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Here's an idea-- "Welcome to Night Vale"
shows us how uncomfortable we are with the unknown.
"Night Vale" is a small desert community where the sun is hot,
the moon is bright, and strange lights pass overhead
as we all pretend to sleep.
It's also a podcast-- a very popular podcast--
the most popular podcast in America, actually.
It's written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
and voiced by Cecil Baldwin, who shares his first name
with the main character, the host of Night Vale's
local radio news program.
However, the daily news happenings of "Night Vale"
aren't exactly quotidian-- well, I mean for Night Vale they are,
like the taco place is encased in amber and all of the what
and what byproducts have turned into snakes.
"Night Vale" radio station management
is an unseen horrible thrashing beast and the hooded figures
that you see around town are headquartered
at the dog park, which you shouldn't go to or think about.
And Cecil-- oh, Cecil-- reports all of these shenanigans
with his usual good cheer.
CECIL: One death has already been
attributed to the glow cloud.
But listen, it's probably nothing.
The creators of Night Vale have made this mysterious, engaging,
and funny podcast using most notably, though not solely,
the characteristics of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft was an American novelist
who lived in the Northeast in the early 20th century
and he wrote stories-- many stories-- about how
the universe, it's machinations, and far flung inhabitants
are so dreadfully horrifyingly and infinitely
beyond human understanding.
He created the great Cthulu, wrote about impossibly shaped
ancient underground cities, and characters who are not
even a little what they seem.
And while Night Vale hasn't borrowed so much directly
from the Lovecraft universe, it has
borrowed much of Lovecraft's spirit-- specifically,
a spirit which embraces and makes
masterful use of the unknown.
Lovecraft's unknown is, unsurprisingly,
in service of boot quaking, sanity losing, forever
seeing horror.
In fact, Lovecraft saw his main contribution
to the art of horror writing as just
that-- capturing the ways in which a real person might
actually react if they are confronted with something
literally impossible, given their experience
and understanding of the world.
Philosopher Graham Harmon describes
Lovecraft as a writer of gaps-- a gap specifically
between what we understand to be possible
and what the characters are experiencing
in the story, expressed by the gap between the existence
of something and the ability of language
to accurately and appropriately describe that thing.
Lovecraft and much of Night Vale is constructed
of language dancing in compromise
around the situations it was not meant to apprehend.
In Night Vale, though, paralytic terror
is replaced with a sense of almost drab mundanity.
I mean sure, street cleaning day is
a horror beyond all comprehension,
but as long as you run-- run away.
Run as fast as you can.
Stay in-- everything will be fine.
You know the drill.
Night Vale undoes Lovecraft's central innovation
and turns unspeakable abomination
into unremarkable absurdity.
This, in turn, might be Night Vale's greatest innovation.
I mean when Lovecraft was writing,
the world was a much larger, more mysterious,
and unconnected place.
Today I [BLEEP] Love Science, Brain Pickings, Wikipedia,
V Sauce, Ze Frank when he's not lying.
NARRATOR: Here the angler fish waves
a lovely pashmina shawl just the size
for an unsuspecting shrimp.
Confront us daily with the strange
and seemingly impossible.
Are ubiquitous black helicopters and glow
clouds-- which, by the way, all hail the glow cloud--
and the constant dissipation of incumbent mayor Pamela Winchell
really that much weirder than a government organization that
spies on its own citizens, a shrimp that
can punch so fast it boils water, and Kanye West?
I say, no.
It's not that we've become numb to the peculiarities
of the world, but rather like Cecil and the citizens of Night
Vale, we've come to expect and kind of just deal with them.
I mean, we've I've seen it all.
But the reverse is also true and is a sentiment perfectly
captured in a Susan Sontag quote that Brain Pickings actually
recently posted.
Sontag wrote that needing to have
reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs
is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted.
In short, seeing is not metaphorically believing,
seeing and believing are the same thing.
We need the former in order to feel complete in the latter.
Or, as we say on the internet, pics or it didn't happen.
Both Lovecraft and "Night Vale" rely
on facility of language and audio
respectively to describe and their inability to depict.
In Lovecraft's time this was maybe less of a compromise,
as visual culture wasn't the exceptional force
that it is today.
His work was minted both creatively
and temporally outside of pics or it didn't happen.
For "Night Vale" it's different.
It's special for its lack of canonized depiction
and even its in universe hostility towards the idea
of seeing is believing.
I mean mountain believers, right?
This, interestingly, is at odds with the practices
of a modern fandom.
Cecil specifically is described as not tall, not short,
not fat, not thin, his smile is-- is that even a smile?
