The Simpsons is often praised for an ability to predict the future, with the latest claim being its foreseeing of the Coronavirus outbreak. However, the co-writer of the episode in question has slammed fans for their comments.
First airing in May 1993, “Marge In Chains” begins with the residents of Springfield buying juicers en masse from Japan, where an ill factory worker coughs into a box before it’s sealed and delivered, the flu then being released and spread upon its arrival. In reaction, fans have taken this as another prediction coming to pass, but writer Bill Oakley is not having it.
“I don’t like it being used for nefarious purposes. The idea that anyone misappropriates it to make Coronavirus seem like an Asian plot is terrible. In terms of trying to place blame on Asia – I think that is gross. It was meant to be absurd that someone could cough into box and the virus would survive for six to eight weeks in the box. It is cartoonish. We intentionally made it cartoonish because we wanted it to be silly and not scary, and not carry any of these bad associations along with it, which is why the virus itself was acting like a cartoon character and behaving in extremely unrealistic ways.”
As for the show’s frequent citation for its precognition, Oakley also had a comment, saying:
“There are very few cases where The Simpsons predicted something. It’s mainly just coincidence because the episodes are so old that history repeats itself. Most of these episodes are based on things that happened in the ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s that we knew about.”
The inspiration for Osaka Flu was the 1968 flu pandemic that was first recorded in Hong Kong, the virus being shipped by mail intended as nothing more than “a quick joke about how the flu got here.”
The episode sees Marge as the only one unaffected by the outbreak and, exhausted from her family’s constant demands, accidentally shoplifts a bottle of whiskey and is arrested. The rest of the episode has absolutely nothing to do with the outbreak, and instead revolves around Marge being sent to prison and everyone else subsequently realizing they are incapable of coping in her absence.
As disease epidemics are things that happen, using one as a plot is not especially predictive, even for The Simpsons, and so to conflate fiction and reality is merely to typify Coronavirus as something specifically Asian, an irresponsible way of thinking that only serves to affirm bigoted beliefs that some people are keen to espouse.