Welcome to Night Vale, created by Joseph Fink, marks its second anniversary episode on the 15th, and if you aren’t a fan yet, now could be the time.
The free podcast is presented as community radio broadcasts from Night Vale, a fictional town somewhere in the south-western United States. In each episode we find out about the town’s surreal, paranormal events through the sonorous reporting of Cecil, our host. Angels, monsters, municipal corruption, aliens – this show has it all!
WTNV parodies Horror, Dystopian and Weird fiction. The eldritch events of the town are piled on so thick it’s ridiculous, and if you are anything like me you will laugh out loud several times in each half-hour episode. It’s not all light-hearted though; some moments are genuinely chilling. Nor is it shallow: you may find yourself getting more deeply invested in the characters than you expected.
Night Vale has an extremely dedicated following, which is especially impressive when you consider that podcasts don’t tend to attract active fandoms in the same way that visual and text media do. Apart from being generally well written and awesome, I think that WTNV has taken hold in certain circles for two main reasons.
First, the show actually gives us a pretty narrow view of Night Vale. We hear everything through the radio host, who is vague and sometimes unreliable. It’s rare for us to hear directly from another character; most of the dialogue and character interaction is paraphrased by Cecil rather than broadcast. So, although Cecil gives us plenty, what we know about the town and its inhabitants actually amounts to very little in the big picture.
The silver lining lack of detail gives fans an incredible opportunity to speculate about the town and consume the show creatively. People can discuss, write fan fiction, create fan art and cosplay and have huge creative license. We are free to add our own worldbuilding and characterization because there is so much left to the imagination. Cecil himself is never meaningfully described so his appearance in fandom varies wildly. There are Cecils of all races, hair colours, sizes and wardrobes floating around the internet, although there is a trend to depict him wearing purple clothing and tentacle-like tattoos, sometimes with a third eye on his forehead, none of which is backed up by canon. Before it was strongly implied that he was human, people were even drawing him as a blob-monster. People have the freedom to make the characters whatever they want.
The second reason, related to the first, is that the show’s lack of detail is also very inclusive. Although many characters get more description than Cecil, race is almost always left ambiguous. The handful of characters that do get descriptions that hint at their ethnicity, it’s usually implied that they aren’t white, and many central characters are implied to be people of colour. Although racially ambiguous characters are often whitewashed in Night Vale fan art and fan fiction, there’s a strong push for diversity in the fandom too.
Sexuality, too, is left ambiguous. One of the central themes is Cecil’s same-sex attraction to newcomer Carlos, but the fact that this is a same sex attraction is never remarked upon. Labels for sexual orientation are never applied; despite multiple characters being implied to belong to the LGBTQ community I can’t recall any word from that acronym ever being used on the show. Cecil tends to be presumed gay by fans, but even that is technically unconfirmed. The show has many central, strong female characters. In a town with bizarre and draconian laws banning or regulating writing utensils, books and public descriptions of the moon, and inexplicable mountain-denial, there is a distinct absence of the irrational looming social horrors of the real world. No homophobia. Nor misogyny. The only character who overtly displays racial insensitivity is constantly ridiculed for it. Those characters who seem to be Queer or POCs are not defined by their queerness or their race. Those of us who belong to those groups in real life are kept engaged by WTNV because we can see ourselves without having to search through a sea of white, cis-het male faces only to settle for clichéd plot-puppets, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing.
Unlike the genre it satirizes, Welcome to Night Vale ultimately does not project horror or despair, but hope, community and love. Despite living under constant threat from the organisations, monsters and paranormal events that saturated the town, the inhabitants of Night Vale are proud, and they remain strong in the face of danger every day. Speaking characters often lapse into philosophical tangents on the nature of time, existence, knowledge and belief. You will not come away from night vale with the hollowed out feeling that relentlessly depressing horror fiction can leave you with.
I hope you give Welcome to Night Vale a try. If you love it, I encourage you to donate. I would recommend listening from the beginning; although many episodes stand alone in the beginning they start setting up some very complex arcs before long. If you like to laugh and sob, if you like chills and warm fuzzy feelings and suspense and absurdness and diversity and monsters and darkness and angels and being a part of a truly dedicated community of fans, you can listen to Welcome to Night Vale here. I hope that, like me, the first time Cecil’s resonant voice welcomes you to his town, you decide to stay for good.
We’ve had a guest writer write about Welcome to Night Vale before, so for yet another recommendation, check out our previous article on the topic!)
Every sci-fi spaceship in current knowledge. Brought to you by Dirk Loechel. Super impressive. Especially when you note that these are actually all done to scale, with 1 pixel = 10 meters.
Anyone else think that Stargate’s Atlantis city-ship is kinda ridiculously small?!
It seems that this Shanghai cinema just assumed that Thor 2 was in fact a love story between two powerful, godly men with flowing hair and rippling muscles who…
Yep, I knew that me trying to post this would quickly turn into fan fiction. Seems a cinema in Shanghai accidentally put up this fan-photoshopped poster for Thor 2.
This can be seen as actually a really positive sign – even in Shanghai, a poster of two men looking quite intimate for an action movie (and not, say, Brokeback Mountain) wasn’t immediately recognised as fake. This could be seen as that homosexuality is becoming a little more normalised, and that it isn’t totally outrageous that the main character of a superhero movie may have a homosexual love interest.
If only that would actually happen now.