Curious Examples of Life Imitating Art


As Oscar Wilde says: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” It’s true that there are often examples of people deriving inspiration from real-life situations to create their masterpieces. However, it’s incredible to consider just how often life truly imitates works of art, books and comic books, music, movies, and television shows. 

Here are some of the curious and fascinating true-to-life cases where life imitates art:

1) Copycat criminals

a suitcase full of US money

In 2013, three black robbers wore latex masks to disguise as white New York Police District (NYPD) officers to rob a check-cashing store. The robbers got away with $200,000. Prosecutors claimed that the three robbers got their latex-wearing inspiration from watching The Town, a 2001 crime thriller film starring Ben Affleck.

The men copied other robbing tactics straight from the movie. They cut the power supply to prevent the employees from calling the police, wore headlights to allow them to see in the dark, and applied the robbing scene with bleach to hide DNA evidence. 

But at the end of the day, as big of fans of The Town these criminals were, they obviously forgot that it didn’t end well for them. They were eventually caught.

2) How Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became a real-life Sherlock Holmes

portrait of Doyle, 1893

It is a rare instance that a book author becomes the copycat of his own protagonist. That’s why the case of the celebrated 19th-century British crime novelist Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) will always be unique. The character he created, the private detective Sherlock Holmes, became one of the most famous fictional characters in the history of literature. Holmes is known for his traits and quirks, and most of all, his deductive reasoning that assisted him in solving crimes.

Perhaps none would match Holmes’ deductive reasoning abilities other than Doyle himself. After enjoying fame for creating Sherlock Holmes, the author became a fervent advocate of justice. He personally investigated two cases that led to the two men being exonerated from the crimes they were accused of.

The first case involved an Indian-English lawyer George Edalji, who had served three years of hard labor after being convicted on a charge of attacking a pony. The second case involved George Slater, who was wrongly convicted of fatally beating an 83-year-old woman and was sentenced to death. Doyle, as if he was Sherlock Holmes jumping off the book’s pages, deduced that Eldaji’s crime was actually committed by a local butcher’s son. His investigative efforts on Slater’s case, on the other hand, saved the latter’s life from execution.

3) In the Year 2525

scientist testing samples

One-hit wonders Zager and Evans, a rock duo hailing from Nebraska, released a song “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” in 1969. The song warned people that too much dependence on technology would lead to many things, among them the artificial creation of life, such as conceiving it from a test tube. About a decade later, the first successful childbirth via in vitro fertilization occurred. Thus, the world’s first “test tube baby” was born.

4) One Piece at a Time

a red vintage convertible on a dirt road

In a song by Johnny Cash, “One Piece at a Time,” a man works in a factory and spends his day building cars that he could never afford. So, he hatches up a plan: sneaking out the parts out of the factory one piece at a time and building his dream vehicle at home. 

It sounds like a far-fetched idea, right? But in 2003, there was an almost-identical case in China, where a car factory employee spent five years in doing precisely what the protagonist of Cash’s song did. But instead of the car featured in the song, the Chinese man built a motorcycle from the stolen parts. It almost worked, but there was a big hitch: police apprehended him for not having a license.

5) Payment in plastic, not paper

a person holding a blue credit card

In his 1887 novel Looking Backward, American author Edward Bellamy wrote the idea of cashless payment in the form of a credit card. At the time, credit was only available through stores where their clients were permitted to purchase extra items. Bellamy’s concept of using a plastic card to pay for your items and get a receipt later was pure fiction.

6) Self-driving cars

Woman using smart phone in autonomous car

In his short story “Sally” (1953), Isaac Asimov had visions of a future where the only cars allowed on the road were autonomous cars. While the world has not reached to that point yet, companies such as Google and Tesla are close to making driverless cars and driverless hailing services available to the public.

7) The Big Brother

Surveillance cameras

George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four led people to come up with the term “Orwellian”: a society that’s fallen victim to wars, omnipresent surveillance, and propaganda. These days, privacy and security have become major issues, thanks (or no thanks) to modern technology. Big Brother is now really watching us!

8) The sinking of the Titan(ic)

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912

Did American author (and self-proclaimed inventor of the periscope) Morgan Robertson have a third eye? In his 1898 novella The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility, a British ocean liner named Titan sank after colliding with an iceberg. Some more details of the novella prove to be quite really uncanny: Titan was the biggest ship of its day and hailed as “unsinkable,” but sank by an iceberg in mid-April. This novella was published fourteen years before the unfortunate fate of the RMS Titanic occurred. Proclaimed as “unsinkable,” the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg during its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912.

9) A tragic coincidence

The confluence of events between the filming of The Crow and the release of Game of Death is a classic example of how life may imitate art. Bruce Lee’s character in Game of Death was shot due to an accident with a fake gun, and his son Brandon suffered the same fate while filming The Crow decades later. This horrific analogy illustrates how dangerous working with weapons can be, even when they are only used as props, and it serves as a reminder of the importance of taking the proper safety procedures on set.

Brandon Lee in 1992

10) Fictional inspiration turned tragedy

In the 1995 film Money Train, a daring subway booth heist that entailed putting the booth on fire was shown. Sadly, when imitators sought to commit the crime, this scene had a hazardous effect on actual events. In one such incident, a thief set the toll booth on fire, leaving the worker with severe burns covering 75% of his body. Seven similar occurrences in three weeks demonstrate the dangerous repercussions of presenting such acts in movies. This is a warning story about the duty that falls on filmmakers when depicting crime and violence. 

police in a subway

These are several examples of how life and art can impact one another, making their interplay complicated and dynamic. The impact of art on actual events can be seen in everything from depictions of historical events in books and paintings to the ideas that led to groundbreaking discoveries and technological breakthroughs. It is clear that life and art are inextricably linked, whether through imitation or inspiration.

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