Alex Chambers: Welcome to Night Vale has been described as the fiction podcast that launched a million fiction podcasts. It's set in a desert town, Night Vale, where every conspiracy theory is true. Jeffrey Cranor, one of the show's creators, says "making a comedy show about conspiracy and horror got trickier as time went on."
Jeffrey Cranor: We have to be a little bit more careful as to the type of this information we make in the comedy, the stuff that we play with. Sometimes horror is so real that writing horror fiction can be a little bit tough in that way.
Alex Chambers: This week on Inner States, Welcome to Night Vale's Jeffrey Cranor. We also have a Panic in France and more guilty pleasures. That's all coming up right after this.
Alex Chambers: Welcome to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. I'm Alex Chambers. As you know, Inner States is both a radio show and a podcast and today's episode is about radio shows and podcasts. Two of them. One is probably the best known fiction podcast around. The other is apparently popular too but my colleague, Violet Baron, does feel guilty about listening to it.
Alex Chambers: In between those conversations about stories, we have a story about a rumor. It takes place in France. It might involve a terrorist attack, but don't worry, no one gets hurt.
Alex Chambers: Okay, our main story today is about Welcome to Night Vale. Welcome to Night Vale is a long running fiction podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale. The podcast is coming to Bloomington on April 24th to perform their live show, The Haunting of Night Vale. Well, the story was supposed to run today. It was going to be produced by our own Avraham Forrest, but we haven't seen her in days. We're actually starting to worry. So, if anyone has any information as to the whereabouts of--
Avraham Forrest: Turn off the lights.
Alex Chambers: What?
Avraham Forrest: Just turn off the lights.
Alex Chambers: Okay.
Avraham Forrest: I found them, Alex.
Alex Chambers: Found who?
Avraham Forrest: Welcome to Night Vale, I found the creators. They do exist.
Alex Chambers: Yes, you talked to Jeffrey Cranor.
Avraham Forrest: No, not whoever that was pretending to be him over the phone. I don't know why but they let me see the real one.
Alex Chambers: The real one?
Avraham Forrest: Yes.
Alex Chambers: Avi, no offense but this is--
Avraham Forrest: Look, I contacted Welcome to Night Vale and for whatever reason, they gave us an interview. I was expecting a Zoom link or something, but instead I got an address.
Alex Chambers: Like a physical address?
Avraham Forrest: Yes. It's an antique place nearby. It was pretty close to my apartment actually. Anyway, it had a normal looking wooden porch and a big sign saying Antiques, exactly what a fake antique shop wants you to think they're selling.
Alex Chambers: Fair point, I guess.
Avraham Forrest: When I walked in there was this guy behind the counter, super tall, in a dark suit. A big rose pinned to his chest. He looked really intimidating like he was a Stanislav or a Michael.
Alex Chambers: Ooh.
Avraham Forrest: Anyway, he stared at me. I didn't say anything. I was just about to rethink the whole thing when he pointed to the stairs.
Alex Chambers: Wait, what color was the rose?
Avraham Forrest: Purple, Alex. It's not the point. The basement was big and it had this buzzing noise in it. It took me a minute before I realized what it was, it was radio static.
Alex Chambers: What?
Avraham Forrest: Yes, I know, it's weird. But it's not the strangest part. I've always wondered how the creators of Welcome to Night Vale make such great audio work. It's simple, Jeffrey Cranor is a radio.
Alex Chambers: He is a radio?
Avraham Forrest: Or he's in it or something. Here.
Alex Chambers: Avi, is this a cassette?
Avraham Forrest: Yes, it's the only thing they can't trace.
Alex Chambers: Okay, listeners, I'm plugging the tape into our system here.
Alex Chambers: Alright, it seems like we're set up. Avraham Forrest sits down with Welcome to Night Vale, co-creator, Jeffrey Cranor, who is apparently inside a radio in the lower level of a strange antique shop.
Avraham Forrest: Can you describe it in a sentence?
Jeffrey Cranor: Yes, let's see if I still have this in my head. Yes, Welcome to Night Vale is a fiction podcast done in the style of community radio broadcasts from a strange Southwest desert town where every conspiracy theory is true and things such as ghosts and aliens and secret police are just sort of common place parts of every day life.
Jeffrey Cranor: And people just live with it and move on.
Avraham Forrest: Yes, and something that is getting eerily more and more accurate to real life as we go on.
