Religious and intelligence communities have always been in the business of forecasting the future. But what about pop culture’s role in divination? Pop culture isn't concerned with interpreting the Mayan calendar, predicting locust swarms and the End of Days, or proving or disproving the 1555 prophecies of Nostradamus. However, that hasn't stopped it from having its finger on the pulse of the future.
From books and films to advertisements and song lyrics, the predictions in pop culture are the work of fantasy and the imagination, or what is commonly called the “Accidental Prophet Effect.” In other words, if science fiction writers attempt to envision life in the distant future, then sooner or later they're going to predict something like satellite communications (Arthur C. Clarke, 1945) or the video chat -Isaac Asimov, 1964. As the saying goes, “even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
At the same time, there are predictions and off-hand forecasts that seem like more than just creative coincidences. Here are 10 events that were predicted in pop culture.
10 Poltergeist Predicts Heather O’Rourke’s Death
Poltergeist was released in 1982, so why does the little boy, Robbie, have a poster for 1988’s Super Bowl XXII on his bedroom wall? Poltergeist has long been considered one of Hollywood’s most cursed films, and the unexplainable choice of bedroom décor only adds to the mystery.
On January 31, 1988, the day of the Super Bowl, Heather O’ Rourke, the young actress who played Carol Ann in Poltergeist, became violently ill. She was living in San Diego at the time, the same city in which the Super Bowl was played. O’Rourke died the next day at the age of 12 from septic shock caused by a misdiagnosed intestinal stenosis.
9 John Elfreth Watkins Predicts High-Speed Trains
John Elfreth Watkins wrote for Ladies’ Home Journal magazine. In 1900, in an issue titled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years,” Watkins predicted that by the year 2000 trains would reach speeds up to 150 mph.
Flash-forward 100 years…and in 2000 the Amtrak Acela Express between Boston and Washington D.C. opens. The train reaches speeds of 150 mph. While his crystal ball was accurate when it came to the evolution of high-speed transportation, Watkins wasn’t so good predicting changes in the English language. Strangely, he believed English would shed the letters C, X, and Q. It’s a bizarre prediction, but no more bizarre than the fact that the English language has been transformed –for better or worse -by text message acronyms and emoticons.
8 Magnum P. Eyes GPS in 1993
Tom Selleck is best known for his role as Thomas Magnum in the TV series, Magnum P.I. (1980-88). He’s also known for his Velcro-like chest hair. But who knew he could divine the future? Tom Selleck was hired by AT&T in 1993 to provide voiceover for a series of commercials called “You Will.” The ads looked at what you might be able to do with your telephone in the future –as in “You Will” be able to get maps on your phone from anywhere in the world. Yes, Magnum P.I. predicted GPS in ‘93. However, although the satellite network became operational in 1994, cell phones didn’t have the capability to access it for several years.
7 Roger Ebert Predicts Movie Streaming
In 1987, Omni magazine interviewed Roger Ebert. When asked how he thought the competition between movies and television would play out in the future, the legendary critic for the Chicago-Sun Times made several comments that turned out to be prophetic.
“We'll have high-definition, wide-screen television sets and a push-button dialing system to order the movie you want at the time you want it,” said Ebert. “You won't go to a video store but instead order a movie on demand and then pay for it.”
Roger Ebert clearly had his finger on the pulse of the future, and until we begin viewing movies and TV differently, “the balcony is closed.”
6 Vanilla Sky and 9/11
Vanilla Sky, a sci-fi fantasy directed by Cameron Crowe and featuring Tom Cruise, was released in December 2001, but filmed the year before. Much has been made about the film’s final scene and its uncanny resemblance to the events that occurred on 9/11. Tom Cruise stands atop the tallest building in New York in the morning and willfully leaps, and the scene is eerily reminiscent of the 200 Americans who jumped from the North Tower to escape the fire and smoke. More specifically, the final scene in Vanilla Sky resembles "The Falling Man" photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew.
5 Philco-Ford Predicts Online Shopping
An early pioneer of electronics, Philco started making carbon arc lamps in 1892 before becoming a leading manufacturer of radios. Ford Motor Company bought Philco in 1961. In 1967, in honor of its 75th anniversary, the Philco-Ford Corporation released a short film titled, Year 1999 A.D. The film speculated on life and technology in the future and featured concepts such as PC desktops with flat screen monitors, laser printers, online shopping and bill paying, and instant written communication (email).
4 1987 Apple Promo Predicts the iPhone
Big hair. Big shoulder pads. And even bigger computers. In the ‘80s, personal computers were monstrous; they were ungainly Rubik’s Cubes of interconnected boxes. In '87, Apple released a promo video called “Knowledge Navigator” that outlined their predictions for future technology.
And there, way back in '87, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union, was the iPhone 4S.
“Knowledge Navigator” featured a small, flat, touch-screen, tablet-like device that served as a telephone and connected wirelessly to a "worldwide information network." A what? And if that isn't enough, the device had a talking digital assistant that responded to voice commands.
“Siri, did Apple predict the future?”
3 The Simpsons Predict Farmville
Created by Matt Groening, The Simpsons debuted in 1989 and is the longest running American animated program. There have been 26 seasons and 574 episodes, so it makes sense that the Rule of Longevity would come into play and the show’s writers would somehow manage to predict the future.
In the 1998 episode, “Bart Carny,” the carnival comes to Springfield. It features the popular "Yard Work Simulator" attraction, which is similar to Farmville -the farming simulation social network game developed by Zynga in 2009. The Simpsons is also credited with predicting the 2003 mauling of Siegfried and Roy and the 2012 electronic voting scandal.
2 George Orwell’s 1984 Predicts the Propagation of Surveillance
Big Brother is Watching. George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, envisions a world of political tyranny and government surveillance. Published in 1949, Orwell’s view of the future featured public and private telescreens in which the Party watches all citizens for signs of rebellion and thought crimes.
Today, government surveillance is widespread. Whether in the name of combating crime or terrorism (the 2001 Patriot Act), a vast network of government agencies are watching and listening. In May 2013, Edward Snowden, at the time a contractor for the National Security Agency, blew the whistle on mass government surveillance, igniting a fierce public debate about national security and civil liberty.
1 William Gibson Predicts “The Future”
A 2014 GQ article asked the following question: Can William Gibson predict the future?
Long before the Internet, the cult sci-fi novelist coined the term “cyberspace.” The term first appeared in a 1982 short story called Burning Chrome. Gibson is also credited with predicting the rise of modern reality TV, a concept that is illustrated in books like Virtual Light (1993) and Idoru (1996). From nanotechnology and viral marketing to drones and the information age, the cyberpunk pioneer made several predictions that became reality decades later. In 1999, the Guardian called Gibson “the most important novelist of the past two decades.”