The story I’m about to tell you is not true; but it oddly has some resonances of truth within it. In the process, we are going to explore how the long-running animated TV series The Simpsons might have tapped into some sort of “intelligence” beyond the ken of mortal understanding.
I. “BART IS DEAD”
Supposedly there is an early “missing” episode of the show, from Season 1. The episode was made, but then Simpsons writer/creator Matt Groening suddenly wanted it pulled before it saw broadcast. This episode was unique, in that it featured the death of one of the show’s main characters—Bart Simpson.
In the episode, which is described as being oddly different in tone than what is expected from The Simpsons, Bart was sucked out of a plane during a family trip and died. In particular, there was one really creepy shot just focusing on Bart’s corpse lying on the ground; I guess for added effect, his mangled body was rendered in a highly realistic style of art (not typical for the show and certainly “off-model”).
The next scene was of Homer, Marge, and Lisa sitting at a table in their home crying. Baby Maggie was strangely nowhere to be found. As was the episode as a whole, this scene was tonally different than anything else the Simpsons had ever done before or since. All they did was cry, their crying getting more and more desperate and realistic. It was as if the actors broke character for this scene, slowly morphing into their actual voices.
But other sounds could be heard in the background; strange murmuring and scratching. And the color of the scene itself started to deteriorate as the crying went on, sort of “buckling” and then washing out into vivid light. Nobody was really sure what Groening, who personally wrote the episode, was trying to do here. It was very avant-garde.
So the whole “second act” of the episode was essentially just that crying scene at the table. Then Act Three. A caption indicated that a year had passed since the death of Bart. The remaining family—still sitting at the table where they had been crying in the previous scene—looked terrible. They were extremely thin, gaunt, disheveled. Obviously, they hadn’t gotten over the passing of Bart yet. As before, Maggie was strangely “gone,” as well as the pets.
Then they decided to visit Bart’s grave. They went to the cemetery, which looked abandoned and especially spooky. When they got to the grave, Bart’s body—exactly as it was in the scene where he died, with the strange hyper-realistic rendering—was inexplicably lying on top of the grave.
Again, the family cried. The camera suddenly zoomed in on Homer’s face. He tried to tell a joke, but what he said was not audible (at least in this copy of the lost episode that was viewed).
The episode just about coming to an end, there was a slow pan from the family and Bart out to over the rest of the cemetery for the ending credits sequence. And here’s where things—if they weren’t already really weird—get really weird.
Because a close look at the tombstones revealed that they had the names of real people on them. People who were guest-voices on the show. Perhaps all the guests who were ever on the show…even ones nobody had ever heard of at that point in the late 1980s. Future guests.
And accompanying every name was both a birth and death date. Even for some guests, like George Harrison and Michael Jackson, who hadn’t died yet. The actual date of death was on these tombstones, predicting what would happen years into the future.
As for the death dates of the guests who are still alive in the present day…well, here’s the really unsettling thing. They all had the same death date.
The person who had viewed this lost episode refused to divulge what that date was, and I don’t blame this person one bit. Though of course the idea that somebody can predict the actual future is pretty silly, and I’m sure there must be a reasonable explanation for all this.
So anyway, the end credits roll to complete silence; the credits themselves not in the usual “Simpsons” font, but almost sort of hand-written and sketchy. The very last scene is of the family on their couch, but they are all dead (or at least lifeless), drawn in that same hyper-realistic style we saw with Bart’s corpse. THE END.
Now, it is said that if you try to ask Matt Groening about this episode, he gets very upset. One Simpsons fan tried to do just that, catching Groening as he was about to go into a building for some function. First the fan said something innocuous, like about how much he liked the show. Groening was friendly. Then, the question about the lost “Bart Is Dead” episode. Groening started sweating, looked suddenly really agitated, and then almost fled into the building (muttering to himself).
As I mentioned before: this story is a big fat fake. It seems to have its origins in a Creepypasta story; Creepypasta, the same people who brought you The Slender Man urban legend. True to urban legend form, I added a few extra details to my version of “Bart Is Dead”—most notably, the voice actors breaking character as they are crying.
I have “performed” an extemporaneous reading of “Bart Is Dead” for groups of people on two different occasions, as a supposedly true story. Both times, I was initially believed.
But there is an aspect of the enduring “Bart Is Dead” story that oddly has some resonance with reality. And that is: The Simpsons has actually “predicted” many events in real life.