Jeffrey Cranor: The history of humanity shows that we go through these cycles of conspiracy, the cycles of, hate to use the F word, but fascism, of circling back to our distrust of something bigger than all of it, and sometimes that just manifests like, oh the Government doesn't want us to know about UFOs. A lot of those early years were just kind of playing with the silliness and the funness of those higher concept conspiracy theories. But as it's gone on we have to be a little bit more careful as to the type of disinformation we make into comedy. The stuff that we play with. Sometimes horror is so real that writing horror fiction can be a little bit tough in that way.
Avraham Forrest: Welcome to Night Vale isn't necessarily horror. It deals with scary topics but you wouldn't really describe it as a horror.
Jeffrey Cranor: Yes, we can go into the whole Likkrit discussion of whether or not genre is even real and especially nowadays, too It skirts a lot of genres. Yes, I think at its heart there is a comedy to Night Vale and whether that comedy is dry humor or straight satire. But we definitely use horror tropes all the time. I think horror and comedy really do go hand in hand. They're so similar.
Avraham Forrest: In Welcome to Night Vale, I think the best word I can think of, it's just weird and I love it for that. I think, I would describe myself as weird and I kind of resonate. I think Welcome to Night Vale was formulated for just my personality and it's so strange because I grew up with Welcome to Night Vale. But what's it like making weird art?
Jeffrey Cranor: What is it like making weird art? I mean, it's fun more than anything, really, honestly. I loved weird stuff. I thought it was more fun to watch things that were unexpected and strange that subverted expectations. Whether that's Twin Peaks or Eerie Indiana or the Adventures of Pete and Pete, all this stuff from the '90s was stuff I grew up on, and even modern day things. I still love a Gravity Falls or whatever, more contemporary absurdities.
Jeffrey Cranor: When I got into college and started studying theater, I loved people like Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. People that were doing stuff that wasn't just kitchen sink realism, that wasn't plain and expected. So, making Night Vale, making weird art is fun because it's exactly what I wanted to do. It's doing the thing that I loved growing up, and it's fun to figure out how to make something that is unexpected at times.
Jeffrey Cranor: A lot of Night Vale has a pretty traditional story structure, but at the same time, it's fun to kind of play around with the humor and the horror by not giving people exactly what they think is going to happen.
Avraham Forrest: I really get it and granted this is comparing a pebble to a mountain, like my little scribblings to your show. I don't know, I felt that, too. I love horror and I write a lot of it and I guess my biggest fear is what I'm making is only good to me, that I'm somehow missing an audience or that I'm making just isn't good.
Jeffrey Cranor: Yes. I always fear that. I think that's an anxiety I have too even with Night Vale. The size of your audience is not evidence of the quality of your work. It almost never is. They can be linked, but correlation is not causation and so sometimes you never get away from impostor syndrome. We're just seeing a thing about Stephen King and the '80s, kicked his long standing coke habit, got out of that and wrote the novel, Needful Things, which was generally tepidly positively reviewed by people, like three and a half stars sort of thing. It always bothered him because he thought he wrote this really good novel and he was very proud of himself, because of everything he overcame to get to the place where he could write this book. He felt like people didn't get the kind of satirical, farcical comedy he was doing in it and that it was a little bit more standard literary than straight horror.
Jeffrey Cranor: So sometimes I think with Night Vale I'm like maybe it's just popular because it gained an Internet popularity in 2013. Everyone has convinced themselves they like it and they're too afraid to understand that they actually hate it, that it's really terrible. You know what I mean, like that's the anxiety. I don't think it's comparing a mountain to a pebble between you and me. I think it's a universal feeling with all writers and it doesn't matter if you have an audience of 100 people or an audience of 100,000, it's kind of always the same thing which is the dirty secret of making art I think.
Avraham Forrest: I love Welcome to Night Vale. It is arguably one of my most favorite pieces of media ever. You could inscribe it on my coffin as you lower me into the ground. That's a little bit hyperbole, but I'm not you. I didn't write it, I didn't make it and you clearly love it. But I'm just curious, what part of Welcome to Night Vale do you not like?
Jeffrey Cranor: That's a good question. I think, it's probably a similar answer to the same thing if you're like, what do you not like about your friends. What do you not like about your family? What do you not like about something you really love? And there's always going to be something. You know, you're always looking for systematic problems that you may have. There's a repeated pattern that may happen in a relationship that may make the relationship toxic and I'm always looking for that just to make sure that you're cutting stuff like that off at the pass, whether it's with a partner or a friend or a colleague.
