but in reality, they are constructing satiric barbs that mock society’s stupidity by exaggerating it. The Simpson family isn’t predicting the future; our modern society is simply racing The Simpsons to see who can present the dumbest possible outcome for humanity.
Could You Dumb Down Those Predictions a Little?
Stupidity is a two-way street of course, and whether that street is Evergreen Terrace or Pennsylvania Avenue, trying to find the culprit behind this worldwide “process of dumbening” (to quote Lisa Simpson, voiced by Yeardley Smith) might resemble another popular meme: multiple Spider-Men pointing at one another in an accusatory manner. There is a Simpsons quote for every situation, and one that explains why the show’s predictions feel so prescient comes from a 1996 episode called “Much Apu About Nothing.” When an angry mob descends on Mayor Quimby’s (Dan Castellaneta) office, Quimby shuts the doors and asks his aide, “Are these morons getting dumber or just louder?” to which the aide replies, “Dumber, sir.” A less “cromulent” article might claim that this is another prediction that The Simpsons nailed completely, but in truth it serves as an example of why many of the so-called predictions are relatively unimpressive.
The Simpsons writers were merely commenting on a situation that already existed at the time of the episode’s writing, namely the public’s desire for government programs being undercut by people’s unwillingness to pay additional taxes to keep those programs alive. In the episode, Quimby uses immigrants as a scapegoat for the tax hike, and the people of Springfield become newly mistrustful of immigrants as a result. This again could be a play right out of the modern Republican playbook, but the reason it feels so continually relevant and perhaps predictive is the fact that it is a long-trodden path, a pattern of behavior in which politicians blame a group seen as an untrustworthy “other” and demagogue against them in order to rally support. For those looking for evidence of this political methodology, try reading up on any U.S. war, political campaign, or human rights movement, just for starters.
Is ‘The Simpsons’ Actually Predicting the Present?
Taking the “louder or dumber” scene as a microcosm of The Simpsons‘ predictions as a whole, we can extrapolate that many of the show’s most heralded predictions are either throwaway gags that coincidentally came true or examples of patterns in human nature that recur frequently. Even among the better of The Simpsons prediction list-icles, there tend to be one or two lightweight or forced entries used to round out the list, which speaks more to the reader’s confirmation bias than to any prognosis by the show’s writers. For example, the 1995 episode “Lisa’s Wedding” is said to have predicted smartwatches and video calls, but even Maxwell Smart used a wrist communicator in the classic 1965 spy comedy series Get Smart, and 1989’s Back to the Future Part II featured a video telephone. If we apply the same logic here that the list-makers did, does that mean that Get Smart and Back to the Future predicted jokes on The Simpsons? Or is it more likely that the pop-culture savvy Simpsons writers saw these or similar works of fiction and actively (or sub-consciously) referenced them in these episodes?
In similar exploitation of a terminally online person’s willingness to believe a meme, these lists often claim that “Lisa on Ice” predicted problematic autocorrecting on Apple devices. The prediction in question occurs when bully Kearney (Nancy Cartwright) tells his cohort Dolph to take a memo reminding him to “Beat up Martin,” referring to nerdy student Martin Prince (Russi Taylor). Dolph scribbles the note on the screen of his Apple Newton, and the device incorrectly translates his writing to read “Eat up Martha.” This would be an incredible example of the show’s predictive powers if not for the fact that the Apple Newton actually existed. The show’s writers were literally making fun of an existing Apple product. The only reason the “prediction” seemed to hold true for iPhones as well is because Apple has been making cutting-edge technology with laughable shortcomings for decades. As Lisa says to a fortune-teller in “Lisa’s Wedding,” “Wow. You can see into the… present.”
