Popular podcast spooks
By BRITNEY VITNER
For those on social networking sites such as Tumblr, Facebook or Twitter, the phrase “And now, the weather,” is commonplace. Students on the University of Mary Washington campus sport purple eyeball t-shirts, draw purple eyes on things and talk about a show called “Welcome to Night Vale,” but what is it that everyone is so interested in?
“Welcome to Night Vale” is a free radio broadcast that fans can listen to on Soundcloud, iTunes, or as a podcast. It has themes of dark fantasy, surrealism, horror, suspense and disaster and its narrative style is likened to the works of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. It is perfect for Halloween listening.
The broadcast is run by the fictional Cecil Baldwin, the ‘voice’ of Night Vale, a rural town somewhere in the southwestern United States. The broadcasts occur on the fir1stst and 15th of the month and began in July 2012.
Baldwin typically opens the podcast with a deep thought, the show’s theme will play and then a semi-normal sounding podcast will ensue. During the podcast, Baldwin discusses topics such as the daily experiences of the town’s residents, the activities of rival town Desert Bluffs, traffic, the latest disaster, his infatuation with a scientist named Carlos and philosophical remarks on the universe in general.
There are currently 32 episodes in the series, and listeners have met a wide variety of Night Vale and Desert Bluffs residents, all revealing some interesting parts of the fictional towns. Residents include Old Woman Josie, who communicates with the Angels, the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives in Your Home, and is running for mayor along with Hiram McDaniels, the criminal five-headed dragon, against the incumbent Mayor Winchill. There are also the Imaginary Corn Fields, the Dog Park, residence of the mysterious Hooded Figures, the Whispering Forest, and Desert Bluffs, which appears to be some sort of nightmarish parallel version of Night Vale.
The podcast can be funny, creepy and even sweet. An ongoing storyline is the relationship between Baldwin and Carlos, which has developed since Carlos first appeared in the town during episode one and caught Baldwin’s attention. Their relationship came to a head during episode 25, when Carlos demonstrated that he returned Baldwin’s feelings.
Sophomore psychology major Meghan Cardwell commented on the queer representation in the podcast, which is part of what makes it so popular and appealing to many fans. Baldwin and Carlos, a homosexual couple, have a large following among the fandom. The racial make-up of the podcast is also a popular point in the fandom. Since the entire show is broadcast via audio, fans are unaware of what the characters look like. Thus, the cast can be from any background and leaves much of the podcast open to any representation.
The podcast intermixes stories, such as the invasions of miniature armies, the terror of the Sheriff’s Secret Police, the commands of the mysterious City Council and numerous mysteries in the town.
According to junior Alexandra Swords, part of what makes “Welcome to Night Vale” so popular is that it is “a brilliant satire that translates the absurdities of true reality into ridiculous shows of grotesque humor that explain real world problems.”
The podcast often pokes fun at politics, religion, education, race relations, social constructions of gender and romance and traditional adventure and detective fiction plots. The show plays on a multitude of emotions that make the audience forget the curious local customs and body count, and focus on the deeper meanings below the surface.