“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful and blinking lights watch over us while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome … to Night Vale.”
So begins the first episode of “Welcome to Night Vale,” the podcast that has found itself in the number one spot on the iTunes download chart several times in the last few months.
Described by its creators as “a podcast about a small desert town where all conspiracy theories are real and a part of everyday life,” the framework of “Welcome to Night Vale” is a radio show about a small town in the middle of a desert called Night Vale.
In Night Vale, the PTA is headed by a giant Glow Cloud, cereal companies advertise their products with giant pyramids materializing out of nowhere and hooded figures patrol the dog park that nobody is allowed to enter.
It has a compelling storyline certainly, and New York actor Cecil Baldwin’s voice is smooth and sonorous as he narrates the podcast. Those qualities certainly have helped its rapidly growing fan base but a huge draw is Baldwin’s character. In addition to being interesting to listen to, Baldwin’s character is openly in a relationship with another man. And a man of color, at that.
Even in 2013, finding good GSRM—gender, sexual and romantic minority, can be a rarity. Sure, there’s Kurt in the popular TV show “Glee,” but he’s been criticized for being a stereotype of gay males.
Yeah, “American Horror Story” had those two gay guys in the first season, but is it really a positive representation if they were the only gay characters and they were both murderous ghosts? Of course, “Paranorman” had that one gay guy, but he was the only GSRM character present. The token minority.
Now, step into “Welcome to Night Vale.” Here, the radio host is talking openly about his love for Carlos, the dashing new scientist. Here, we get two characters who are interested in other characters of the same gender without that being their defining traits.
Here, yes, Cecil is interested in men but he’s also interested in the future of his town, he likes Mexican food and he has a confusing past that has nothing to do with his sexuality.
Yes, Carlos is interested in men and he’s also interested in science, he has a flair for the dramatic, he can put work above his relationships and he’s a productive man who doesn’t let even the worst of heat waves slow him down.
To many GSRM listeners, it’s a welcomed change.
The one complaint that some listeners have is the lack of trans*/genderqueer characters or characters with stated disabilities. To make up for that, many fans interpret the scientist Carlos as a trans* man and/or Cecil as blind; however it does seem to be something that fans would like to see shown in the podcast itself.
That being said, “Welcome to Night Vale” is still several steps above most media out there today with its fantastic GSRM and PoC representation; and it’s already inspiring many fans in their creative and personal lives.
“Welcome to Night Vale” is a production of Commonplace Books, and features Cecil Baldwin as the voice of Cecil Palmer. It is written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and new episodes are released on the first and 15th day of every month.
See a live performance of “Welcome to Night Vale” Jan. 16 at The Neptune in Seattle, Washington.