Jeffrey Cranor: With Night Vale, we don't really have those sorts of things. We're all pretty good between me and Joseph, [PHONETIC: Meg], Cecil, this dispersion symphony. Communicating with each other what it is that we need. Joseph and I sort of joke that we're work married and I think that's a real common thing for people, especially if you start a business or a show together with somebody else. In a lot of ways that person is also a form of a spouse to you that you have, you are co-parent of this thing together and parents don't always, friends don't always, spouses don't always agree on what you want for dinner let alone how to shape the next six months of the story arch.
Avraham Forrest: To use the analogy it's a bit on the nose. It's like Welcome to Night Vale is the glow cloud, and I like that idea that you view it as more of a family. Do you ever see Welcome to Night Vale as this entity beyond you?
Jeffrey Cranor: Oh, 100%. We made a thing and we made a long of things before Night Vale together, Joseph and I, and me and other people. Once an audience is involved it starts to change the art just a little bit, and with something on the scope of Welcome to Night Vale that had this size of audience that it had, which I had before it had no experience with that size of audience.
Jeffrey Cranor: Yes, it does change because it becomes something that a lot of people own. Joseph and I still own most of it. There's a balance between, you don't want to pander to people to read fan mail and say 'okay, well they want this so let's give them this'. But it also doesn't work to deny the conversations that happen around Welcome to Night Vale. You learn a lot about people's responses to things. If you're a public artist you get educated on things from use of language. To be like this phrase is ablest that you used or comes from these roots and so you can go back and look at it and be like "yes, let's just get away from saying that."
Jeffrey Cranor: One of the easiest examples was, I think early on I just kept using the phrase "ladies and gentlemen", and it's sort of a binary exclusionary phrase, and honestly it doesn't hurt anyone to not use the phrase. You learn from people in that way and then that way people are contributing to what the whole thing is. To what Welcome to Night Vale is.
Avraham Forrest: Yes. Earlier you described your relationships sort of with I assume Joseph Fink and also the other members of Welcome to Night Vale. But how would you describe your relationship with the entity that is Welcome to Night Vale?
Jeffrey Cranor: Yes, I mean it's hard to say exactly what that is. I mean, my relationship to it is a responsibility. I think the best example might be a parental relationship or like having a pet, because I have to feed it and take care of it, it won't do it on its own. If we're not writing it and caring for it and talking about it, internally about how to keep it good, holding to our principles of what is good writing, then it will not flourish. If we stopped making Night Vale we don't have any intention to, but if Joseph and I said "let's make the next episode the last episode." I mean Night Vale will still have a life without us if we got it enough off the ground to where I don't think it would be forgotten for a little bit anyway. As long as it's alive it needs our care and attention
Avraham Forrest: I guess speaking as that parent to Welcome to Night Vale, what is your greatest fear for Welcome to Night Vale?
Jeffrey Cranor: I don't have one necessarily. I mean, I have anxieties just in general in my life. I don't really have a fear for it because I think that we're in a rhythm with it as to where it is and I think any change it goes through tends to be fairly gradual at this point in time. But, obviously, just common anxieties that the world will shift in a certain way that makes it not as meaningful to people or maybe something along those lines.
Jeffrey Cranor: I always fear as an artist, I've huge anxieties about doing anything that's harmful to people. I feel like we try very, very hard at doing that and you can't avoid in any kind of art making something that's not going to be upsetting at some point in time and it's a matter of just listening and caring. I don't have any huge fears around it at all. Mostly just common artistic anxieties.
Avraham Forrest: The success is such a kind of gooey term to be honest, because I want it, we all want it but there's always this sort of thorny issue, do you ever feel like you're lost in success? Do you ever feel like you're just the Welcome to Night Vale person or do you enjoy that? Do you ever feel lost in Welcome to Night Vale?
Jeffrey Cranor: I don't feel lost in it. I mean, there's a thing that you have to respect what comes along and this is where I found my success. It was not a way in which I thought I was going to be successful was doing podcasts. Obviously because they didn't exist when I was growing up, so that's part of it. You definitely feel a little bit pigeon-holed or type cast as people are doing things. You sort of start understanding how people categorize everyone in the world. We'd worked on in development for several years a Night Vale TV show, but one of the first incarnations of it we had another writer who wrote the whole pilot draft and we took it and took it out to networks, pitched it and it got bought in the room by FX.