He possesses a set of characteristics so diaphanous
that language passes right through them.
Cecil and the rest of "Night Vale"
are at odds with our desire for visual confirmation.
This makes it hard, a sight unseen, to believe in him.
What's more, this makes it impossible to cosplay as him
or to cosplay as an immediately identifiable signifier of him.
And this is a problem because "Night Vale"'s
fandom is large and excited and involved,
so the gap must be transgressed in order to show it the fan
respect that it deserves.
Or in other words, cosplay or it's not a fandom.
Enter the emergent depiction of Cecil-- a non cannon,
fan imagined composite signifying
that which is ultimately unknowable.
How did we get this Cecil, the Tim Gunnish looking character
who is definitely tall and definitely
skinny with the tie and the tattoos?
Maybe it's the real Cecil's voice
or maybe it's the skill with which Fink and Cranor are
able to evoke the surroundings.
That is the power of radio, which
they do say is the most visual medium--
and by they, I mean a vague yet menacing government agency.
Either way, this isn't Cecil-- it isn't.
No depiction of Cecil is Cecil.
Cecil is a voice.
Cecil is as beyond language as the things on which he reports.
He is an unknown in the world of knowns.
He is a description in a world of depictions.
And as bizarre and defying of description as he is,
we still try.
And maybe we do it because of fan culture or because it's fun
or because if you don't, he doesn't exist-- or doesn't
exist in a way that we're comfortable with,
which means maybe we are a little
uncomfortable with the unknown.
Maybe it is a little scary, though certainly not
as scary as street cleaning day because nothing's as
scary as street cleaning day.
What do you guys think?
Does Night Vale show us how much we want visual confirmation
of the unknown?
Let us know in the comments and good night,
"Idea Channel" subscribers.
If I were a Titan Shifter, my Titan form
wouldn't knock down walls, it would knock down
preconceived notions of popular media.
Let's ee what yo guys had to say about Titans and evil.
First and foremost, I just got back from, uh,
XOXO in Portland, which was an amazing good time so hello
to everybody who I met there-- Martin, Lucy, Claire, Ben,
James, Matt, Mike, Jenn, a bunch of other-- I'm
going to forget everybody so I'm going to stop trying.
But it was great to meet you and say hi on the internet.
Daniel Huff says that the Titans from Attack on Titan
are only as evil as meat eaters and that the show might
be a case for vegetarianism.
KorintioX says that it might not be meat eating itself,
but the needless slaughter of animals.
That's-- yeah, am interesting taken on it.
Key Minor said that with the information we have from
the anime, you cannot say that the Titans are anything other
than neutral, but most importantly,
banishes everyone who posted spoilers from the manga
to a million years in the dungeon-- totally agree.
Legomaple make the case that normal Titans are not even all,
but that the Shifting Titans are definitely evil is and says
that it is a mistake to compare Eren with the other Shifting
That-- that might-- there might be something to that.
To Dustin Bell, thank you for the pronunciation guide,
hagiography like hay, geography?
I should probably just read a dictionary.
To Lon MacGregor, I don't know if there's
a part of the human brain that craves meat,
but he thought about hunting is definitely a salient point.
There was actually a species of pigeon
that the humans have hunted to extinction.
So are we evil for doing that?
I think some people would certainly say, yes.
Omar Uchida draws a really good connection
between Saiyan children from Dragon Ball Z
and what happens to them when they
see the moonlight-- they turn into those big ape creatures.
Though I think Legomaple might disagree with this comparison.
Evan Sabourin and I are kind of on the same page
regarding what you learn by reading
the rest of the manga, which I have spent a lot of time doing,
and that even when you know everything
it's still kind of a hard question to answer.
But anybody else who's read it, don't write a comment
because you'll spoil it-- never mind.
Rotinoma asks whether or not capturing and experimenting
on the Titans is, in itself, evil.
This might-- this might align with how you feel about animal
experimentation in general.
Thanks again, FUNimation, for being really understanding.
And to anyone who wants to watch Attack on Titan,
we put a link to the watch page in the description.
Go click it.
This week's episode was brought you
by the hard work of these destructive toddlers.
And the Tweet of the Week comes from Buchina,
who points us towards a Tumblr that will replace television.
There's also a runner up Tweet of the Week from frequentbeef,
who points us towards a Clive Thompson
article about thinking in public which is really interesting.
And though I haven't read it, I have
heard that Clive Thompson's new book is killer.
So be sure to check that one out.
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How Does Night Vale Confront Us With the Unknown? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios

246 Folder Collection
Wong Billy published on July 25, 2018
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