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Fact Check-The Simpsons episodes are not evidence of ‘predictive programing’

A TikTok video claims The Simpsons episodes are an example of predictive programming, suggesting that the creators have prior knowledge of world events. The clip features a mixture of fabricated screengrabs, images that have been taken out of context, or authentic scenes of the show that are no more than coincidental.

An iteration of the video can be seen on Instagram here.

As explained by Ohio State University here, the term “predictive programming” refers to the “theory that the government or other higher-ups are using fictional movies or books as a mass mind control tool to make the population more accepting of planned future events.”

The video in question as well as other claims related to The Simpsons’ alleged predictions (some debunked by Reuters here, here) are not evidence of this.

Contacted by Reuters in March 2020, Bill Oakley, writer and producer for The Simpsons during the 1990s, addressed the overall idea that show could predict world events. “I would say in general when people say The Simpsons has predicted something, it is just that we were satirizing real life events from years before and because history keeps repeating it just SEEMS like we were predicting things.”

FABRICATED IMAGES

NOTRE-DAME

The alleged image of Notre Dame, which was consumed by a massive fire on April 15, 2019 ( here ) was digitally altered to include flames behind the Parisian cathedral and character Mr. Burnes standing in front of it.

The unaltered frame can be seen in the episode 7, Season 19 which indeed ran in 2007, entitled “Husbands and Knives” ( www.imdb.com/title/tt0992614/ ). A video by ABC News Fact or Fiction features the original segment youtu.be/4xMECIPxp4E?t=38.

COVID-19

The frames that appear to refer to the COVID-19 pandemic have been taken out of context or edited.

The image of two workers with yellow helmets coughing into a box belongs to Episode 21 of season 4 of the show entitled “Marge in Chains” ( www.imdb.com/title/tt0701171/ ) which aired in 1993 and is not about a coronavirus outbreak but about a fictional disease named “Osak flu.”

The image of character Kent Brockman presenting the news in his studio has been edited, adding the words “CORONA VIRUS” to the screen. The original message in the frame reads “Apocalypse Meow” and can be found in a different episode aired in 2010, entitled “The Fool Monty” from season 22 ( here ).

Reuters previously addressed these and other images in March 2020, when posts falsely claimed the show had predicted the COVID-19 outbreak ( here ) .

At the time, Oakley, one of the episode’s writers, described the claim to Reuters as “a stretch.”

AUTHENTIC BUT OUT OF CONTEXT

TRUMP AND MIDDLE EASTERN LEADERS

The video also features a photograph of former U.S. president Donald Trump placing his hands on a glowing orb alongside Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in May 2017 ( here ).

This cartoon version, presented as a framed photograph, was created by The Simpsons, but it was done days after Trump’s visit (not in 2002, as claimed). It was featured in a video posted on May 26, 2017, on The Simpson’s Facebook ( here ). The clip carries the description: “125 Days: Donald Trump makes one last try to patch things up with Comey.”

GEORGE FLOYD

Another screengrab in the clip shows the exact scene of George Floyd’s death ( here ). But this is not from a 2009 Simpson’s episode, as the video claims.

It was published by cartoonist Yuri Pomo on May 30, 2020, days after Floyd’s death ( here ).

Pomo has created other images of celebrities or newsworthy moments in the Simpsons cartoon style ( here, here, here).

EBOLA VIRUS

Another authentic image shows Marge Simpson holding a fictional yellow book entitled “Curious George gets the Ebola virus.” The frame in question belongs to episode 3 of season 9 entitled “Lisa’s Sax.” It originally aired in 1997 ( www.imdb.com/title/tt0701163/ ).

But this is not evidence that the show predicted the Ebola outbreaks to come in the 2000s. The Ebola virus (EVD) first appeared in 1976 ( here ).

BEIRUT EXPLOSION

The video also makes the claim that the show predicted the blast in Beirut, Lebanon that took place Aug. 4, 2020.

The image from The Simpsons, which shows a big cloud of smoke of an orange color belongs to episode 20 of season 2021, entitled “To Surveil with Love”. It was aired in 2010, not 2007 as claimed ( www.imdb.com/title/tt1633108/ ).

While the episode portrays a nuclear explosion in the fictional town of Springfield, the explosion in Beirut was caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate. Ranked as one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions recorded, it killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and was felt in Cyprus, more than 240 km (150 miles) away. A Reuters Graphic of the event can be seen here.

Several episodes of The Simpsons, throughout its 32 aired seasons, also include explosions in their storylines. The Simpsons Fandom Wiki, a collaborative online database about the show, lists them here.

Following the Beirut explosion, Snopes debunked similar posts that included other footage by The Simpsons as alleged evidence ( here ).

AUTHENTIC AND COINCIDENTAL

KAMALA HARRIS AND LISA’S PURPLE SUIT

The image of Lisa Simpson in a purple suit belongs to episode 17 of season 11, entitled “Bart to the Future” ( www.imdb.com/title/tt0767439/ ). In the episode, aired in 2000, Lisa Simpson is the first female president of the United States. While it makes no mention of Vice President Harris, the first woman, the first Black person and the first Asian American to hold the office, she says that her administration has “inherited quite a budget crunch from president [Donald] Trump.” (Trump had an unsuccessful presidential run in 1999, here, which could have inspired the prediction of a future Trump presidency.)

Lisa’s purple suit and pearl earrings are similar to the outfit of Vice President Kamala Harris for inauguration day, but there is an explanation for this.

Harris wore a mid-length purple coat and matching dress from New York-based designer Christopher John Rogers.

As reported by Reuters here color purple, also worn in different shades by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama during the event ( here, here) is the color of American women’s suffrage, but also one that many observers interpreted as a symbol of unity between the Democrat “blue states” and Republican “red states” of the country, a theme of the ceremony.

Harris’ signature pearl earrings, which she had also worn during the Vice Presidential debate ( here, here) appear to be a nod to sisterhood and her membership of Alpha Kappa Alpha - the first black Greek-letter sorority - at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The sorority and a Facebook group with more than 450,000 members urged women to wear pearls on Wednesday to celebrate the first female U.S. Vice President.

9/11 WORLD TRADE CENTER

The clip features an authentic screengrab of an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart Simpson with a magazine cover that features a “$9” next to the Twin Towers which look like an “11”

Entitled “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”, episode 1 of season 9 aired on 1997, years prior the September 11 attacks of 2001. ( www.imdb.com/title/tt0701230/ )

As reported by The New York Times here, in 2010 Oakley, then executive producer, referred to this “eerie” coincidence.

“$9 was picked as a comically cheap fare,” he said. “And I will grant that it’s eerie, given that it’s on the only episode of any series ever that had an entire act of World Trade Center jokes.

VERDICT

False. This video is not evidence of “predictive programing” by The Simpsons. The video features a mixture of fabricated images and authentic images that have been taken out of context or are coincidental.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here.

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