In June 2021, a video started making its way around social media that supposedly showed an “early warning cartoon” from the 1930s that “predicted” how a man-made pandemic would be planned in order to take over the world:
This cartoon was not created in the 1930s, and it does not “predict” anything about the current COVID-19 pandemic. This is another piece of conspiracy-themed content that falsely claims the pandemic was planned.
One giveaway that this cartoon was not created in the 1930s is the use of the word “weaponize.” The term “weaponized influenza” is used in this cartoon, but the first use of the word “weaponize” (in the literal sense of turning something into a military weapon) didn’t occur until the 1950s.
Weaponize originated as technical jargon in the U.S. military. At the onset of the Cold War, scientists weaponized rockets, fitting them with nuclear material and equipping them for launch. The Oxford English Dictionary first attests weaponize in 1957, citing the controversial aerospace pioneer Wernher von Braun, who used the neologism in the New York Times with respect to ballistic missiles. That same year, Aviation Week wrote of weaponization as “the latest of the coined words by missile scientists.”
While the animation may look similar to the cartoons of the 1930s, there are some animation techniques used in this video that simply weren’t available to animators in the 1930s. The debunking site HoaxEye, for example, found that this “Early Warning Cartoon” used “mesh warping,” a technique that requires a computer to quickly and repeatedly change the size of an image. We reached out to Jerry Beck, an animation historian who currently teaches character animation at the California Institute of the Arts, for his opinion on this cartoon.
Beck said: “This is NOT an old cartoon. It’s someone trying very hard to make some Flash Animation look like an old dupey cartoon.”
Beck noted that this cartoon does pay homage to a number of old cartoons from the 1930s, such as the devils that appear in this 1934 Betty Boop cartoon:
This cartoon was not created in the 1930s. Therefore, it is in no way a “prediction.” This is a modern video that was created to push conspiratorial claims about that pandemic. This video was created in the same vein as the “Plandemic” conspiracy theory or the “Operation Lockstep” conspiracy theory. These claims hold that the COVID-19 pandemic was “planned” by a nefarious group in order to control the world’s population.
While you can read more about these theories — and why they hold no water — here and here, one of the biggest indications that these conspiracy theories are just that is the fact that they are so frequently pushed using deceptive methods. For example, one could create a video in 2021 and share it as if it shows a cartoon from the 1930s in order to convince people that something nefarious is taking place.