Art that accidentally predicted the future
May 10, 2021 8:35 PM   Subscribe

What are some examples of the arts (any genre--music, literature, etc) that now seem eerily prescient? Like poems or lyrics that allude to major world events that nobody knew would happen? I'm more interested in examples using major events, but personal ones are okay too.
posted by mermaidcafe to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the one that immediately springs to mind for me is that the short-lived X-Files spinoff show The Lone Gunmen predicted 9/11, a real nice slam dunk for a sitcom about conspiracy theorists.
posted by potrzebie at 9:13 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

Philip K. Dick's novel Time Out of Joint predicted nostalgia for the 1950s -- in the 1950s. (Spoilers follow) The main character is made to believe he is living in an idyllic 1950s America. But then he finds out he is actually living in a dystopic 1990s America. He is frightened when he enounters teenagers with spiked hair and tattoos . This was written in 1959!
posted by JonJacky at 9:17 PM on May 10 [12 favorites]

Everyone always associated Jules Verne with Twenty Thousand leagues Under The Sea but Paris in the 20st Century was a banger. With the following elements, please keep in mind the book was written in 1863, before the invention of the electric lightbulb and the phonograph, but after the electric motor. it was, somehow, shelved and remained unpublished until the 90's.

From Wikipedia: The novel's main character is 16-year-old Michel Dufrénoy, who graduates with a major in literature and the classics, but finds they have been forgotten in a futuristic world where only business and technology are valued

ok, take that as you will.

The book's description of the technology of 1960 was in some ways remarkably close to actual 1960s technology. The book described in detail advances such as cars powered by internal combustion engines ("gas-cabs") together with the necessary supporting infrastructure such as gas stations and paved asphalt roads, elevated and underground passenger train systems and high-speed trains powered by magnetism and compressed air, skyscrapers, electric lights that illuminate entire cities at night, fax machines ("picture-telegraphs"), elevators, primitive computers which can send messages to each other as part of a network somewhat resembling the Internet (described as sophisticated electrically powered mechanical calculators which can send information to each other across vast distances), the utilization of wind power, automated security systems, the electric chair, and remotely-controlled weapons systems, as well as weapons destructive enough to make war unthinkable.

It almost does seem to good to be true, but I've found no indications that the book is a scam or a forgery. Honestly, as a work of literature it's just OK. As a prediction of the future, it's pretty good.
posted by GuyZero at 9:22 PM on May 10 [4 favorites]

For the Personal Events file: Austrian composer Gustav Mahler re-commenced writing his song cycle Kindertotenlieder ('Songs of Dead Children') a couple of weeks after his wife Alma gave birth to a daughter. Alma was horrified and indeed the child died a few years later.
posted by bertran at 9:25 PM on May 10

There's The Wreck of the Titan, which famously "predicted" the sinking of the Titanic.
posted by cpatterson at 9:40 PM on May 10

I'm currently reading Saleema Nawaz' Songs for the End of the World. It's set in 2020 when a novel airborne coronavirus causes a global pandemic.

The author started researching and writing the novel in 2012 and finished in 2019. It's trippy how accurately it describes what happened with the real 2020 global pandemic. There are some things that are different--in the book, for example, children are particularly susceptible to the virus--but there's so much else that is eerily spot on:

-ARAMIS is an airborne coronavirus that is thought to originate in China
-social distancing rules and quarantines are put in place
-there are shortages of PPE
-conspiracy theories and rumours abound; fake cures start popping up
-there's a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes
-government leaders allow reopening too soon, which starts a second wave of cases.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:40 PM on May 10 [6 favorites]

Not predictive in the same way as Nawaz's book, but in April 2020 Naomi Kritzer herself wrote about what it was like to have her 2015 story So Much Cooking literally described as "goddamn eerily prescient" in relation to the pandemic.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:47 PM on May 10 [7 favorites]

The SImpsons episode "Lisa's Wedding" predicted President .... well, I still can't say those words together, but the orange nightmare.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:56 PM on May 10 [5 favorites]

Speaking of 9/11, Laurie Anderson's O Superman, released as a single in 1981, hit a lot differently after the attacks:

Hello? Is anybody home?
Well, you don't know me, but I know you
And I've got a message to give to you
Here come the planes
So you better get ready. Ready to go
You can come as you are, but pay as you go. Pay as you go

And I said: OK. Who is this really? And the voice said:
This is the hand, the hand that takes
This is the hand, the hand that takes
This is the hand, the hand that takes
Here come the planes
They're American planes. Made in America
Smoking or non-smoking?

And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night
Shall stay these couriers from the swift completion
Of their appointed rounds

'Cause when love is gone, there's always justice
And when justice is gone, there's always force
And when force is gone, there's always Mom. Hi Mom!

So hold me, Mom, in your long arms
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms
In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms
In your arms
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms
In your electronic arms

Watching her perform this live a week after the towers fell, at a theater in Manhattan, was one of the most amazing and chilling artistic experiences of my life.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:17 PM on May 10 [5 favorites]

This probably sounds like a snarky answer, but sadly is not - Idiocracy.
posted by brookeb at 10:23 PM on May 10 [8 favorites]

The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Wedding" predicted President …
Wrong episode. It was actually "Bart to the Future".

