– Or HOLY LONG POST, BATMAN –
I’m going to be incoherently babbling about Night Vale and Desert Bluffs, as described in The Sandstorm (19A and 19B). If you haven’t gotten to this part in the podcast yet, not to worry! THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS AND COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF BULLSH*T. IT PROBABLY MAKES NO SENSE. IT HAS NOT BEEN EDITED. You have been warned.
Hello, and welcome to the first ever edition of Incoherent Babbling About Welcome to Night Vale. Please, have a seat. Or stand, that’s cool, too.
So, I’ve seen it referenced that Night Vale and Desert Bluffs are parallels of each other, or, rather, are the alternate universes of each other. This seems to make sense, re: the Intern Vanessa/Dana bit in both parts, so that is the theory I am going to be rolling with.
Now, let me begin with Night Vale. Night Vale is a town in the middle of the desert (plot wise), and a mode of satire for America and American politics (meta wise). Sure, it’s a town where strange things happen on the regular and the citizenry are pretty blase about said strange things, but, on the whole, Night Vale is very recognizable as Small Town, USA.
They have everything you would expect in a small town – Town Council (albeit a ancient, and sort of creepy Council) which dictates the ‘laws’ of the town, a Mayor, a sheriff and a (secret) police force, small town celebrities (I’m looking at you, Carlos), and a radio show just this side of creepy. Sure, everything is blown out of proportion (it is satirical, after all), but, aside from the Eldritch Horrors, Angels, and Hooded Figures, it’s sort of….Normal.
Well, as normal as Night Vale can possibly be. Which makes Desert Bluffs a perfect foil for Night Vale.
What we know about both towns is what we are told – we know a lot about Night Vale because we are listening to Cecil tell us about the events, hazards, and even things that we are not supposed to talk or even know about. He also tells us things about Desert Bluffs because they are, apparently, Night Vale’s sports rivals. [“Desert Bluffs is always trying to show us up through fancier uniforms, better pre-game snacks, and possibly, by transporting a commercial jet into our gymnasium, delaying practice for several minutes, at least. For shame, Desert Bluffs. For shame.”]
But, other than a few mentions of Desert Bluffs in regards to sports, we don’t know much about Night Vale’s relationship to Desert Bluffs.
Let’s talk about Desert Bluffs, for a moment, though. Desert Bluffs, on the surface, seems much more like the real world than expected. If you were like me, listening to Desert Bluffs Public Radio was a bit surreal. Thing is, it tells us a lot about the town. Kevin doesn’t seemed bothered by the events in The Sandstorm – everything seems like a perfectly normal parallel to Cecil’s broadcast. Except for one thing; the doubles. Now, it was certainly easy enough to believe that a desert town that was not Night Vale would not really be concerned with a sandstorm out side of work delays and such (though the way they talk about work, it seem like that’s all anyone does ever); however, the initial encounter with the doubles, out on route 800 near exit 66, Kevin reports it exactly as Cecil reports it: “I am getting one report that there are several stalled cars on the north bound lanes…police are on the scene dealing with fist fights in the middle of the road! Now, I can’t imagine why, in a beautiful town with so many kinds of yogurt stores and pony petting stations anyone would want to fight his neighbor!”
Okay, so it’s not exactly the same a Cecil, but there is something all too nice and flowery about this report. Kevin is trying really hard to make everything seem fine. He seems to be trying to earn our trust, or, at least, he is written so that we, the listener, will immediately trust him. Sure, Desert Bluffs sounds a bit off, and Strex Corp’s ad – “Look inside you. Strex. Go to sleep. Strex. Believe in a Smiling God. Strex Corp is everything” – is a bit more menacing than things we have heard in Night Vale, but Kevin seems normal! Surely we can trust him, right?
It seems that way, but here’s the thing – we’ve been with Cecil for 19 episodes, and he generally tells the truth. Yes, he is an unreliable narrator, so ‘truth’ is relative, but he tries. He never hides things from citizens unless the report is, you know, about something we’re not supposed to know about (like the Shape in Grove Park). Corrections are given frequently, and Cecil generally acknowledges the oddities of his “little human town,” and seems concerned for those who live in Night Vale, with the exception of Steve Carlsberg and the Apache Tracker. In fact, with how terrifying the Council and the Secret Police are, they are at least acknowledged (“That’s the Sherriff’s Secret Police. They’ll keep a good eye on your kids, and hardly ever take one.”).
But I am willing to bet you wouldn’t hear anything like that about the Strex Corp black helicopters; reason being is the huge disparity between what Cecil reports and acknowledges, and what Kevin reports. Let’s return to The Sandstorm, shall we? After the initial report of fist fights, the fighting of doppelgängers continues in Night Vale, and the Council has declared that, should you meet your double, you should “kill your double.” Cecil, of course, says that he does not think that violence is the answer, and will not kill his double if he meets him.
