You may have noticed, dear readers, that I am not a person who half-asses fandom. When I like something, I really, really like it (even if it’s problematic, which is honestly just as much fun to talk about, so that’s also great). And when I newly discover something that I really, really like, it becomes pretty much the only thing on my mind, and then it gets blogged about. See: Hannibal, Lizzie Bennet Diaries, The Hunger Games, etc.
As you may have guessed, there is a new thing on my mind. A delightfully creepy and absurd thing. The kind of thing that makes me oh-so-happy to be living in the time and place in which I am living, with access to wonderful things like the Internet and tumblr so that I can talk about this thing with other people who also love it. Strap in; you’re about to get an earful about how oh my god fantastic my new favorite podcast is.
Ladies, gentlemen, and all in between: Welcome to Night Vale.
Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, voiced by Cecil Baldwin–all artists living in NYC. It’s a radio play for the modern era, and best described as Lake Woebegone in the Twilight Zone. The narrator is community radio host Cecil (named after the voice actor who plays him), who alternates between affable, adorable, opinionated, and creepy as shit as he recounts the strange goings-on in Night Vale. There are a number of recurring jokes and characters, and Cecil has an opinion about each of them.
The town itself is something straight out of the lost works of H.P. Lovecraft–unsurprising, considering that the company producing the series (Commonplace Books) also released a short story collection based on the unfinished works of Lovecraft. Night Vale sits somewhere in the desert of the American south, surrounded by paradoxes. In the pilot episode, Cecil tells us that the city has just opened a new dog park, which you should under no circumstances take your dog to. Don’t look at it. Don’t talk about it. In fact, don’t even think about it. Forget that it exists. And definitely do not question the hooded figures that roam around it.
I love this podcast for its quirkiness and occasionally unexpected profundity; almost every line contains some sort of absurd reversal, “traffic reports” come in the form of poetry, and the weather is always a musical number. But perhaps the most interesting thing about Welcome to Night Vale and its sudden explosion of popularity is that it’s almost entirely lacking in visuals–not even character descriptions. In a culture heavily saturated with television and movies, this entirely auditory series has not only drawn a large fanbase, but it’s a highly visual fanbase. If you peruse through the “WtNV” tag on tumblr, you’ll run across countless different concepts of Cecil and what he might look like, ranging from your standard Young White Male to a sharp-toothed, shadowy-winged creature with a third eye, tentacles and moving tattoos. All designs are valid, because all we know about Cecil is that he is “neither short nor tall” and “neither thin nor fat.” That’s it. He could be anything.
And that goes for all the other characters, too. In fact, Welcome to Night Vale seems to go out of its way to avoid describing characters physically, instead opting for the negative space in between descriptions–things like “the man who was not tall…,” or even weirder distinctions like “the girl who sits on top of the cactus.” This complete lack of attention to the physical makes Night Vale perhaps one of the better developed fictional universes currently out there, because none of the characters get pinned down by their appearance, like I warned about that one time. They are all distinguished by their actions and behaviors (or Cecil’s often arbitrary opinion of them), which makes for a much more interesting world.
There are many other things I could say about Welcome to Night Vale, like the fact that Cecil’s voice is like buttered velvet. Or that he is homosexual–a fact that barely gets remarked on, because in the grand scheme of things Night Vale just has a lot bigger fish to fry, which is nice to see for once. Yay for representation! But the thing is, I could write for pages and still not properly describe this wonderful abomination of a podcast. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself.
In short, if you aren’t listening to Welcome to Night Vale, you should download it right now. It’s free on iTunes. Go. Do it now.
“The future is here, and it is about 100 feet above the Arby’s.” –Welcome to Night Vale, episode 1: Pilot