Fashion’s weird, isn’t it? I don’t necessarily mean the ever-more outrageous outfits and accessories. I mean just the whole system of fashion. In order to do this, I think I should let one of the Great Masters do the talking. You see, I can’t help but think about Charles Dickens’ Bleak House when I think about fashion. Bleak House is one of my favorite novels, and it has this gem about the nature of fashion in it:
It is but a glimpse of the world of fashion that we want on this same miry afternoon. It is not so unlike the Court of Chancery…. Both the world of fashion and the Court of Chancery are things of precedent and usage: oversleeping Rip Van Winkles who have played at strange games through a deal of thundery weather; sleeping beauties whom the knight will wake one day…! But the evil of [the world of fashion] is that it is a world wrapped up in too much jeweler's cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, and cannot see them as they circle round the sun. It is a deadened world, and its growth is sometimes unhealthy for want of air.
- The world of fashion is one of judgment (as in a Court). We can reasonably understand this. Fashion requires a separation of classes (particularly, what is “in” and what is “out,” but certainly economic classes become involved when it comes to cost, designer labels, and status symbols).
- Dickens has a negative opinion of this world, twice referring to those contained within as sleepers (Rip Van Winkle and Sleeping Beauty). In addition, such a world is far too insulated, far too concerned with itself that it loses sight of the worlds around it. Being closed off causes it to stagnate.
In terms of just this episode, Dickens’ descriptions of fashion are represented in the headlines news about Fashion Week and the malevolent Sphere that polices the event. The Sphere, ever-judging, is the sole arbiter of what is “hip” and what is not. The consequences are elevated to some very high stakes, as the unhip are destroyed.
And what better example of an “oversleeping Rip Van Winkle” or a “sleeping beauty” is there than Michelle Nguyen, who is so wrapped up in her estimation of what is current and cool, that her “headphones…are plugged into nothing at all.” Her eyes, too, appear to be blinded by neon signs that she’s affixed to her face.
In terms of this entire story arc, however, the connection between Dickens’ fashion world and Night Vale are alarming. I have spoken previously about Night Vale rotting away in its time-locked existence. We know from A Carnival Comes to Town and The University of What It Is that the citizens of Night Vale are horrifically judgmental, and that they opposed to opening up to new worlds.
That Cecil is disinterested in Fashion Week (to the point of risking his life) is a testament to how he has come to feel about Night Vale. Disinterested. Weary. Done. As he says at the end of the episode:
I’ve missed Carlos greatly, and I’ve also grown weary of a mayor that can’t protect herself, of a town that fears outsiders. Of a Faceless Old Woman who secretly lives in my home and publicly wants to do me harm. And I think of a Desert Otherworld where it’s always sunny, and mountains are real. There is a helpful masked army that can build anything, and your cell phone battery never dies, even if reception is 4G at best.
There is the question: is Night Vale worth it? Is Night Vale good? Is it a good town?
These are questions and feelings that we have been grappling with for a long time. Night Vale, like the world of fashion is capricious. Is it worth it to be a part of this world at all when it is so difficult to keep up with its seemingly random whims? In short, as Cecil asked in Parade Day (which aired around the same time as this episode, actually):
Are we living a life that is safe from harm?
Of course not. We never are. But that’s not the right question. The question is are we living a life that is worth the harm?
The importance of these questions was also highlighted in the Community Calendar. The narrative in this segment trivializes the war with StrexCorp by using an analogous invasion (of alien warriors) and merely suggesting the same solution that was used to repel StrexCorp. What was once a central conflict has been relegated to a Community Calendar joke.
Because there are many more problems than simple invasion in Night Vale. They’ve figured out how to deal with foreign invaders. They haven’t figured out how to live with themselves.
They haven’t figured out how to live.
Miscellaneous (or God DAMNIT, Chad!)
I know that the big ticket item in this episode is Cecil’s announcement that June 15th’s episode will be his last. This is of great and obvious concern. I am not entirely convinced that he will actually go. The Faceless Old Woman has threatened the opening of the Opera House in the next episode, and I feel that something will compel Cecil to stay…whether it be his own civic pride, or an unseen handing pulling his strings to defend the Mayor.
But…what about these Shambling Orphan disappearances? Cecil devoted only a few lines to the story, promising further developments. But we never received any. The libsyn feed highlights the investigations of these disappearances as “ongoing,” but I really can’t think of the last time the Shambling Orphan was mentioned.
It was Antiques, wasn’t it? Yes, let’s paste that quote right here:
Chad Bowinger, who lives in the Shambling Orphan housing development down by the Haunted Baseball Diamond, said “It is a sadness, what we do to each other. It is a weeping, and a gnashing of teeth.”
Ok, so twelve people have mysteriously disappeared in the same building that a man named Chad lives in.
Saints preserve us, I think that’s the Chad! The Faceless Old Woman’s Chad! The Chad that has summoned something unspeakably terrible in the Shambling Orphan.
I really hope that’s not grand spectacle the Faceless Old Woman has planned for June 15th.