II. THE PSYCHIC SIMPSONS
When talking about “Simpsons Predictions,” everybody starts with the Donald Trump stuff. So I’m going to start somewhere else.
In the 1993 Season 5 episode “$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling),” there is a sequence with German magicians Gunter and Ernst—an obvious parody of Siegfried and Roy. In the act is a white tiger doing demeaning stunts, and this tiger suddenly remembers when it used to be in the jungle. Back to reality, the angry tiger mauls Gunter and Ernst.
Flashforward to 2003, when Roy Horn was almost fatally mauled by a white tiger during a performance (thus ending the Siegfried and Roy act).
Now, certainly, the nature of Siegfried and Roy’s specific type of act, and their widespread notoriety, made the Simpsons joke in question not that unusual. Not really “proof” of any type of real prediction, right?
But lets go to the 1998 episode “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” in which Homer…correctly predicted the mass of the Higgs boson “God Particle”?
Seriously, WTF? The particle wasn’t confirmed by scientists until 2012. But Homer clearly wrote out an equation proving its mass in 1998. I still can’t wrap my head around how this happened.
Or how about the 2010 episode “Elementary School Musical,” in which the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economics was accurately predicted? Or the 2012 episode “Lisa Goes Gaga,” in which Lady Gaga performs for Springfield residents in a flying get-up extremely similar to what she would later use for the 2017 Superbowl? Or the 1997 episode “Lisa’s Sax,” in which they apparently predicted the Ebola outbreak in 2014? Or the 2007 The Simpsons Movie, in which the NSA was listening in on the conversations of private citizens…six years before Edward Snowden blew the lid on this actual operation?
Or we can take a look at the much-cited 2000 episode “Bart To The Future,” in which a President Lisa Simpson comments on her predecessor in the White House: yes, Donald Trump, who of course was elected in 2016.
And there are actually many more examples (lists here and here and here) of The Simpsons apparently predicting future events, inventions, and situations. There is even a theory that The Simpsons might have possibly (albeit in a manner very open to interpretation) predicted 9/11.
So if the “Bart Is Dead” story is right about one thing, could it be this uncanny ability of this almost 30-year-old TV series to “see” into the future?
This brings us to the YouTube phenomenon known as “Simpsonwave.” An offshoot of the Vaporwave music/aesthetic movement from the early 2010s, Simpsonwave consisted of running digitally altered/”glitched”/distressed footage from The Simpsons alongside Vaporwave (itself taken from altered/”glitched”/distressed pre-existing music) tracks. The result are strange and strangely “sincere” music videos often focusing on themes of nostalgia, emotional crisis, loss, or even just LSD-type “trips.”
The key element to both Simpsonwave and Vaporwave is the idea of Time: turning back time, replaying time, fetishizing time. Two of the most iconic symbols used in Vaporwave are generic images of classical statue ruins and video/audiotape. The meaning of the first speaks to the artifacts of our pasts; let’s take a closer look at the second.
VHS cassettes and audiotapes are symbols of time itself—especially time that can be altered, glitched, and even “distressed.” A Simpsonwave video will often incorporate aspects of a “bad VHS copy” in the clips, with static, time codes, and more; symbolizing the elasticity and frailty of the human memory and perhaps even time itself.
Interestingly, some videos on YouTube retelling the “Bart Is Dead” story will use Simpsonwave clips, a few even claiming that the clips themselves are the actual footage from the lost episode. And so we come full circle.
IV. THE TV SERIES AS DIVINATION DEVICE
It is my hypothesis that the key to the “Simpsons Code” is the concept of a television series as a divination device. Like a deck of tarot cards or a set of I-Ching hexagrams, a relatively long-running TV series will have several basic elements at play, “thrown” in different combinations each episode: a core cast of characters, a pre-defined backstory/mythology, certain tropes or recurring themes, and so on.
Every episode is a “shuffling” of the elements, producing a certain result. And like I-Ching, tarot, and other forms of divination, the “results” from these episodes (shuffles, castings) can tap into a sort of metaphysical field from which predictions can be derived.
I believe that this is what happened with The Simpsons. I believe that, in a sense, The Simpsons can be seen as a divinatory device, the regularity of the characters and situations providing a sort of “energy field” upon which these glimpses at the future can be made.
And how are these predictive glimpses made? By the manipulation of time itself, time as an old 1980s audio cassette, time as flickering images produced by a shaky VCR. Just as the cemetery in the “Bart Is Dead” Creepypasta seemed to defy and subvert time, season after season The Simpsons quietly does the same.