That most Hallowed-Eve time of year is upon us again, when everything is doused in pumpkin flavors and the general popular spends a month acting like cosplayers do year round (that is to say, approaching every strange and discarded garment as a potentially useful tool and trying to out-obscure friends and loved ones). It is also the time of year when horror lovers like myself – and I suspect you too, dear reader, if you’ve stuck around long – get to spend a few week walking through a wonderland of horror-focused cable picks, Netflix suggestions, promoted creepypastas, and DVD shelves. But there’s a medium most overlook in seeking out their scares – podcasts.
Please also enjoy this COMPLETELY ADORABLE skeleton and spoon combo
One of the most important qualities of a good spooky story (the subtle ones, not that I don’t love the occasional gorefest) is creating an intimacy between audience and fiction, lulling them into an almost hypnotic state of wonder where anything is possible while you pick away, unnoticed, at their psychological defenses. To that end, a medium that can literally whisper in your ear, unheard by anyone else, has a distinct hand up on the competition. And folks, there is some gold out there. Take these recommendations, a proffered candle to light your dark nights – the better to make the shadows grow teeth.
In the land of mysterious occurrences and motivations that is Welcome to Night Vale, few characters remain more inscrutable than Kevin. Each of his rare appearances raises as many questions as it answers, if not more, and when fans step into answer those questions their answers tend to be…less than favorable. A lot of that is well earned, given we’re talking about a character with a few directly attributable murders on his hands, promoting propaganda that led to the imprisonment of the majority of Night Vale’s population, and his relentless refusal to acknowledge emotions that aren’t “happiness and hard work.”
On the other hand, the character’s gained both a sympathetic backstory and some pretty strong positive character development (relatively speaking) in the last year, while fan perceptions seem to keep on defaulting back to “the manipulative psychotic eldritch abomination.” And that’s always struck me as a terrible shame. So in light of the precipice the Kevin’s been left on in light of the 3rd year anniversary, it struck me as a good time to see if there isn’t something a bit more ambiguous than evil on our hands.
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To be perfectly clear, I am NOT trying to insist that Kevin doesn’t still need to atone for his actions as the mouthpiece of StrexCorp and the Smiling God, that his behavior in 70A was acceptable, or that Carlos should’ve stayed in the Desert Otherworld (if anything, their tentatively positive relationship requires Carlos getting back to a healthier overall support system).
I AM interested in pointing out how far Kevin’s come since “Old Oak Doors,” that his interactions are rooted in trauma and his own self-harming coping mechanisms rather than malicious and manipulative intent, and that his behavior in “Taking Off” is more or less equivalent to Cecil’s during Year One.
There are regrettable times of day when I am required to disconnect myself from the internet and interact with human society for the purpose of maintaining things such as rent, social bonds, and the dog next to me (who is currently making unsubtle sad eyes about his unscratched ears). I imagine this experience would be a good deal more disturbing if I didn’t have a constant stream of voices winding their way into my ears, running the gamut from nebbish shut-ins discussing internet justice to nebbish shut ins discussing popular culture to throat spiders.
I’m here to bring the good news of podcasts, is what I’m saying. Not the Kevin Smith, ‘y’all should all get out and make a podcast because it’s creatively freeing and easy’ good news (though that’ll probably come up some day down the line), but the ‘why are people even bothering to listen to music when they could be taking in information and stories on almost anything.’ But then I realized that ‘almost anything’ is a pretty intimidating notion for anyone who’s never even bothered looking outside the music section of iTunes.
A podcast, for the uninitiated, is a downloadable audio file. That’s it, by its broadest parameters. The medium has its roots in radio (particularly talk radio, with Ricky Gervais being one of the earliest to put his show on the bandwagon), but nowadays a podcast can follow any format, subject, or approach and still find a niche group of fans. For the purpose of keeping things contained, we’ll take a look at three fairly broad subgroupings: Infotainment, BS, and Scripted.
[Note: while they’re a thriving entity, I’m avoiding talk of podcasts dedicated to specific shows: they tend to be both in the moment and even more niche than general subject podcasts, and I find they’re better found by being a fan of the show in question rather than just looking for a new podcast.]
And remember: this is only a beginning guide. There are all sorts of podcasts I’m discovering on a daily basis.
Things are not well in Night Vale, readers. But the town’s the same as it ever was – this year the unease is brewing in the audience. We’re reminded, not for the first time but perhaps not so openly, that our narrator is fallible and occasionally kind of a jerk; that Night Vale is a closed, fairly dystopian city; and that the easy answer is by far the more dangerous one. Change is coming to the little desert town, and it’s as of yet ambiguous if anyone will come out unscathed.
The way these burgeoning plot developments mirror and interact with Night Vale’s fanbase is almost as interesting as their narrative promise, so let’s break this down into sections.
I. Making Sinners and Saints II. Progress in Night Vale vs Night Vale III. So How About that Mob
There’s no official Night Vale art –
QUICK, WHAT’S THAT OTHER Twin Peaks INSPIRED SHOW YOU REALLY LIKE
Or: get your tinfoil hats, because this is a Wild Theorizing Essay.
I’ve been thinking about Kevin, internet. About the Voice of Desert Bluffs and the Voice of Night Vale. Partly as a coping mechanism for recent plot events, and partly because no mysteries are so thoroughly and deliberately obscured as the ones surrounding that abandoned-cemetery smile.
For those readers unaware, I refer to the bi-monthly podcast Welcome to Night Vale: a radio show broadcast from the titular town, where “all conspiracy theories are true” (including angels, black helicopters, the Sheriff’s Secret Police, and a dog park in which neither people nor their dogs are allowed on pain of death), and our guide is the smooth-voiced, eccentric Cecil Gershwin Palmer. If you’ve never heard it, I highly encourage you to check it out – either on iTunes or at Commonplace Books.
As a warning: if you’re just stepping into the world of Night Vale, this post will be thoroughly riddled with spoilers (and may prove to be moot point once the second anniversary rolls around). The sections for discussion are as follows: