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39 Freaky Facts About Life Imitating Art

Rachel Seigel

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life” —Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s essay “The Decay of Lying” cheekily sets out that life follows the plots and aesthetics of art, not the other way around. Turns out, inspiration can strike at any time in our real lives, including violence, love, and tragedy. Take a look below at the ways truth is even stranger than fiction.


Life Imitating Art Facts

39. Copycat Criminals

A group of men in New York City committed 62 robberies involving $217,000 in stolen cash from various Queens and Brooklyn area businesses. How did they do it? Using the same techniques of the Ben Affleck crime drama The Town. Just as in the film, they cut power to prevent the employees from calling help, wore miners’ headlamps to see in the dark, and applied bleach to the scene to destroy DNA. Unlike the movie, however, these crooks were caught. Crime doesn’t pay, kids!

38. The Matrix Defence

Yeah, we all love The Matrix (well, ok, the first one), but not as much as this guy: In 2003, Josh Cooke shot his parents while wearing a trench coat similar to the one worn by Keanu Reeves in the breakthrough film. In what is now known as “The Matrix Defence,” he told his lawyers that he believed he was living in the Matrix. He wasn’t the only one: in two other separate incidents, a man and woman killed their landlords and quoted the movie.

37. In the Year 2525

In 1968, Nebraska rock duo Zager and Evans released a song, “In the Year 2525,” warning people that an over-reliance on technology would lead to the  the creation of life in something like a test tube—a full decade before test-tube babies actually happened. I want these guys to choose my next lotto numbers.

36. Bending Light

A generation of readers have wished for an invisibility cloak like the one worn by Harry Potter. A Canadian camouflage-design company claims to be developing a real-life invisibility cloak that tricks the human eye by bending light around a person or object. Though the CEO says he cannot show the actual technology for security reasons, the firm claims to have the backing of the Pentagon and the Canadian Military. Accio cloak, am I right?

35. One Piece at a Time

Johnny Cash’s song “One Piece at a Time” is about a man who works in a car factory and spends his days building cars he can never afford. The man concocts a plan to sneak parts out of the factory one piece at a time, and build the car himself at home. In 2003, a nearly identical case occurred in China: A man who worked on a motorcycle assembly line spent five years building a motorcycle piece-meal at home from stolen parts. It nearly worked, but shortly after finishing the bike, he was pulled over by police for not having a licence.

34. Sono-tweezers

Professor Bruce Drinkwater at the University of Bristol, along with a team of engineers, has developed a device similar to the sonic screwdriver in Doctor Who. The device is capable of moving and manipulating small objects using only ultrasonic waves, and could eventually lead to devices that can undo screws, assemble electronics, and put together minuscule parts. But does it work on wood?

33. Plastic Not Paper

In his 1888 sci-fi novel Looking Backward, author Edward Bellamy impressively predicted how the credit card would be used in the modern era. At the time, credit was only available through stores to allow their buyers to purchase extra items, and Bellamy’s idea of using a plastic card to pay for your items and receive a receipt from the store was, if you’ll forgive me, pure fiction.

32. Ghostface Murderer

A Belgian teen was murdered in 2001 by her 24-year-old neighbor. The man invited her into his home before stabbing her 30 times with kitchen knives, all while dressed as Ghostface from the 1996 movie Scream. Thierry Johnson confessed the crime to police, and later admitted that he’d planned and modelled the incident after the film.

31. Elementary, My Dear

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, imitated his own famous sleuth when he proved the innocence of not one but two men. In George Edalji’s case, Doyle proved that the crime had actually been committed by another man. The stakes were higher for Oscar Slater: he had been sentenced to death, and Doyle’s scrutiny of the evidence literally saved Slater’s life. Guess it really does take one to know one.

30. He Just Had To

17-year-old Anthony Conley confessed to police that the show Dexter inspired him to strangle his 10-year-old brother. He said he felt just like Dexter, and compared his murder to wanting a hamburger. “When someone wants a hamburger,” he is reported to have said, “they’ve just got to have it.”

29. Sally

In his short story “Sally,” Isaac Asimov envisioned a future where the only kinds of cars allowed on the road are self-driving ones. While the world hasn’t quite reached that point yet, Google is close to inviting actual humans to use the world’s first driverless ride-hailing service.

28. Orwellian

George Orwell’s chilling 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four helped us coin the term “Orwellian” to describe a society that’s controlled by security, surveillance, and propaganda. In the modern world, the balance between privacy and security is a major concern, and thanks to advancements in technology, Big Brother really is watching us!

27. Underground Activities

The film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s gritty novel Fight Club resonated with men who felt that they’d been oppressed by society. Over Memorial Day weekend in 2009, homemade bombs were set off across in various locations around New York City, including a Starbucks on the Upper East Side. In the film, underground terrorists destroy businesses they consider symbols of their oppression, and this served as a model for the bombings. The bombings were traced to a member of a local fight club, Kyle Shaw, who bragged about it to his peers.