Jeffrey Cranor: They were like, "absolutely, great", and we were like, "holy shit, we're going to have a TV show, this is amazing". Then that writer left to take another job because at that point we weren't being paid for this show yet and so obviously she should take this other job because it pays and it's immediate. The moment she left, FX dropped the show. We realized what had happened was, they didn't know what Night Vale was, didn't really care what they knew was this other writer was up and coming star. They had slotted in their head of 'we want this lady working with us, and this project seems fine, let's make it happen'. Then when she left for the other thing, you realize that everyone gets slotted in good and bad ways. You sort of accept that, you kind of learn to roll with it, you learn to know where your place is in the world and you try and move within that and you try and push against some of those boundaries.
Jeffrey Cranor: With a show like unlicensed, we're trying to push against a little bit that notion that we only write weird fiction, we only write weird horror comedies and we want to show that we can write lots of things. I think that's really hard on society in general to allow others to break out of the mold we've set for them.
Avraham Forrest: What do you want to be known for at the end of your career?
Jeffrey Cranor: I don't know. It's a fantastic question because I don't think I ever really think about it. I mean, I think inherently, I guess if I'm going to be known for something, if people are going to remember my name in a writing sort of way, I just want people to associate me with like changing something. I want to be like the people I admired growing up. So if I could ever achieve that level of notoriety beyond my days, it would be really cool to be thought of as somebody who changed something about the way we do things, the way Samuel Beckett changed something. That's a really high mark to set for myself. I don't think of it as a goal so much as, if we're talking pie in the sky, it would be fun to have a paragraph in a text book about writing, to be like "here's Jeffrey Cranor, changed how we thought about this thing", I think that would be fun. That's probably my pie in the sky sort of dream, if anything.
Avraham Forrest: Just to speculate, what do you think that thing would be?
Jeffrey Cranor: He never understood how to use the M dash versus the N dash versus the hyphen versus the ellipsis, and thankfully nobody uses any of those things any more.
Jeffrey Cranor: That's a great question. I mean, I think it's not that this is that unique. I don't really have an answer to what I'm doing that is special. I try to keep things fresh and unique by just experimenting with how I structure a story, how I tell a thing all the time. It's experimenting within my own world of what I've done, so a lot of the experiments I do for myself aren't novel. They're not something that nobody has ever tried in history before. I think it would be really neat to think about structure in general of how we structure a plot. How we base things around a character. Is there some sacred golden rule that we shouldn't violate that we did violate and that suddenly we have a new perspective on how to do this sort of thing?
Jeffrey Cranor: I'm very appreciative of your questions today, the way you handled this. Awesome work. Don't mean to be all dad about it, like "good work, kiddo", that's not what I mean. I mean, I do a lot of these interviews and this is great, so I really appreciate it.
Avraham Forrest: I would die to get dadded by Jeffrey Cranor.
Jeffrey Cranor: That's right, I want to be known as Fiction Podcasting's dad, that's it. Put that on my tombstone.
Alex Chambers: Okay, that seems to be it. It didn't seem so bad actually. Avi, how are you?
Avraham Forrest: Alex.
Alex Chambers: Avi, what--?
Avraham Forrest: Sorry that was a little scary. Turns out I wasn't being chased at all. They wanted to hire me. You're looking at their new 2023 summer intern.
Alex Chambers: Wow, and all this?
Avraham Forrest: Oh, yes. So small thing, I have to shed my mortal form in order to ascend to the realm of pure energy.
Avraham Forrest: Oh, hey, here's my supervisor now.
Alex Chambers: Avi's going to take some time off for academic work. We wish her a wonderful summer on another plane of existence.
Alex Chambers: In the meantime, welcome to Night Vale will be in Bloomington on April 24th for their live show, The Haunting of Night Vale. Check The Buskirk-Chumley Theater website for ticket information.
Alex Chambers: Alright, it's time for a break. When we come back, Mallory Keenoy and her friends appreciate their parents advice about what to do if there's a terrorist attack. Stick around.
Alex Chambers: Welcome back to Inner States. I'm Alex Chambers.
Alex Chambers: When she was in high school, Mallory got to go to France with a group of friends, but it was less than a year after those terrorist attacks in Paris in late 2015. 130 people died. So Mallory and her friends' parents were concerned and they had advice for them. Mallory and her friends did use the advice, although it's not clear if they needed to. Here's Mallory.
Mallory Keenoy: In High School I went to France with my school's French club. I recently caught up with some of my friends from the trip.
Alyssa: My name's [PHONETIC: Alyssa].
Erin: I'm [PHONETIC: Erin].
Alec: My name's [PHONETIC: Alec].
Rachel: I'm [PHONETIC: Rachel].
Mallory Keenoy: Although we saw the Eiffel Tower and ate far too much cheese, this is not that story.
Mallory Keenoy: Were any of you worried about terrorist attacks before we went because it was at a time when this was happening.
Alyssa: Yes, I just remember my mom was freaking out about it, because that was when there was terrorism going on mainly in Europe, which was exactly where we were going. She gave me a run down a few days before and then every day leading up in what to do look out for and to always spot an exit point wherever I was in case I needed to get out of somewhere quickly, things like that.
Erin: I know my parents told me that I couldn't go unless things calm down in Europe. They were pretty hesitant to even let me go in the first place and, honestly, I'm so thankful I had this talk with my mom the night before. I thought it was stupid at the time where she was trying to tell me, "oh, if something happens, if there's a terrorist attack, then you need to run" and that came in very handy later, so I'm very glad she told me that.
Mallory Keenoy: It came in handy the night of July 10th, 2016. A night that made these terrorist attacks seem all too real for us.
Mallory Keenoy: We were in Tours, France, which is best described as a small college town. My group was watching the final football match of the Euro Cup Final, France versus Portugal in the town square. It was a large concrete area surrounded by bars, shops and plenty of TVs to see the game. The five of us including our friend, [PHONETIC: Jeff], and my mom packed into the square with over 1,000 others to catch the action.
Alec: I just remember the closet Portugal fan up on the balcony, riling everyone up and then they scored in the upcoming last minutes. I remember before, we kind of joked about it. We were like, "oh, what we do if something happened right now", and I remember, I think it was Mal, you said that you would run into that alley that we ended up going down. So, that was my initial instinct when it happened.
Mallory Keenoy: There was only a few minutes left and Portugal was destined to take down France for the win, and then.
Alyssa: I remember hearing a bunch of commotion, looking to my left and just seeing a wave of people coming at me. The next thing I knew, like same with [PHONETIC: Erin], I don't remember getting up, I don't remember moving, but I was just thrown up against a wall. Beers were thrown on me, I was soaking wet in alcohol and I just remember [PHONETIC: Rachel] turned to someone and was trying to ask in French if they knew what was going on, but the girl could tell we were American. All she said was, "machine gun, machine gun" and I was like, "what? Machine gun?" and I freaked out at that point.
Rachel: Yes, because we never saw anything. We saw this mass wave of people running at us but then nobody else came after them.
Mallory Keenoy: All we knew at that moment was that a stampede of people ran at us in a panic and there might be a gun involved. Our group was then divided into two. [PHONETIC: Alyssa], [PHONETIC: Rachel] and [PHONETIC: Erin] were thrown against a wall, while [PHONETIC: Alec], [PHONETIC: Jeff], my mom and myself took off running down a nearby alley.
Alec: When I ran down that alley there was people basically scaling the buildings, trying not to get trampled. That was when I turned around and I saw [PHONETIC: Jeff] because he had a red shirt on, and then I saw you and then your mom, and we kind of kept going that way towards the bridge. You know what I'm talking about, and yes, we kind of just kept running from there.
Rachel: [PHONETIC: Erin], [PHONETIC: Alyssa] and I linked arms with that girl and ran. When we ran down that alley she was arm in arm with us.
Erin: She was just as terrified as we were, so clearly it wasn't just the fact that we were visiting France. The people that were actually French were scared. She was sobbing and she was on the phone with some random people and had actually linked arms with me and [PHONETIC: Rachel] and [PHONETIC: Alyssa]. That shows that they were just as scared as we were.
Rachel: I remember us trying to decide if we wanted to run down the main street or the alley, which was safer to be with a bunch of people running down the main street or to take a back alley.
Alyssa: Well, yes, because at that point we assumed it was probably some kind of terrorist attack because they'd been happening in Europe. So we were like, "it's definitely way safer to go down the back allies right now, than it would be to go on the main roads." We had run so far that we found a cop car and it was me, [PHONETIC: Erin] and [PHONETIC: Rachel]. We ran up to the cop car and we were like, "do you know what's going on? What's happening?" and the cops looked at us so confused. They were like, "you're fine, what are you talking about?". Somehow we just stumbled upon the hotel. We would see some buildings and we would be like, "oh I remember that building." For me at least, I had no idea where I was going and somehow we just ended up at the hotel and I was like, "okay, nice."
