Welcome to Night Vale (WTNV) is your ordinary community radio show narrated by the eloquent host Cecil Gershwin Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin). Just like any other small town radio, the station broadcasts and archives public service announcements, activities, traffic reports and live news updates of the Glow Cloud that rains animal carcass upon the town below.
…wait, live news updates of what?
Upon tuning into any episode of WTNV, you would realize that this hit podcast is anything but ordinary. The series masquerades an innocuous community radio show that broadcasts the fictional town of Night Vale, which is situated in the rural deserts of the American Southwest. If you like H. P. Lovecraft and have an affinity for dark humor and the unexpected, you’ll definitely like WTNV in all its comedic and surrealist glory.
The phantasmal and bizarre intertwine in every episode. Relayed by Cecil’s deceivingly upbeat anecdotes, the town of Night Vale doesn’t fail to entertain, or at least surprise its listeners with the abundance of its terrifying phenomena. In contrast, its citizens greet otherworldly figures – like ten-foot angels and shapeshifting mayors – and strange and gruesome occurrences – like omnipresent surveillance vehicles and apocalyptic Street Cleaning Days that kill off its population – with comical mundanity. All the more disturbing is how Night Vale residents tolerate extensive government intrusion through the Sheriff’s Secret Police and its mind-reading abilities… well, with the exception of Steve Carlsberg, that jerk.
Kudos to the creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor who carefully depict mundane rural moments of Night Vale residents and blend them well with normative conceptions of the extraordinary. The podcast’s anecdotal format and staggered progression allows new listeners to listen to any episode without losing out on much. Equally, voice actor Baldwin nicely executes the script with a smooth rolling voice, fair control of intonation and careful pauses and emphases that altogether create a likable, signature voice for Cecil.
However, to keep regular listeners hooked, WTNV features recurring characters, quirks and story arcs: the most popular of which is the budding relationship between radio host Cecil and “Perfect Scientist” Carlos (“Cecilios”), and carefully portrays LGBTQ relationships without all the preconceptions and controversies usually associated with them in popular media.
Every episode begins and ends with a proverb, which are often weird, but sometimes penetratingly insightful. In the three-quarter mark, every episode cuts to the weather, which broadcasts anything but weather and instead plays songs of obscure indie artists. The songs that end up on air vary in genre and quality. One could feature a strumming acoustic guitar alongside a mediocrely sung song about falling into a relationship, while another may literally rap about waiting for buses in the rain… you see the variety.
What makes WTNV more endearing is its colorful (and dedicated) fanbase. Despite existing since June 2012, the audio show only recently raked in high ratings and became one of the most downloaded podcasts on iTunes US last July 2013. It gained popularity from the widespread fanart, analysis and fanfiction from its fandom, which sprouted seemingly out of nowhere from the four corners of the popular blogging site, Tumblr.
Yet beyond radio stations immersed in animal viscera, mysterious hooded figures that lurk the Dog Park and other outrageously paranormal creatures that populate this bizarro world of Night Vale, at the heart of WTNV is its black humor and Lovecraftian treatment of the mysterious and unknown elements of human existence through its existential and cosmicist quandaries. The absurd fiction of Nightvale isn’t so fictitious after all, and the podcast is littered with satirical portrayals of human realities, ideologies and operation (an example to check out is the “Death is now a meritocracy” tidbit from Episode 23 – Eternal Scouts).
Night Vale’s fame is no doubt, multi-faceted and deserved. But its gallows humor, absurdist tangents and liberal advocacies are the reasons why it caters to a niche market, much like the charm cult classics have. Furthermore, its twisted storylines and allusions may turn off listeners who aren’t accustomed to Night Vale. But perhaps the influence of the Glow Cloud may compel them to think otherwise. No words can quite capture the charm of this podcast, but it’s also not for everyone.
But maybe it is for you! Try it out – lay back in a comfortable bed, dim the lights, take a deep breath and listen to WTNV. Let it lull you to sleep into the boundless evening. And when you sleep and take a break from existing in our spot within this chaotic cosmos, remember to wake tomorrow, for again, we will work ourselves into exhaustion, telling ourselves that it’s our purpose to achieve 4.0s and get a good job for a mere nanosecond in the timeline of an ever-growing, ever-existing universe.
Good night, Lasallians. Good night.