26. Kill All Humans

In 2003, a 22-year-old Japanese man beat his mother to death with a baseball bat after the futuristic anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion made him realize that humans were unnecessary. He cited a quotation from the show that says “the ultimate conclusion of human evolution is ruin,” and believed that if he killed his family members, it would be easier for him to kill strangers. He was found guilty of murder in 2004, and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

25. Serious Misuse of a Corpse

The 1980s film Weekend at Bernie’s was a comedy about two friends who kept up a charade that their boss was alive, and used his corpse to avoid a mob hit. In January 2008, a pair of pensioners decided to take the dead body of their friend to collect his social security check. The only problem? Their friend, who they rolled around in a wheelchair, had already begun to show signs of rigor mortis. Needless to say, they never were able to cash in on that check.

24. The Fall of Margaret Thatcher

Before it was successfully adapted for US audiences, House of Cards was a popular British political drama, which was in turn based on a novel. The show and the novel follow British politics after the fall of Margaret Thatcher. One year after the novel’s release, Margaret Thatcher resigned from office in real life. Given that the author of the book was a political insider, it’s possible that he saw the warning signs before Thatcher did.

23. Do You Like Fish Sticks?

South Park is known for its satirization of pop culture, and Kanye West is far from immune to the show’s ribbing. In 2009, an entire episode jabbed at Kanye’s ego, lampooning him in a plot that involved fish sticks and gay fish (yep, sounds like South Park). A few days later, while dining at the Cheesecake Factory, West was served a plate of fish sticks. Not so much a case of life imitating art as it was art inspiring life, but pretty darn funny.

22. Predicted the Atom Bomb

In 1944, DC Comics released an issue of Superman where Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor creates what he calls an “atomic bomb.” DC had no idea that a real atomic bomb was in the works, and to maintain secrecy, the Department of Defence asked DC to pull the story. It wasn’t until a year later that DC understood why.

21. Holographic Images

Remember watching Star Wars and wishing you too could show up as a holographic version of yourself in a message? Well in Japan, they have a whole pop star for that: Hatsune Miku is a wildly successful performer who consistently sells out concert venues. It’s just that she’s a hologram. Um, considering she’s not real, I guess this is just art imitating art.

20. Satellites in Space

In a piece he wrote for Wireless World in 1945, author Arthur C. Clarke described the concept of “geostationary satellite communications.” The reality of satellites didn’t occur for another 20 years! Clarke also uncannily predicted the use of GPS in a 1956 letter that he wrote to his friend Andrew G. Haley.

19. Bad Omen

The Bruce Lee martial arts film Game of Death features an important scene where a stunt goes wrong, and a prop gun is loaded with a real bullet that actually shoots Lee’s character. Fast forward to when Lee’s son Brandon was shooting The Crow, and an issue with a prop gun led to Brandon being killed from a shot to the stomach. Eerie.

18. Kidnapping Plot

While Russell Crowe was promoting his film Proof of Life (in which he plays an expert hostage negotiator), it was revealed that there was a real-life terrorist plot against him. The threat was so serious that both the FBI and Scotland Yard investigated it, and agents accompanied Crowe wherever he went until the danger was past.

17. All That’s Missing is Robocop

In 2013, the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, and poverty and crime continue to rise. The second RoboCop foreshadowed this, and depicted a bankrupt Detroit riddled with crime, with public servants are under the control of private contractors. If only RoboCop actually existed to help save the city!

16. Real Life Kingpin

In Breaking Bad, Walter White is a mild-mannered high-school chemistry teacher who slowly turns into a meth kingpin. In 2008, a real-life meth cook named Walter White was arrested and convicted in Alabama. The fictional Walter White evaded capture for five years, but the real White is currently serving a 12-year sentence in an Alabama prison. Guess it’s not all like the movies.

15. Subway Heist

A 1995 heist film called Money Train included a scene in which a thief robs a subway toll booth and then sprays the booth with gasoline and lights it on fire. This fictional scene inspired many desperate copycats: In one incident, the would-be assailant filled the coin chute of a booth with lighter fluid, threatening to set the booth on fire if the clerk didn’t give him the money. He lit the booth on fire anyway, and the victim suffered burns on 75% of his body, later dying in hospital. Over the course of three weeks, there were seven separate incidents using roughly the same methods.

14. Voice-Controlled Robots

Long before Apple unveiled its virtual assistant Siri, the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey showed a talking and responsive computer called HAL. Although this technology had been developed as far back as the ’50s, the movie helped engineers realize the technology’s possibilities.

13. A Single Plum

In the 1993 Simpsons episode “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet,” Homer’s band, (a send-up of the Beatles) is propelled to stardom until his bandmate Barney starts up a relationship with a Japanese conceptual artist (a thinly veiled Yoko Ono). In a scene at Moe’s Tavern, she orders “a single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man’s hat.” In 2016, as part of the Yoko Ono: One More Story exhibition, Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson paid homage to the line with a conceptual piece featuring, that’s right, a single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man’s hat.

