Disclaimer: The podcast does not endorse this blog post in any way. Also, there is some light spoilers, but more for those who have already started listening, and need to catch up. :)
There is a town, somewhere in the desert of the United States that is on the list of fictional locations that we all want to go to as nerds. Night Vale, for many, joins the list of Hogwarts, Narnia, Arrakis, District 12 and other great fictional locations. But it did so, not by the traditional means of writing. It instead – did this by capturing the rise of technology that many of us started getting into recently: Podcasting.
Now we will save Podcasting, for another post. But since the summer of 2012, this show, that releases on the 1st and 15th of the month, has shared with nerds, the news of the small desert town from Night Vale Community Radio host Cecil Palmer. Through Cecil, we learn about a Secret Police force that acts in-lieu of an non-secretive police force. How the city council is just a bunch of weirdly hooded figures, that go on vacation a lot and scream when changes take place in town. (Sound familiar?) And my favorite, the reasons why their town’s Dog Park is forbidden and only a special group of Hooded Figured people can go in and out and until recently, dogs can go in but not out.
Fans of this show are known as Citizens of Night Vale. I have been a proud citizen since November of 2014. And while many of my friends, love and live vicariously through the adventures of the podcast, there are still many close to me who don’t get it. So, today, I am sharing with you some reasons why Night Vale for many, is the place we all dream of living in.
Do You Like Listening to NPR in the morning? This is the weird fictional version for you.
This show, reminds me of a far more interesting Fresh Air or Morning Talk episode from NPR. (National Public Radio for any of our non-American readers.) Now for some people this is a little harder to listen to, because for many NPR either signifies “old people” or “liberal progressives”. Which can be a bit of broad brush stroke, but many critics and fans of the show, use it as the best way to explain the show to friends and family. The show has normal segments such as traffic, community calendars, weather reports and even editorials. But what you think are just normal news episodes, shortly but surely make you wonder what kind of news is this, as well as what kind of town is this?
The attributes of Night Vale make it real
The creators have mentioned that this series, is set somewhere in the southwest USA. But the more you listen to this show, you increasingly notice how Night Vale looks a lot like your local town, only not weird at all. There is a Starbucks (in fact a whole district), they have an arena, an opera house, schools, city hall, Post Offices, and libraries that no one EVER goes into. (Albeit, the reason you wouldn’t go into Night Vale Library or the Night Vale Post Office are very different from the reasons we do not go into those real-world locations.)
Additionally, the setting of Night Vale is very modern. They have cell phones, the internet, Snapchat, Facebook, Tumblr, Amazon, Target, Costco, and all the other things that we are used to in our daily lives. While you may feel that you are being transported to another place, it’s not that far off from your town. I come from a small town, that reminds me of Night Vale in many ways. I mean, shoot, we have a Big Rico’s Pizza in my town. **
The People are Different – And that’s SUPER OK
You know, we nerds, are by default type casted as outcasts in our normal society. So, when you listen about the news of a city, that makes *you* the normal one, it makes listening even more worthwhile. What I adore about this show, is how it normalizes the weird. Like it’s supposed to be no big deal that Street Sweepers are dangerous. Or how there is a faceless old woman that lives in everyone’s home. My favorite, is the Ephemeral Glow Cloud that is on the school board and has a small “child glow cloud” as a student in Night Vale. (ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY GLOW CLOUD.)
However, as a bonus, things that many people in our real world find weird and abnormal, are no big deal. Such as the relationship between Cecil and his boyfriend Carlos. In our real lives, a relationship like Cecil and Carlos would face judgements and in some places terrible homophobia attacks. But in Night Vale it is completely embraced. I mean being honest, the town has weirder things going on than two gay men in a monogamous relationship, but that’s how *not* weird it is, relationship is. Providing room for social commentary on how “weird” really should be defined both in and out of our daily lives.
You are always wondering what happens next. Always. Left. Wondering.
This show is always leaving you wondering what will happen next. There are threads that eventually are resolved over the years, but some of them, are never really resolved. Many books and series, tie everything up in a neat little bow, but Welcome to Night Vale, even if it does resolve a plot thread, leaves you tons of additional threads on which the creators can continue to work on long after the main plot has ended. There is material and themes that the writer brings up in episodes that make you go “That is from a long time ago!” – Episode 57 “The List” is one of those episodes.
Three Words: Allegorical Social Commentary
So, this one takes a lot of people by surprise. For some, they completely miss it unless someone mentions it. But once you get to Year Three (Starting around Episode 27-28), you will notice that all those weird sayings and settings, are not just plain weird. They begin to set stages, and evolve the weird things in this town into mirrors that replicate our own real world. For many Citizens of Night Vale, this is where many of us begin to change our ways of thinking and feeling both in and out of Night Vale.
One of the most infamous episodes of Allegorical Social Commentary is Episode 73 titled “Triptych”. No spoilers, but by the end of the episode, you not only question your beliefs about a certain character, but you then start asking the question of “What would I have done in this situation?” Knowing that the ending of the episode is with Cecil literally saying the following: “Stay Tuned next, for a feeling in your chest that will never quite sit right with you again.” Truer words have never been spoken.
This is when you know, that the show is more than just weird people and events in a small town. There is more, much more, that the show allows us to see, if we are willing to see it. Night Vale has used its weirdness to not only allow people to escape from the world they live in, but a safe space for us to question our own personal emotional and social beliefs.
For example: *
- The entire story of the Apache Tracker?!
- Are we okay with the way Episode 42: “Numbers” ended?
- Were you ready to go to battle in Episode 46 “Parade Day”?
- Did Episode 51 “The September Monologues” change your opinion concerning a few recurring characters?
- Did Episode 83 “One Normal Town” make you question your beliefs on immigration and refugees?
- Were you emotionally devastated, yet also feeling the glaring and painful irony to the endings of Episode 87 “The Trial of Hiram McDaniel’s” and Episode 98 “Flight”?
So if you have been wondering what the big deal is with this weird fictional town – now is a good time to jump in and take a look. At 100 episodes at the end of December, there is plenty of story and time for you to listen into. Consider listening as you are waiting in line while shopping or while drive over the hills and through the woods to your designated person you are trying to reach. Embrace the weird, and discover why this town Is the town we all want to live in.
*If they didn’t – feel free to re-listen to those episodes again and think about it. Or not. It’s up to you.
** Also – The owner of the Big Rico’s in my current hometown, is a huge Night Vale fan!