For many moons, I have wished to indulge myself in the realm of podcasts. For many moons, I have waited for the perfect podcast to jar my ears into listening. For many moons, I have looked up at the floating object in the sky and wondered what it thought about me. Up there, watching. Always watching.
Recently, my ears were robbed of their podcast virginity by the radio show of a fictional town–Night Vale. Welcome to Night Vale is a free podcast production by Commonplace Books. Narrated by Cecil Baldwin and written by Joseph Fink, it is an extremely strange but thought-provoking series of supernatural events occurring in the obscure desert town of Night Vale. The series features announcements about the local community, from weather reports to updates about the Sheriff’s Secret Police. It is saturated in dark humor and has a mysterious and haunting tone that continuously triggers the listener’s imagination. There are many tales of the “Hooded Figures” that lurk around town, participating in many unusual activities. The conversational voice of Cecil, the narrator, makes the absurd announcements of fantastical activities seem commonplace, just like one would report the score of a high school soccer game. What many would call conspiracies in this world are daily news announcements in Night Vale. The series is littered in stories of faceless old women in the corners of living rooms, glowing storm clouds that rain dead beavers, and floating cats in public restrooms. The surrealist nature of the show leads to a bottomless well of interesting tales that fails to disappoint.
When I first began listening, I was immediately told about the new dog park that was built in Night Vale and how it was a gathering place for Hooded Figures. Almost as instantly, I was told to not go near the dog park. While this peculiar statement was not only intriguing, as I wished to discover the dangers of going near the dog park and what was exactly going on there, but I was immensely drawn into the town, for I was addressed directly as one of the townspeople. This direct connection to listeners is a risky move, for it lends itself to vulnerability by making assumptions of the audience and setting up an expectation from then on. The expectation that Night Vale embraces is the acceptance of the unknown. It requires listeners to cope with the ridiculous and revel in that mystery. Like a conspiracy theory, the show lends itself to series of loose facts and speculations and then extrapolates upon them to illustrate the things we do not fully know or understand. In this sense, it encourages its audience to have an open mind and look forward to hearing about something new, regardless of its base in reality.
In a sense, the podcast is a petri dish of ideas. The story-lines, told almost like a series of Twitter updates, are incredibly unique, and they offer a novel insight into many facets of everyday life. For instance, the daily “weather report” is a great collection of music–of many different genres and independent artists–none of which I had listened to previously. This unlikely exposure allowed me to discover new interests in music and inspired me to explore more niche genres. Night Vale is a playground for the mind. It encourages an untamed imagination and willingness to not only accept, but embrace, the unknown.
If you wish to take a listen, beware.