“If you love someone, set them free. Set them free now. This is the police. We have you surrounded.”
—Welcome to Night Vale Episode 22, “The Whispering Forest”
Most of my new fandoms these days come from word of mouth, care of my Tumblr dash. Welcome to Night Vale is no exception. If you’ve heard of it, you probably know that WTNV is a free podcast series created by Commonplace Books, presented in the style of a community talk radio show. The twist, as there has to be one, is that Night Vale is no ordinary community. Far from it. Night Vale is a desert town rife with strange phenomena, from the strange lights in the sky above the Arby’s to the dog park where no people or dogs are allowed, and which the Sheriff’s Secret Police would prefer you don’t really think about, at all, like, ever.
Our host, Cecil, is a mellow guy with a smooth, soothing radio-talk-show voice, which only lends extra absurdity to the truly bizarre happenings that are Night Vale’s daily fare. He keeps us up to date on the news, traffic, and weather of Night Vale, as well as interspersing his broadcasts with the sort of personal gossip you might expect in a town where everybody knows everybody else and newcomers are a source of public interest.
So what’s really great about Night Vale? Well, from a critical feminist perspective, it’s an excellent example of intersectional representation and good rhetoric.
Cecil, our narrator, is unapologetically queer, a fact we discover before the first episode is even over when he rhapsodizes about the beautiful new scientist who just arrived in Night Vale, a man by the name of Carlos.
We later discover that Carlos is queer as well when he reciprocates Cecil’s feelings, which means that the only canon relationship in the series is a same-sex relationship featuring at least one person of color (Cecil’s appearance has never been described outside of “not short or tall, fat or thin”, so his race is as yet undetermined).
The show also casually calls out and ridicules racist behavior, as in the case of the white guy in town who wears a plastic war bonnet and calls himself the Apache Tracker. Cecil consistently derides his appropriation as icky and terrible: “He [makes] the whole town look ignorant and racist.”
The other recurring characters, even those who don’t show up frequently, provide their own interesting dimensions to the story and help round out the world of Night Vale. There’s the ageless Eldritch horrors that make up the city council, old woman Josie, who lives with a number of angels, all of whom are named Erika, and the plucky Night Vale Community Radio interns who die more often than redshirts on Star Trek and women on Supernatural combined.
Although there isn’t a clearly defined plot or end goal for the story, elements from the first episode, including Cecil’s dislike of neighboring town Desert Bluffs and the subterranean city Teddy Williams discovered beneath the Desert Flower Bowling Lanes and Arcade Fun Complex, reappear often and provide opportunities for character development as well as a basic backbone that keeps the story from being totally random and episodic.
Also, did I mention it’s hilarious? Welcome to Night Vale is funny in a dark, absurd way. The ludicrous and the gruesome are presented to us so nonchalantly that we can’t help but laugh at the disconnect caused by hearing weird lines like:
“And now for a brief public service announcement. Alligators. Can they kill your children? Yes.
Along those lines, to get personal for a moment, I think the best way to die would be swallowed by a giant snake. Going feet first and whole into a slimy maw would give your life perfect symmetry.”
—delivered as casually as a waitress listing the soup of the day.
The Welcome to Night Vale podcast is released once every two weeks, on the 1st and 15th of each month, and is available for free on iTunes. (Or you can listen online here.) There are currently 27 episodes each clocking in around 25 minutes. I strongly recommend you check it out!