Then, he is interrupted by a rustling noise. Intern Dana is fighting with her double (“Dana, who are you fighting in there?”) Cecil leaves to break it up. In Desert Bluffs, Kevin, too, is interrupted from discussing the productive joys of having a double, by rustling. Intern Vanessa is, apparently, conversing with her double. (“Vanessa, who are you talking too?”). Kevin then says that Vanessa and her double are building a shelving unit; minutes later, he find Vanessa standing over Vanessa with a ‘cold compress’ and a staple gun. (Dana, or Dana’s Double, is also standing over her double, holding an email and a broken stapler.)
This is where I lost faith in Desert Bluffs. Initially, I simply thought they saw things differently in Desert Bluffs, like, the sandstorm had a different effect on this town, but I believe something far more sinister is going on. I read somewhere that violence could be Desert Bluff’s official language, and so they just can’t ‘see’ the violence between themselves and their Night Vale doubles (which is what I, and TV Tropes, believes is going on; Desert Bluffs is the AU of Night Vale), and so don’t understand that they are killing the Night Valians. And that could be true, but I think it’s more than that.
I think this because Kevin’s station terrifies Cecil, and, at most, Cecil’s station just kind of confuses Kevin a bit. Let me explain. The only thing we have heard on Welcome to Night Vale that has caused Cecil’s voice to become strained, weak, and terrified, was Station Management. I mean, granted, the way he describes the DBPR station – “There is blood on the walls. Instead of buttons on the sound board there is just…animal viscera. There is so much blood it is seeping through my shoes” – is fucking terrifying. But this is the Voice of Night Vale we’re talking about, a person who has gown up with the strange and vaguely terrifying, and this scares him.
Mean while, Kevin, is just like “The equipment is much older, certainly much dryer than it should be.” He says that the walls are “darker” and that the desk doesn’t have blood on it. At first, in episode 19A, this sounds kind of innocuous; but after Cecil’s description, I think Kevin is literally just ignoring the fact that there is blood and viscera in his studio. Ignorance is Bliss. “Go To Sleep.”
There is another thing (and this lends credibility to the ‘lack of a common language’ theory) that Kevin finds odd – Cecil’s smile. He says: “Maybe it is the smile. Is that a smile? I can’t say.” I brushed this off initially, but then there is the proverb at the end of 19B – “Step 1: Separate your lips. Step 2: Use facial muscles to pull back corners of mouth. Step 3: Widen your eyes. This is how to be happy.” This is Desert Bluffs, where one cannot tell the smile on another if it is not some sort of weird, forced facsimile of a smile. (Yes, Cecil could, in fact, not be smiling. But that would break the parallelism of these twin episodes.) Cecil, in the Desert Bluffs station, also comments on Kevin’s (or, we assume it is Kevin’s) smile: “His smile…noooooo, it is not a smile. He must be wicked, this man.”
Perhaps all of Desert Bluffs is forced into happiness, or must pretend at all times to be happy, and is not allowed to talk of anything that might be considered ‘abnormal’ for the sake of appearances. I am unsure; what I am sure of is that Kevin is either a liar, or profoundly naïve. One would think that the lack of “so much blood [it seeps] into [your] shoes,” would be something to mention when you get stuck in someone else’s studio. But no, aside for the odd likeness between Kevin and Cecil, and the dry equipment/desk, Kevin does not really acknowledge the differences between the two studios, where as Cecil launches into great, and terrifying, detail. Kevin blithely transitions into the weather; Cecil only puts it on because he is a professional.
On the journey back, Cecil and Kevin reportedly meet. According to Kevin, he hugs Cecil and all is well. According to Cecil, he was attacked, and Cecil tried to “choke the life” out of Kevin, before remembering that he promised not to kill his double. Cecil let Kevin live, and walks away, though he is sure Kevin “has his bruises.” Kevin and Cecil then both remark that they are “glad [their] other is alive” in some fashion, and I think that scares me the most. They are clearly parallels of each other – one is dark and sinister in tone, but is generally nice, and the other is simply dark and sinister, but has a cheery voice – but they are glad the other is alive.
That could mean anything.
And then, in episode 26, Cecil says: “As my mother used to tell me, ‘Someone’s going to kill you one day, Cecil, and it will involve a mirror…’” This, of course, may be a coincidence, but when is anything a coincidence in Night Vale? Someone will kill Cecil, and it will involve a mirror. Perhaps this is literal, or perhaps it refers to Kevin, being someone and a literal mirror of Cecil (sort of; apparently the eyes are up for debate). Who knows; this is the conjecture part of this crazy essay.
Desert Bluffs and Night Vale reflect each other – Night Vale is an outlandish town where the police will kidnap your children and No One Is Allowed In The Dog Park. Desert Bluffs tries, so very hard, to be normal and becomes a macabre terror in the desert. Things in Night Vale are weird, outlandish, and terrifying, but Cecil talks about those things (even, sometimes, talking about things which should not be talked about) and, though everyone is used to the weird, it is looked at as reality. The weird is not talked about in Desert Bluffs, though the radio station floor bleeds and has teeth, though the Voice of Desert Bluffs has obsidian eyes and a not-smile, none of it will ever be talked about because that sort of talk could probably kill you.
Go to sleep.