12. Envisioning the Internet

Nearly 30 years ago in his essay “Future Fantastic,” Isaac Asimov predicted Google and Wikipedia. The essay begins as an examination of the “fourth revolution in communication,” the computer. Asimov predicted that networked computers would enable a new era of creativity and that they would bring libraries to the individual home, transforming education.

11. Thanks Spider Man

The ankle bracelet is an electronic device used to monitor parolees and keep them limited to certain areas. The idea was originally developed by a group of researchers at Harvard University in the 1960s, but didn’t go much further. In 1983, a comic-loving judge was reading an issue of Spider Man and noticed a story involving a criminal who avoided jail by agreeing to electronic monitoring. He initiated the first judicially sanctioned program, and within 6 years, there were at least 16 manufacturers of the device.

10. Almost President

In the futuristic 90s film Demolition Man, Arnold Schwarzenegger is declared President of the United States. Due to the requirement that all U.S. Presidents be American by birth, that particular prophecy didn’t come true, but Schwarzenegger did become Governor of California.

9. Titan

14 years before the sinking of the Titanic, a novella called Futility predicted the sinking of a luxury ocean-liner called Titan. The ship was described as the largest of its day, and was only 25 metres shorter than the real Titanic. Both ships were described as “unsinkable,” and both were sunk by an iceberg in mid-April. Moreover, the ships were both able to travel at speeds of over 20 knots, and both carried the bare minimum of life boats.

8. Killing to Impress

John Hinckley Jr. became a household name with his attempt to assassinate President Reagan in 1981. Leading up to the assassination attempt, he saw the movie Taxi Driver and identified with the film’s main character, Travis Bickle. In the film, Bickle attempts to assassinate a political candidate in order to get a woman’ attention. Hinckley began imitating Bickle, wearing the same clothes and drinking the same peach brandy. He also became obsessed with Jodie Foster, who played a prostitute in the film, and in an effort to gain her attention, he attempted to kill the president as a sort of grand gesture.

7. Making Torture Look Cool

The show 24 is frequently blamed for making torture seem like a totally legitimate way to get accurate information out of bad guys. Jack Bauer always managed to get the information out of his captives, legally or not, and treated anyone who questioned him with complete scorn. After the show’s fifth season, the dean of the U.S. Military Academy requested a meeting with the show’s producers. He complained that because of the influence of the show, trying to convince his students that torture was immoral, illegal, and ineffective was like “trying to stomp out an anthill.”

6. I Am the Joker!

The shooting at a Colorado movie theatre by James Holmes was seemingly inspired by the Joker from the Batman comics. When he was arrested by the police, he shouted “I am the Joker,” and the shooting had several parallels to Frank Miller’s 1986 Batman series The Dark Knight Returns. For example, in the series, the Joker murders a television audience by deploying “smile gas”; Holmes started the massacre by setting off smoke bombs in the theatre.

5. Bond-Inspired Parade

In the 2015 Bond film Spectre, James Bond travels to Mexico City, where a Day of the Dead Parade is taking place. Little did viewers know, the parade wasn’t actually a real thing, and was invented by the writers (the holiday, of course, is still real). When the movie came out, Mexico worried that the fabricated parade would disappoint tourists who didn’t know that it wasn’t real. As result, they held the first ever Day of the Dead Parade in 2016, and even included props from the movie. The parade was a huge success, and is set to become an annual tradition.

4. An Amazing Story

Considered by many to be the “father of science fiction,” author Hugo Gernsback was the founder of Amazing Stories magazine, and is the namesake of the Hugo Awards for science fiction. He predicted many aspects of modern society, including radar technology. Radar was actually invented in 1934, but Gernsback’s 1911 novel Ralph 124C 41+ contained what Arthur C. Clarke described as “the first accurate description of radar, complete with diagram.”

3. Now Happening in Your Own Front Yard

Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman’s 1979 film Americathon has proven to be uncannily prophetic. The film, set in 1998, predicted that China would become an economic powerhouse, the USSR would dissolve, America would be deeply in debt, and reality TV would dominate screens. There were so many instances of art imitating life, the film’s tagline “see Americathon at your local theater before you see it happening in your own front yard!” rings a little too true.

2. Nailed Just About Everything

The 1969 novel Stand on Zanzibar is an eerily accurate predictor of nearly everything about modern-day life. Set in 2010, the novel features a leader named President Obomi, random violence in schools, inflation driving up prices, and terrorist attacks on buildings. Homosexuality/bisexuality is also mainstream, pharmaceutical companies advertise drugs for sexual enhancement, and there are systems to allow people to watch TV wherever and whenever they want.

1. Simpsons Did It

In the 2000 episode of The Simpsons “Bart to the Future,” writer Dan Greaney introduced the idea of President Donald Trump. In the episode, which is set in 2030, America under President Trump is financially crippled and relying on countries like China for bail-outs.

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