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Beloved paranoid community: the meaning of Welcome to Night Vale

I am doing my best to keep up with the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. Episode 60 has this interesting moment, mentioned as always by Cecil, the announcer at Night Vale’s community radio station:

Local television station Channel 6 has come under fire recently for their decision to start broadcasting into viewers homes whether viewers want to watch Channel 6 or not. Many residents have written to their government representatives saying it must violate some law for a television news station to broadcast straight into people’s homes without the residents even turning on their televisions. ‘It must be a violation of privacy laws. Right?,’ these letters often read. ‘Surely the government must step in to stop this,’ the letters usually conclude.

‘We hear your concerns, but the government cannot stop this,’ the reply always says: ‘The local television news station is controlled and managed by the government . . . and it is wonderful to be able to reach everyone in town at every point of the day with important news,’ the letter always continues. ‘Like, let’s say there’s a tornado. A rare event here in the desert, but let’s just say . . . How would you know how to protect yourself from such a danger if there were no government controlled radio station that could turn on in your home and shout terse esoteric orders in a foreign language, let’s say Russian . . . as slow motion footage of salamanders running out of a rotting log plays.’

‘How would you know?’ the letter challenges. ‘You . . . wouldn’t!’

‘Maybe it’s not an emergency!’ the letter concedes. ‘Maybe we just have something really exciting to tell you. Maybe we got a new stand mixer and we want you to see it. Or maybe we’re just feeling sad and we want to read you some poems we wrote . . . ‘

As always, Welcome to Night Vale is about our national contradiction: our endless desire for community, manifested by Cecil’s 24/7 narration of community events and concerns, and our simultaneous apprehension of one of the few things that we truly have in common—our government. In WTNV the state constantly shows up in all kinds of menacing ways: new sinister Dog Parks, strange helicopters, and out of control dinosaurs at City Council meetings, just to mention a few examples. And yet more often than not Big Brother eventually dissolves into some kind of magical realism, in this case the desire of a supposedly intrusive, government sanctioned television station simply to share some melancholy poems with its viewers.

What is it that we are really so afraid of, Welcome to Night Vale constantly asks: the government, or ourselves?


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