“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”
So it begins.
Imagine a town in the southwestern United States – a town like many others you have passed through as you drive along the interstate in search of the next national landmark or giant ball of twine – a place you half see, in glances in your rearview mirror, the afternoon sun glinting off of a run down strip mall or an ill advised pastel motel sign. A town you forget about almost before you finish driving through it, unless the afternoon shadows have crept too far, and you are forced to pull over and spend a decrepit, forgettable night. Better here, you think, than the next place a few miles down the road – some little slice of purgatory called Desert Bluffs.
Welcome to Night Vale – the twice monthly podcast sensation, that is.
When Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor of Commonplace Books began writing about Night Vale, their premise was simple: an average unbelievably abnormal town where all your dreams conspiracy theories and terrifying nightmares have the potential to are compelled by “a vague, yet menacing government agency” to come true. In Night Vale, all of the banal ingredients of small town living that we love to hate are present: there seems to be just one radio show, the local government is almost certainly on the take, and the rivalry with a neighboring ‘burb sometimes threatens to get out of hand. The difference in this small town is that “out of hand” can involve anything from being locked in an unknowable dog park that connects only to a mysterious shadow reality, a brisk reminder or two from the sheriff’s secret police (remember, as long as the helicopters hovering overhead are blue, they’re there to protect you!), or a vicious and unprovoked attack from the vicious and bloodthirsty librarians. (Well, that last hazard is more of a universal truth, isn’t it?)
Night Vale is interpreted to us every other week via the velvet voice of Cecil Gershwin Palmer, the local radio host, voiced by Cecil Baldwin. Cecil is unfazed by the idiosyncrasies of the town he loves, even though the hazards of living in Night Vale cost him an unseemly amount of interns. (They’re like red shirt ensigns, bravely sacrificing themselves in the name of barely memorable local news.) As Cecil narrates with his unflappable calm and personable charm, the listener runs a gamut of emotion that generally begins with a mild sense of foreboding, and escalates often to that feeling you get when the less attractive girl in a horror movie is about to open the wrong door.
Although if you want the whole story, you’ll have to listen to catch up, here are a few must see attractions for the casual visitor to Night Vale: Khoshekh the radio station’s cat, who floats permanently on an invisible pedestal in the men’s room, local humanesque characters that include a strangely racist Apache tracker, Cecil’s perfect-haired scientist boyfriend Carlos, the faceless old woman who secretly lives in all of our homes (don’t pretend you don’t know about her; it makes her angry), a bowling alley that offers ample opportunity to practice your combat skills, an ominous glow cloud that seeks only to take part in the community (and to enslave you and bend you to its will, but not out of any particular malice), and of course, the conveniently situated dog park. Just try not to go into the dog park. Or look at it. Or think too hard about it. Actually, you’ve gone too far already.
Podcasting is a medium of endless wonder – and, as is the case with most media, also a glance into the darkness of the minds of geniuses. Fink and Cranor charge nothing for your bi-monthly glance into Night Vale, and even offer occasional podcast classes and extra entertainments. If you haven’t already been sucked in, download a free podcast app and start exploring. Like Netflix, it provides hours of free bingeworthy entertainment – and if you choose to spend some of those hours in Night Vale, you will never be disappointed. Confused, occasionally – paranoid, certainly – and threatened in mind, body and soul, almost all of the time – but that’s really the gift of public radio on demand.
Goodnight, Night Vale. And remember, if you see something, say nothing, and drink to forget.
This post was chanted into a bloodstone by Ed’s partner, Tara, who enjoys nothing more than a re-educational visit from the Sheriff’s Secret Police. All hail the glow cloud.