We Want a Prediction, Homer, Not a Vague Description
The wedding episode is also said to have predicted the construction of London skyscraper, The Shard, a laudably pointy building that seems “to slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of God,” as 1940s poet John Gillespie Magee Jr. or The Simpsons character Colonel Leslie Hapablap (R. Lee Ermey) might put it. (Is referencing old poetry a means of predicting the past? By God, The Simpsons have done it again!) Fans of nebulous predictions everywhere believe that The Shard is miraculously featured in the background of a shot of the digital clock face on the Palace of Westminster. Those who believe in coincidence might have mistaken this squiggle for an incorrectly placed Washington Monument or perhaps a random, indiscernible spike meant to balance out the shot when positioned next to a hastily rendered Tower Bridge. Only galaxy-brained cartoon fans will comprehend the startling truth: that this is clearly an example of otherworldly predictive power. (This might be a good time to use Comic Book Guy’s sarcasm detector. Then again, it might explode.)
Some predictions can be explained by reality chasing cars headed straight for it. I.e., The Simpsons will satirize the stupidity of a recurring situation, and humanity’s inability to learn from its mistakes will make that satire relevant time and again. Did The Simpsons episode “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” predict one Russian woman’s outrage over the nudity of Michelangelo‘s David, or was writer John Schwartzwelder simply mocking puritanical outrage in general, using pants on David as a hilarious send-up of bizarre censorship? Though this example is often mentioned on Simpsons predictions list, it is never clear whether the real David was ever clothed by the Russians or if one woman’s disgust at seeing a stone penis was given wildly outsized media coverage. Can it truly be considered a prediction if it is unclear whether the event came to pass?
Political Predictions Are a Lot Like a Mule with a Spinning Wheel
Several of the show’s amazing predictions have shockingly claimed that the U.S. Government might one day be run in an incompetent manner. When the reader has finished clutching their pearls, take for instance the joke where Mayor Quimby left town during a disaster for a beach vacation. The list-icles claim that this is a prediction that Texas Senator Ted Cruz would leave Texas to go to Cancun during a deadly winter storm. Since Cruz purports himself to be a fan of The Simpsons, it is possible that he got the idea to ditch out on his constituents from the show, but it is more likely that this joke is broadly satirizing any and all politicians who make big promises but fail to deliver for the people who elected them, especially during times of crisis. Though the beach vacation aspect is the same, there was unfortunately never a point where Cruz was interrupted by a steel drum performance on camera, making this prediction feel like a stretch.
One of the most staggering Simpsons predictions is also the best example of the United States becoming indistinguishable from satire. In a March 2000 episode called “Bart to the Future,” a vision shows an adult Lisa as U.S. President telling her cabinet that their administration has inherited “quite a budget crunch from President Trump.” Again this would be frighteningly predictive if the show had not been referencing actual events that occurred prior to the episode. In 1999 Trump left the Republican Party to try and become the presidential nominee for the Reform Party, and before that he had considered running for President in the late ’80s. Though it is disappointing that the Trump Presidency came to pass, The Simpsons failed to warn the public about more pressing, non-budgetary concerns to the country, like the insurrection attempt at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. If The Simpsons writers could magically predict the future, it feels fairly selfish that they omitted that side-note.
Predictions That Were Acquired in a Hostile Takeover by Disney and Sold Off Piece by Piece
There are other mind-boggling predictions to consider, like that Siegfried and Roy‘s tigers might harbor some resentment toward them after years of being forced to prance around a Las Vegas showroom, or that pop superstar Lady Gaga would perform at the Super Bowl. If those predictions have failed to impress you, consider the staggering claim that Disney, the colossal blob-like conglomerate, could one day own competitor 20th Century Fox. It may have seemed like a throwaway joke in 1998, but endless expansion and gobbling up properties has been the M.O. for a majority of U.S. corporations. Some might say that Disney’s takeover of Fox was inevitable. Regardless of what the reader believes, it is clear that the clever comedy writers at The Simpsons have a knack for mocking everyday life that feels predictive, even if the list of stuff that actually came true is a bit lacking. Then again, if the show gets credit for the times it seemingly predicted the future, perhaps viewers should hold the show accountable for things it predicted incorrectly as well, like when the writers thought producing episodes that glorify Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson, and Elon Musk would no doubt stand the test of time.