Mallory Keenoy: The other half of us had a very different journey back to the hotel. By this time we ran several miles outside of the town square. Our phones wouldn't work and almost every business is closed on Sundays in France, so no one was around to help us. We were lost and afraid. However, to our surprise, our saving grace came in the form of a Domino's pizza.
Alec: There was just some guy who was closing up and he let us use the phone, and that's how we called you guys at the hotel, I think.
Mallory Keenoy: In my best French, I tried to explain our situation to the Domino's worker. He reluctantly let me use his phone to call our hotel.
Alyssa: Yes, and the funny part was, right when we found the hotel and we walked in the lobby, one of the people working for the hotel turned to me and was like, "you have a phone call". I was like, "what? I have a phone call? What are you talking about?" I take the phone and I answer it and it's Mallory and your mom and I was like, "what the heck. What are the odds of that timing." Then I think you guys were just asking if we were okay and if we made it back and everything. I Just thought that was so funny. Well it's funny now, it wasn't funny then.
Mallory Keenoy: The hotel happened to connect me to [PHONETIC: Alyssa]. At the time she also told us that the police officer they spoke to believed nearby fire crackers might have frightened the crowd. It was safe for us to go back.
Mallory Keenoy: To this day we don't really know what happened. Only two other people in our whole travel group even saw the incident.
Mallory Keenoy: Kendra's dad was also a chaperone on the trip, so he was with a little bit of a different group. From their perspective it sounds like they were about to walk back into the square and, of course, you had to walk across and through all these people to get back to the spa we were at. Supposedly, they were pressed against the wall and a ton of cops with barrel guns and massive guns were coming through.
Mallory Keenoy: Our only clue into what happened came in the form of an article [PHONETIC: Erin] found while we were still in France.
Erin: I looked for that stupid article. I found it when we were in France. I remember finding this article that said someone got stabbed, like people got stabbed in Tours while watching the France versus Portugal game. I haven't been able to find it since and it drives me insane. [PHONETIC: Rachel] and I have searched the depths of the Internet for this article and I literally can't find it.
Mallory Keenoy: Although the night was undoubtedly terrifying for us all, over the past few years it's affected us in different ways.
Erin: Yes, I remember there was this incident where [PHONETIC: Rachel] and I were at the football game where we all stormed the field because we won. Up until that point I hadn't really had any issues with crowds. I guess I hadn't really been in a big crowd, but whenever I was in a room I feel I would look for exits a little bit more. I remember storming the field with [PHONETIC: Rachel] and having there be loud sounds and both of us kind of panicked, like actually panicked and ended up leaving because it was just super uncomfortable.
Rachel: Unlike [PHONETIC: Erin], whenever I'm in a large crowd I always find an exit. I was at a concert and I was looking out for that, in Disney, same thing.
Alec: I thought it might have affected me more because that's definitely the number one scariest thing that's happened to me personally, honestly. That was a fight or flight situation at its best because, I mean, I expected the worst when I saw people running at me. Other than that it didn't really affect me that much, I don't know why.
Alyssa: I think just because nothing super terrible actually did happen and we're still unclear on what actually happened, I haven't had too hard of a time since then being in crowds and stuff. I feel like if we knew what had happened or if it was worse than it actually was, then, yes, I definitely would. I feel like just because it's kind of unclear, I just push it to the back of my memory.
Mallory Keenoy: Personally, I had to begin therapy for the PTSD it caused me. Much like [PHONETIC: Rachel] and [PHONETIC: Erin], being in large crowds began to scare me and I still have nightmares from time to time. Nonetheless this experience bonded us forever.
Mallory Keenoy: Every July 10th we try to get together for the anniversary of what we've deemed, the running of the bulls. It is a chance for us to be thankful that we're all still together and, well, still alive.
Alex Chambers: Mallory Keenoy. Mallory is a documentary producer in Chicago.
Alex Chambers: Okay, it's time for another break. When we come back my colleague, Violet Baron, talks about the podcast that helps her learn about relationships and the lifestyles of the rich and famous - or at least the rich. Stick around.
Alex Chambers: Inner States, Alex Chambers. So we started this guilty pleasure segment last week and, wow, there's a lot to talk about. I sat down with our local host of all things considered, Violet Baron. You might also know her as a producer of Arts, Culture and Food stories here at WFIU.
