In the wake of Monday's Boston Marathon bombing, a clip purported to be from a March 17 episode of Fox's animated comedy Family Guy seemed to eerily predict the bombing three weeks before it actually occurred. The clip, which depicted series protagonist Peter Griffin setting off bombs at the Boston Marathon, was widely circulated by conspiracy theorists.
It would, indeed, have been an unsettling parallel — if it had been a real clip from Family Guy, and not just an irresponsible, misleadingly edited fabrication.
The trouble began shortly after the bombing on Monday, when an unknown person edited together two separate clips from the Family Guy episode "Turban Cowboy" to make it appear far more similar to the real-life bombing. In the actual episode, one of the show's signature "cutaway gags" showed Peter Griffin winning the Boston Marathon by mowing down runners in his car, in a scene totally disconnected from the episode's main storyline. Later in the episode, Peter inadvertently sets off a bomb with his cell phone, resulting in the destruction of the (fictional) Quahog Bridge. The Boston Marathon clip is still currently available on YouTube, and while uncomfortable to watch in light of Monday's attack, there are no explosions in it:
So how did such an obvious fake get so much attention? The edited clip, which made it appear as though Peter was detonating bombs at the Boston Marathon, was circulated by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones as evidence of a "false flag":
VIDEO: Family Guy Episode Predicted Boston Marathon Attack - youtube.com/watch?v=gmGNta…
— Alex Jones (@RealAlexJones) April 16, 2013
(The edited video tweeted by Jones has since been removed by YouTube due to a violation of the site's policy "against spam, scams, and commercially deceptive content.")
On Tuesday, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane addressed the controversy on Twitter:
The edited Family Guy clip currently circulating is abhorrent. The event was a crime and a tragedy, and my thoughts are with the victims.
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) April 16, 2013
Shortly after MacFarlane's tweet, "Turban Cowboy" was pulled from both Fox.com and Hulu.com — and according to the Chicago Sun-Times, a Fox representative said the network has "no immediate plans" to air "Turban Cowboy" again.
Family Guy is hardly the only pop-cultural landmark being scrutinized for supposed parallels to the Boston Marathon bombing. Connections have also been drawn to the 2010 dramatic film Four Lions, in which terrorists target the London Marathon; The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a film based on Moshin Hamid's 2007 novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is scheduled to play at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday; and author Tom Lonergan's little-read, self-published 2002 novel Heartbreak Hill, which actually describes a series of terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon. And "Turban Cowboy" wasn't even the only TV episode pulled by Fox due to the Boston Marathon bombing; according to Entertainment Weekly, a repeat episode of New Girl featuring a throwaway line about a suspicious duffel bag was also removed from rotation.
Bottom line: The parallels between the Family Guy episode "Turban Cowboy" and the Boston Marathon bombing are thin — at best — and have been grossly overstated by less-than-reliable sources. But Fox is also doing the right thing by pulling an episode that could stir up painful emotions in its viewers — however unintentionally.