Some thoughts on the most recent episode:
The basic premise of Welcome to Night Vale—that all conspiracy theories are known to be true, and accepted as mundane—is fairly subversive. Conspiracy theories are a politically motivated overdetermination of meaning: they try to make the world more explicable and orderly by refusing randomness and irregularity and human error in favour of a story about concealed deep truths.
But by flooding its world with all of that imagined horror, WtNV makes it less intelligible. There are so many conflicting structures of power and control: the government is spying on you; the World Government, the Sherrif’s Secret Police, the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives in Your House, the angels, faceless mega-corporations, hidden civilisations, aliens… there are eyes everywhere. But if all of these shadow entities have great power, none of them have absolute power. If all of those conspiracy theories are true, none of them are absolutely true. It’s democratic & diverse horror: everyone’s fear is as valid as anyone else’s, and just as true; and anyone might themselves be a source of horror.
Night Vale is a self-perpetuating nightmare, embodied in its citizens, origin unknown. So there’s no overarching grand narrative that explains all of it. Night Vale is, fundamentally, inherently, strange and random and uncontrollable. Horror is a ‘natural’ part of life; and Night Vale’s citizens survive because they’ve accepted and absorbed that horror without attempting to tame it or defeat it. In our world, many horrors can’t be defeated or made meaningful; all you can do is accept your own fear, and accept fear and the condition of powerlessness, in the face of an indifferent universe, as part of being human.
Which is why StrexCorp is doomed to fail in its mission to dominate Night Vale. StrexCorp doesn’t tolerate randomness and rogue horror. It wants to make NV meaningful and orderly and homogenous. Because WtNV is self-reflexively a fiction about imagination, StrexCorp has to first conquer the hearts & minds of Night Vale’s citizens, in order to control the horror. It’s true that Night Vale’s citizens—particularly the older generation—have become complacent about the horror that surrounds them, which allowed StrexCorp to take over the town; but they have never tried to dominate or destroy the horror. And it’s the new generation, the children—strange and frightening and alert to the dark strangeness around them—who consistently undermine StrexCorp because they can out-horrify its horrors and out-weird its weirdness, and reject its message of conformism (“we are you”).
(The reference to slingshots and stones seems to make the children a David to StrexCorp’s Goliath.)
The book Tamika Flynn leaves behind when she and the other rebel-children kidnap the pilot of the helicopter is Willa Cather’s Death Comes For the Archbishop. In that book, members of a powerful and mysterious organisation—the Catholic Church—seek to impose Roman Catholicism upon the Native American & Mexican populations of New Mexico, to confront rich, diverse & ancient tradition with their modern practices—an endeavour which ultimately seems impossible, absurd and immoral. As ‘invading’ foreigners, they encounter a harsh and hostile land. Meanwhile, its native inhabitants have an old and deep appreciation for it, an affinity with it, yet never seek absolute mastery of it, instead accepting the limits of their control over nature. (As Cecil says in “Missing”: “nature is gorgeous, and it is horrible, and it will kill you.”)
In a way, our view of Night Vale is like that of any culture toward any other culture that is sufficiently different: it appears alien and unsettling, sometimes appalling or intolerable. WtNV is an argument for imagination as the vehicle of tolerance: acceptance of diversity, difference & otherness without immediately demonising it, acceptance of strangeness and mystery without becoming complacent, acceptance of your own limitations and your own power, and the limitations and powers of others, without allowing yourself to be cowed by a greedy malevolent corporation imposing conformity by encouraging you to think deeply about meadows.