A typical storytelling device is to take something that once seemed light, humorous, and innocuous, and make it meaningful or dramatic. Welcome to Night Vale starts a lot of its dramatic turns as simple jokes and asides, but I think it’s more impressive how this applies to characterization.
“Time is weird”, everyone says. It’s a funny joke, but it has serious existential implications for Earl Harlan. Steve Carlsberg, the best character in the show, is built off of the joke of the kind of person who would be seen as a conspiracy theorist in a conspiracy land like this. The payoff is in the gradual reveal of what such a person would actually be like. By starting characters as caricatures, Night Vale is able to show their humanity especially well.
Michelle Nguyen is a hipster, someone whose life revolves around media that no one else is familiar with. She does this by choice, recording her own CDs for herself, and faking music for other people to listen to. This is a popular joke, it has an easy theme to it: people want to be unique, and find something special. No one in reality struggles with their own taste in media as much as Michelle does, but the base urge is there.
“I’m all I need. I’m the ultimate underground hit. No one’s heard of me. No one’s listening. Just the way I like it.”
Reminds me of a certain someone.
Starting from The April Monologues, Michelle embodies the more vulnerable elements of this scenario. By chasing uniqueness, she’s always alone. Every day she openly hates the person she was yesterday. It’s been done before. Her sense of identity has strangled the person she actually is. At one point, she outright asks “Will you hate me if I like something?”
But in Night Vale, a society and world built around stagnation, denial, and tradition, everyone is changing. Not just in the superficial top-of-the-trends way Michelle aims to, but in making long term strides.
Michelle finds someone she enjoys being around and shares her recordings, a part of herself, with her. She submits her monologues to live radio twice. She even shows Cecil a song she likes. She then denounces the song for being out of style.
Michelle’s gonna be the way she is for a while, maybe forever. But it’s been a joy watching this show depict someone coming to terms with her personality this way, and the relationship resulting. We haven’t seen much of Michelle Nguyen in a while, but I’m hoping for more. There’s a lot of good stories to be told here.