Alex Chambers: Okay, so you, Violet, have a guilty pleasure. One thing that I think has been coming up in the conversations about this segment so far, around the station, is whether we actually feel guilty about our pleasures. It sounds like you actually do feel a little bit guilty about this one.
Violet Baron: I do, in an institutional way, sort of.
Alex Chambers: What do you mean you feel guilty in an institutional sort of way?
Violet Baron: I think a lot about structures in equity in my life, even in my work and in my pleasure. I like the people who make the content that I enjoy to be thoughtful, so that's where the guilt comes in in this situation.
Alex Chambers: Okay, I think that's a good lead in. What is this thing?
Violet Baron: My guilty pleasure is a quite popular podcast called We Met at Acme.
Lindsey Metselaar: Hey, guys, welcome back to We Met at Acme. I am very excited for today's episode with Merrin.
Lindsey Metselaar: This episode today is a doozy.
Lindsey Metselaar: Talia was an incredible guest.
Lindsey Metselaar: I have been a fan of Shannon's for a while.
Violet Baron: It's a show by actually the child of family friends of my husband's. My husband and she grew up together, they went on vacations as families as kids, and she grew up and made this podcast, which is a dating podcast. It's very woman focused, although not exclusive, and it's about how do you find a person that is right for you and how do you set up a healthy relationship.
Lindsey Metselaar: If you wait and you truly get to know yourself, and you know what works and doesn't work, and you're not just like with whoever's next to you, in front of you, whatever it is, and you explore what else is out there.
Violet Baron: It's kind of a dating podcast for the one person, or the three person. It's a lot of young women in New York City or other major cities, who are themselves in corporate jobs. Largely business and finance or who are dating finance bros, like men, often young men, who are also in finance, so that factors into what kind of things they care about, what kind of things are deal breakers for them.
Alex Chambers: How much of it is sort of ironic or anthropological enjoyment? I am not part of this, how much of it is, I see myself in this and I do identify with this, or there's also maybe just an escapist thing. I'm just sort of floating in the not having to be critical.
Violet Baron: Yes, I would say it's a mix of anthropology and floating. I like cooking dinner and just hearing about the beauty treatments she's been doing, because a little bit of that resonates with me as somebody who's also in her early 30s dealing with this confusing world of skin care and the first signs of aging. It's also fun that it doesn't feel like it has consequences for my life. It's something that I can look at and turn off.
Alex Chambers: Can you actually just describe the format a little bit more?
Violet Baron: Yes, so it's one woman is the host and she has a production team, I believe. It's part of a collective called, Dear Media, which I think is a women centered group of podcasts and she interviews people. I think she has an agent or whatever who helps her find these people. Sometimes they're friends of hers. Sometimes they're other influencers or minor to medium celebrities. Sometimes they're therapists also. She talks to them about their relationships, about struggles they've had. It's very millennial, it's very 2020s.
Violet Baron: It has an Instagram presence in parallel to this show and something that's big about the show is polls, so Instagram stories. Listeners submit polls about their dating experiences and the community of followers weighs in. It can be anything from, "I've been on three dates with a guy, he doesn't respond to my texts for two days. Is that a deal breaker?" There's a lot of red flag deal breaker or NBD, so no big deal. You get 45% say it's no big deal. That's fun to follow.
Violet Baron: The majority of respondents said that it was a deal breaker if somebody chews extremely loudly while they eat and had no interest in changing this.
Violet Baron: It has a very superficial quality to it, which sort of goes into the guilt for me. A lot of the show is sort of aesthetically focused. The listeners and the hosts are people who care very much about how they present themselves to the world. It's fascinating to me, as somebody who cares somewhat but not to the extent that's happening here.
Violet Baron: What's also interesting to me is the show is very rules driven. It has its own set of rules for what's appropriate when you're dating. Since it's sort of women centered, it's about letting the man feel as if he's leading, which feels old to me. Some of the examples of the rules are, "the girl is not really supposed to text first, she can sort of prompt him to text. He's supposed to plan the dates. He's supposed to pay. If he does not pay, it's a deal breaker." Actually, several times in the show or the Instagram, they've gone over how this plays out, the girl is supposed to do a reach and the guy is supposed to say, "absolutely not."
Violet Baron: That's so interesting and fun to me. It feels like another universe.
Alex Chambers: You said it feels like very millennial and 2020s, but also it sounds like 1950s.
Violet Baron: Yes. A lot of this is based around the idea that guys like to lead and a guy will not know if he truly likes you unless he feels he's making the decisions. Another thing that happens frequently in the Instagram is she'll reposts DMs, direct messages, of women who are saying, "thank you so much, I followed your rules and he just asked me to be his girlfriend, and that's like the first time this has happened", and they use the word quality. He's a very high quality man.
Violet Baron: I guess it feels a little transactional. It feels a little bit like buying and selling which is fascinating to me when applied to relationships.
Alex Chambers: Right, and which is kind of what that world is about too, because you said it's a lot of people in finance.
Violet Baron: Yes, if you've seen the show, Fleishman is in Trouble, which is about--
Unknown Female speaker: This is a story about everything. It's about life and marriage and how young love can become old resentment and money--
Unknown Female speaker: You can't get one of these for less than ten grand.
Violet Baron: Wealthy upper eastside Jewish communities, that is the community that she grew up in.
Alex Chambers: So if you haven't seen the show and you aren't from there.
Violet Baron: It's the kind of culture where $1,000 budget for a wedding dress is not surprising. Actually she talks about the show on the podcast and she identifies with the wife character. The show is about the tension between a husband who cares about family, who is a doctor.
Toby Fleishman: Yeah, he's not a camp kid, Rachel.
Violet Baron: And a wife who...
Rachel - Actress: If he doesn't go now, he'll be too freaked out to go later.
Violet Baron: ...cares about success and stability, but stability for her is very much about continuing to rise in career and what school her children are going to get into.
Toby Fleishman: Well, he wanted to go to that ice skating camp in Queens, you remember?
Violet Baron: And, you know, in her defense of the wife on the show, the hostess, money is important and it does matter where your kids go.
Rachel - Actress: Who's he going to meet at ice skating camp?
Toby Fleishman: I don't know, not everybody goes to camp for networking opportunities, Rachel.
Rachel - Actress: Why doesn't he wanna do something more appropriate, like tennis?
Violet Baron: In her defense of the wife on the show, the host says "money's important, and it does matter where your kids go."
Toby Fleishman: There it is, honesty, finally.
Violet Baron: What I also appreciate about it, the pleasure for me, other than this voyeuristic look at the business world and how they date, is it's actually quite smart about relationships in some ways. The host went through a sobriety journey and she's very open about that. She's in recovery. Her issue was primarily weed, marijuana, but she's completely sober from all substances and she goes to meetings I believe. She had to sort of do the difficult work, now I think four years ago for her, of figuring out who she was, what she needed and what parts of her life were not helping her. That's real. You know, no matter who you are and how expensive a dress you like to wear, it feels very real and honest and I appreciate that she does that, you know?
Alex Chambers: And that comes up in the conversations that she has about relationships?
Violet Baron: It does because at the core of the show is, how do you figure out if the relationship you're in or the people that you're pursuing are right for you? You know, right in a big lasting way. You have to figure out yourself in order to do that, and she encourages that for women, which I appreciate also.
Violet Baron: That's another reason it's sort of like a millennial 2020s show is it's very personal. It's still in that style that feels kind of Lena Dunham to me, of just exposing yourself to the world and the host is honest about sex and how that's factoring into her relationship at a given time.
Alex Chambers: Do you have any thoughts about what this says about our culture?
Violet Baron: I think that even in more superficially focused communities, people really are seeking meaning and meaningful relationships.
Violet Baron: It's funny that it's real. Like just the question, there's a lot of questions about, he's getting asked to your family vacation home for the first time, or his family's going on a vacation and all the partners are invited and you're invited, what gifts should you bring? It's funny because it's real for these people, you know? It's real.
Alex Chambers: Producer, Violet Baron.
Alex Chambers: Alright, that's it for the show this week. You've been listening to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. If you have a story for us or you've got some sound we should hear, let us know at WFIU.org/innerstates. And, hey, if you like the show you can review and rate us on Apple or Spotify and maybe even more fun than that, you can just tell a friend.
Alex Chambers: Okay, we've got your quick moment of slow radio coming up, but first, the credits.
Alex Chambers: Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Avi Forrest, LuAnn Johnson, Jack Lindner, Yane Sanchez Lopez, Sam Schemenauer, Payton Whaley and Kayte Young. Our executive producer is John Bailey. Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music. Special thanks this week to producers, Avraham Forrest, Mallory Keenoy and Violet Baron.
Alex Chambers: Alright, time for some found sound.
Alex Chambers: That was a shattered glass table top being scooped into a paper bag. There's probably a metaphor in there somewhere. I'll leave it to you to find one. In the meantime, I am Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.