Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weird, Terrifying, and Deadly - But Realistic (The Women of WTNV)

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So, for those of you who were waiting with baited breath to find out what happened with my computer (and for the rest of you who are now wondering what I'm talking about), the crisis has been solved and it was minimal: I needed a new power cord, which was expensive, but ultimately cheaper than buying a new computer, so it's all turned out well. I will have to get a new computer probably in the next year, because this one is four and a half years old, which is very old in computer years, but I knew that was coming eventually. I was just hoping it happened, you know, not for a while.

Pretty sure I've got another year left, though, so that's nice.

Anyway, that's why today's article is late. And it's a real shame, too, because the topic for today is actually something I've been looking forward to covering, and not something I was dreading or procrastinating over, or any of the usual. Which I totally don't ever do. I was kidding about that. Haha.

Like a lot of you, probably, I have a reasonable commute everyday, to and from work. And while sometimes I like to fill that half-hour with pop music or NPR or classic CCR because CCR, these past few days I've been using it to catch up on episodes of Welcome to Night Vale, the deliciously insane fake community news program available for free online. You should listen to it because it is amazing.

While I've been listening, a few things have popped out. First, I love this show and everything about it, and second, the women on this show are pretty universally rad, and in ways that make them stand out from the usual background characters on shows like this. Insofar as there are other shows like this. Which there aren't really. But there are analogs.

So, Welcome to Night Vale is a fake community news broadcast, like I said, purporting to be the local news from a little town in New Mexico: Night Vale. Night Vale is the kind of creepy that would make Lovecraft uncomfortable, and not just because of all the not-white people in the town (H.P. Lovecraft was racist, that's why that joke is funny). There are mysterious hooded figures in the dog park, a Glow Cloud on the PTA board, and a man in a tan jacket with a deerskin briefcase full of flies. Because, you know, flies.

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The town thinks of itself as a perfectly normal town, which it most assuredly isn't, and the news bulletins are hilarious for their nonchalance. Stuff like, "Oh, it's Poetry Week again, watch out for the bulldozers," etc. The entire premise is based around the idea that these people have lived in this horrifying, horrifying place for so long, that it has become normal. And it makes for a good show.

All of this is related to us by our host, Cecil Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin, just to make things confusing). Cecil is a native of Night Vale, and as such takes everything in stride. And he's not the only one. The show is rich with recurring characters, inside jokes, and awesome plot development. But like I said above, what really stands out here is the diversity: there are female characters here, and they aren't shoved in the usual female character pigeonholes. They're people, and of course there are a lot of them, because there are a lot of women in Night Vale.

That's right: this is a show with a representative, diverse population of female characters, and they do things. What.

I don't have enough time to run through all the female characters, because there are actually that many of them, but I want to pull out a few to examine, because I feel that it's important to show how much these aren't your usual stereotypes. For example, probably the most popular female character on the show is Tamika Flynn, a twelve year old girl who first shows up in the "Summer Reading Program" episode. Tamika Flynn is one of the children who cautiously walked into the dreaded Night Vale Library, and came out victorious from her battle with the Librarians, covered in gore, with a reading list far in advance of her grade level, and clutching the severed head of a vanquished Librarian.

I should probably mention that Librarians are considered the most fearsome beasts in all of Night Vale, and that this was a big deal.

Tamika then disappeared for a few months, only to reappear while training an army of children for advanced combat, holding a guerilla war on the Strex Corporation, rallying crowds to her support, and literally disappearing into nothingness again. Ah, Tamika Flynn. She's freaking terrifying, and we love her.

But the thing is, Tamika Flynn is, 1, a really weird character in general, and 2, not the kind of character you would normally make the stylistic choice to have as a "stocky", young African-American girl. I mean, I feel like most writers would have pictured more of a young Edward Furlong kind of deal here. Instead, we got Tamika Flynn, and oh are we grateful for her.

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Or how about a character who is slightly older and maybe a little less militant? Well then you've got Old Woman Josie, a kindly lady who likes bowling and cookies, and just so happens to have a whole host of angels living at her house, changing her light bulbs, watching her television, and protecting her from the darkness of the void. You know, like you do.

And then there's The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your House, who is a faceless old woman secretly living in your house. She writes passive aggressive letters to be read on air sometimes, and she's also running for mayor. Because why not?

The current mayor is Pamela Winchell, who sometimes acts like a normal mayor, and sometimes acts like an elder beast constrained to human form. It's kind of hard to tell what's up with her, but she is awesome whatever it is. 

Or maybe you relate best to stories about childhood disillusionment, and overcoming bullying? Then you'll love Megan, a young girl struggling to connect in school, because she is literally just a severed adult male hand. That's it. And while that seems like it should be a one off joke, it's actually an entire episode, where, by the end, you really and truly feel for Megan. She's not just played for laughs, she's actually a person. Albeit a person whose entire body is a detached hand.

There are so many more female characters I could mention - I didn't even get into the Interns (Intern Dana is actually coming up on a SFC Friday post) - but that's the point. This is just a small sample of the characters in Welcome to Night Vale, and none of them are trivialized or defined by their sex appeal, or even left as caricatures. They're all people. Diverse, weird, sometimes deeply terrifying people.

In fact, not a single character in all of Welcome to Night Vale is defined by their relationship. Everyone is always their own character - even Cecil's boyfriend, Carlos. Carlos is most immediately defined by his job, as the only scientist in Night Vale, instead of by his relationship, even when Cecil is doing the referring. Because this is a show about who people are, rather than what they are or what role they fulfill in society.

What this does is create a world in Night Vale that is deep and interesting and, well, real. You feel like this world is real, because the people who inhabit it are so realistic. The people here have feelings and faults and mess up and make mistakes and are multi-faceted weirdos, and it's great. It really is.

I'll take existentially terrifying over badly written any day.

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