I read John Brunner's so-called Club of Rome Quartet of science fiction novels (Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider) earlier this year, which are noted for their remarkable prescience despite having been published between 1968 and 1975.

From the linked BBC article: "In his 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, for instance, he peers ahead to imagine life in 2010, correctly forecasting wearable technology, Viagra, video calls, same-sex marriage, the legalisation of cannabis, and the proliferation of mass shootings."
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 11:30 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

Theodore Sturgeon wrote a short story, The Golden Helix, in about 1956, which described creatures which manipulate the genetic structure of other species. Their symbol is two intertwined helices, one moving up and the other down. This predates Watson and Crick's model of DNA by about six years.
Sturgeon said once that stuff he wrote had a habit of coming true a few years later, but he didn't claim any special ability to see the future.
Sturgeon also wrote a story in which people dance without touching each other, which was pretty unbelievable.
There was another story from the same time period, in which someone invents a small pocket organizing device which can be used to run all aspects of one's life, and the human race is reduced to starving automatons who could easily put them down but can never quite forego the convenience. It was quite funny, and reminded me a lot of cell phones, but I'm unable to find a copy.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 12:11 AM on May 11

Americathon was about a blighted, circa-2000 America where everybody watches crazy reality shows (at one point Meatloaf wrestles a car!) and the president is a dippy, self-serving, drugged-up party boy who got elected mostly because he has the same last name as a previous president. The USSR has collapsed, China is a capitalist superpower, Nike is a mega-corporation, people are living in their cars and everybody wears ugly sweatsuits. This movie came out in 1979 and got way too much right about W-era America. President Chet Roosevelt (played by John Ritter!) was probably intended as a caricature of Jerry Brown, but he's basically a less-evil George W. with a dash of 70s hippie.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:02 AM on May 11

Point of order about Americathon - the "reality shows" referred to are most likely part of a telethon that the government has put together to raise money to offset some crushing national debt. ....The crushing national debt bit is pretty spot on, though....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:25 AM on May 11

Network came off as a bit over-the-top satire, in the 1970s, when TV network news was still a well-respected institution of society. Demand that it be profitable? Nice premise for a movie!
posted by thelonius at 5:57 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

This 1997 Archie comic pretty much nailed the high school experience of 2021. It's the fact that it got the year right that makes it particularly notable.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:30 AM on May 11

In 2001, The Onion published their version of a speech by GW Bush, Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity is Finally Over.

There used to be a version of this annotated with links showing all the parts that came to pass, but I can't find it now. It was prescient.
posted by adamrice at 7:35 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]

The original cover of "Party Music" by The Coup (created pre-9/11)
posted by Shellybeans at 8:45 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.

Not “accidental” because it was very much a product of Cold War anxiety, but many people read the ending of EB White’s Here is New York as prophetic after 9/11.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:48 AM on May 11

The 1948 novel No Highway by Nevil Shute predicted the deHavilland Comet disasters.
posted by leaper at 9:27 AM on May 11

Response by poster: These are great, thanks!

I'm especially interested in the 9/11 ones.
posted by mermaidcafe at 12:49 PM on May 11

I haven't seen Americathon for years, but IIRC the reality show stuff is going on before the telethon. The film depicts the then-future America as an absolutely crass, dumb, loud and aggro place, like a proto-Idiocracy. There's also a popular, hacky sitcom where Harvey Korman stars as a suburban drag queen raising a family, which seems very on-brand for the W era but I don't remember a show like that ever actually happening.

I've never read it, but the Tom Clancy book Debt of Honor apparently has some weirdly prescient 9/11 stuff. This old Cracked article about songs that seemingly predicted 9/11 is really reaching for some of the entries, but maybe it has something useful. The Super Mario Brothers movie also features a shot where we see the Twin Towers with big, glitched-out holes going right through them. I don't know if you can call that prophetic exactly but it was on TV not long after 9/11 and my jaw dropped.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:34 PM on May 11

Octavia Butler’s books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents were written in the 90s and predicted so much of what happened around and after the 2016 election. Plus they are amazing books.
posted by fleecy socks at 5:47 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

The art on the Terrorist Nuke card for the game Illuminati: New World Order is unfortunate.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 9:15 PM on May 11

Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor has someone crashing an airliner on purpose into the Capitol. On actual 9/11 I was out of range of normal communication at a retreat and when I reached the sudden huddle someone was telling others what was on the radio on their earphones. That was when the Pentagon was hit, and my first thought was "Are they describing Debt of Honor and getting some details wrong?"
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:18 AM on May 12

One more for 9/11: the pilot episode of the Lone Gunmen, the short-lived spinoff of the X-Files featuring Mulder's 3 conspiracy-minded cyber genius friends.
posted by inkytea at 7:02 AM on May 12

I've always felt Soul Coughing's "Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago" from 1994's Ruby Vroom (here live on French TV in 1995) prefigured 911 in an is, not is kinda way..
posted by riverlife at 12:00 PM on May 13

« Older In-Law Filter: How to gracefully bow out of a...   |   Is there a list of guests for tv news Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments