Strangely, situation comedies; or sitcoms, have made some shockingly accurate predictions about American politics.
In fact, comic farces marketed as “light entertainment” are often more accurate political prognosticators than pundits. I can think of three incidences when sitcoms made accurate political predictions.
Oddly, over-the-top satires often make more accurate predictors than serious dramas. Here are three accurate political predictions from situation comedies.
Batman Predicts the end of Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency
During the 1960s, politics was a verboten subject on American network television. Most producers avoided politics in their plots.
However, the original Batman series was able to tackle politics. The 1960s version of Batman was an over-the-top camp satire of comic books and TV detective shows.
With its cartoonish elements, Batman could get away with mocking politics. Possibly because network executives and journalists did not take the show seriously.
In two episodes; Hizzonner the PenguinandDizzoner the Penguinbroadcast in 1966, Batman writers Stanford Sherman and Bob Kane predicted that President Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) would not be the Democratic nominee in 1968. To explain in 1966, most Americans believed Johnson easily win a second term in 1968.
To elaborate, in 1964 Johnson won the presidency with an astounding 486 Electoral College votes. Hence, most pundits in 1966 believed LBJ was unbeatable.
At the end of “Dizzoner the Penguin” Batman has beat his foe the Penguin in a landslide election for Mayor of Gotham City. As the episode ends, Batman and Robin visit Police Commissioner Gordon’s office. At the office, the Caped Crusader receives two phone calls.
The first call is from an unidentified political party (presumably the Republicans) asking if the Dark Knight will run for president in 1968. Batman declines.
However, the crimefighter quickly receives a second call from another political party (presumably the Democrats). During that call, Batman says,”I’m flattered, gentlemen, but I thought your party had a candidate for 1968.”
Thus, Batman partially predicted the outcome of the 1968 presidential election. To explain, Johnson threw the Democratic Party into chaos when he unexpectedly dropped out of the 1968 presidential primary. LBJ quit the election because of popular anger at his bloody war in Vietnam.
In a truly bizarre twist, they first broadcast Dizzoner the Penguin on 3 November 1966 exactly two years before the 1968 presidential election. Americans went to the polls on 3 November 1968 and sent Richard M. Nixon (R-California) to the White House. Vice President Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota) was the 1968 Democratic presidential candidate.
Batman Predicts Trump and the Stop the Steal
Incredibly, the 1960s Batman show also predicted elements of two presidential elections 50 years in the future. Those elections were 2016 and 2020.
In Hizzonner the Penguinthe Penguin, a supervillain brilliantly played by Burgess Meredith, runs for Mayor of Gotham City. Gotham’s leaders become frightened when polls show the Penguin beating incumbent Mayor Linseed.
Many Gothamites are prepared to vote for Penguin, despite evidence of the villain’s blatant criminality – shades of Donald J. Trump (R-Florida). In a hilarious twist, the Penguin runs as a “law and order pro-police” candidate; in another similarity to Trump.
Desperate to stop the Penguin, Linseed steps aside so Batman can run for mayor, in full costume. The election scares Linseed because the Penguin knows more dirty tricks than the mayor does.
When such campaign tactics as free champagne and free Paul Revere & the Raiders concerts fail, the Penguin resorts to dirty tricks. For example, he has his thuggish followers; the GOONs, kidnap and try to murder Batman and Robin.
A subplot in Dizzoner the Penguinpredicts the 2016 and 2020 presidential polling failures. Both Batman and the Penguin rely on the Gallus Poll (a parody of the Gallup Poll) to predict outcomes. The Gallus Poll turns out to be totally wrong because the pollsters sample such questionable individuals as winos and two old ladies who plan to vote for the monarchist candidate.
In both 2016 and 2020, polls turned out to be wrong. In fact, a 7 November 2016 Reuters/ISPOS State of the nation poll found “Clinton has 90 percent chance of winning.” Most of us probably remember that Trump won.
In 2020, Polls accurately predicted Joe Biden (D-Delaware) would beat Trump. However, the FiveThirtyEight Overview claimed Pennsylvania would be the presidential tipping point. In reality, Georgia was the key battleground state in 2020, something no poll predicted. Thus Batman accurately predicted poll failures 50 years later.
Dizzoner the Penguin also predicts the sorry end of the 2020 presidential election. When the Penguin realizes he is losing, he has his GOONS kidnap Gotham City’s Board of Elections to keep them from certifying the election. Fortunately, Batman and Robin rescue the election officials and end the voter suppression effort.
On 6 January 2021, a mob of crazed Trump supporters, many in cosplay costumes, stormed the US Capitol to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s presidential victory. The attack followed an inflammatory speech by Trump and months of Stop the Steal propaganda from the president and his minions.
Thus, Batman predicted our modern politics almost 55 years ago. Three predictions, the blatant criminality of candidates, poll failures, and violent efforts to disrupt election counts came true.
The Simpsons Predicts President Trump
On 19 March 2000 another satirical sitcom The Simpsons predicted the presidency of Donald J. Trump (R-Florida).
In an episode called Bart to the Future, a Native American shaman shows Bart a vision of his future. In the 2020s Bart’s overachieving sister Lisa is President of a bankrupt United States.
In one scene Lisa tells her staff, “As you know, we’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump.” Thus The Simpsons accurately predicted Trump’s presidency and his failure as chief executive. In another scene, characters describe Trump as wrecking the economy.
Bart to the Future correctly predicts the future in three ways. Trump became president and left his predecessor an economic mess after failing to deal with the havoc wreaked by COVID-19. In addition, the episode depicts 2020s America as a weak second-power indebted to other countries.
Tellingly, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicts China will overtake the United States as the world’s number one economy in 2028. Similarly, the CEBR forecasts India will overtake America economically in 2030.
However, other predictions in Bart to the Future have not come true. Lisa Simpson is not president in either The Simpsons or real-life. In addition, Chaz or Chasity Bono; Sonny and Cher’s transgender son, has not launched a political career and run for president, yet. In Bart to the Future, Lisa defeated Chaz Bono in the presidential election.
South Park Predicts Caitlyn Jenner’s Political Career
Strangely, The Simpsons’ great rival South Park accurately predicted another transgender celebrity’s political ambitions.
In South Park’s Season 19 Episode 2, Where My Country Gone. Crazed teacher Mr. Garrison runs for president. Garrison picks Olympian turned reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) as his running mate. Comedy Central first broadcast Where My Country Gone in September 2015.
On 23 April 2021, Jenner, a Republican, announced her candidacy for governor of California. Jenner is one of many candidates throwing their hats into the ring because of an effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom (D-San Francisco).
Will this Sitcom Predict A Future President?
So yes, both cartoonish satires and animated sitcoms can predict the future. But can a traditional sitcom? Nobody knows but one celebrity Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is betting they can.
Each episode of Johnson’s strange autobiographical sitcom Young Rock begins and ends with a glimpse of Johnson’s 2032 presidential campaign. In every episode, candidate Johnson remembers his strange youth as the son of second-tier 1980s pro wrestler Rocky Johnson.
Young Rock is rather entertaining, particularly for wrestling marks such as me. Johnson recounts his childhood encounters with wrestling legends such as Andre the Giant, Randy “the Macho Man” Savage, “King Kong” Bundy, and The Iron Sheik.
However, it is easy to detect an ulterior motive to Young Rock. I think Johnson is trying to repackage himself as a 21st Century Ronald Reagan to lay the groundwork for a political career.
For example, Young Rock features fake campaign commercials that promote real political ideas. Similarly to another celebrity politician and wrestling mark Andrew Yang, Johnson thinks technological unemployment threatens America’s future.
In addition, Young Rock emphasizes Johnson’s working-class roots, multiracial heritage, and hardscrabble childhood rather than his wrestling and movie careers. Thus, Young Rock promotes Dwayne Johnson All-American rather than Dwayne Johnson multimillionaire Hollywood A-Lister.
Johnson has some similarities to Reagan. Like Reagan, Johnson is a handsome, articulate, intelligent, and charming man with a questionable background.
Reagan, a former radio announcer, was a second-tier movie star in the 1940s and 1950s. For example, Reagan was Errol Flynn’s sidekick in super-corny 1940s Warner Brothers adventure movies such as Santa Fe Trail. After leaving Warner Brothers Reagancostarred with a chimp, Bedtime for Bonzo, and starred in Hellcats of the Navy, considered one of the worst films ever made.
During the 1960s, Reagan re-branded himself as a conservative icon and launched a successful political career. Unlike Reagan, Johnson is a major star, but he seems to want more.
The Rock; however, has far more to live down than the Gipper. For example, Johnson became famous during World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) infamous Attitude Era of the late 1990s. During the Attitude Era, WWE emphasized raunchy, violent, risque, hardcore matches, and obscene R-rated content.
Johnson’s wrestling persona the Rock was a cool heel, a vicious egotistical antihero. Significantly, The Rock first appeared as a member of the Nation of Domination wrestling faction.
The Nation of Domination was a gang of vicious black nationalist thugs modeled on the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Domination beat and terrorized anybody who got in their way.
Similarly, I think the notorious New Jack Johnson’s Rock character. New Jack is legendary as perhaps the craziest and most violent pro wrestler in American history. New Jack was too crazy and violent for the WWE, so they created Rock as a more acceptable alternative. For a look at New Jack’s legendary career, see the Dark Side of the Ring episode: The Life and Crimes of New Jack.
In the ring, The Rock was nasty, violent, backstabbing, and vicious. The Rock once beat another wrestling legend, Mick Foley, into a bloody pulp in front of Mick’s wife and children. See the famous documentary Beyond the Mat for a different side of the Rock.
Johnson’s heroic persona comes from his movies, not his wrestling work.I think Young Rock is an attempt to recast Johnson’s wrestling career as something innocent and nostalgic. Only future history will tell us if that works.
However, another celebrity, Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) could transform himself from failed mob-connected real estate developer to business genius in the public mind through the magic of television. Remember, most Americans’ first glimpse of the Donald came through The Apprentice, not The New York Post.
Can the Rock rewrite his story with Television?
I think Johnson realizes he will need to establish a new public persona if he wants a political career. In particular, Johnson will need to replace his violent wrestling image (the version of him most Americans know) with something more innocent and appealing. Hence, Young Rock.
One problem Johnson has is that tens of millions of Americans watched his violent alter-ego twice a week on prime time TV for years. Remember, WWE broadcasts two enormously popular prime-time shows: SmackDown and Monday Night Raw. Raw has been America’s most successful cable TV show for almost 30 years. Only time will tell if one sitcom can overcome all that violent imagery.
Notably Johnson could position himself for the 2022 Florida governor’s race. Johnson, a Democrat, is a Florida resident and Democrats are seeking a candidate to challenge incumbent Ron DeSantis (R). DeSantis, a Trump ally, is being discussed as a presidential and vice presidential hopeful for 2024. If Johnson can defeat DeSantis, he could establish himself as a national political figure and a presidential contender for 2028 or 2032.
History shows that satirical situation comedies can predict the future. Future history will show if such entertainments can transform a former wrestler into presidential timber.