Fiction Friday: Within the Wires (Discussion)

With the season 2 premiere a mere 18 days away, I figured that it was time to talk about one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have had the chance to experience in the last year. It will be somewhat difficult to write a complete review without spoilers, but what are our lives defined by if not the challenges we accept? That being said, some basic information regarding the universe the series takes place in will be discussed.

Within the Wires is a podcast produced by the creators of Welcome to Night Vale. Like its big brother, WTW does have some alternate reality elements to it, but it is much more toned down than WTNV on that front. Instead of fantastical descriptions of a town run by monsters, WTW has a much more believable premise of a patient in a medical prison, set in an alternate reality version of the 1980’s. In this reality, it was decided by humanity sometime after WWII that the root of all human aggression and violence was tribalism.

The main result of this ideology is that children are not raised by their parents, but rather by caretakers who are not even allowed to touch the children. At the age of ten, they go through a regiment that erases all of their memories of childhood, and are sent off to be educated for a career in the society (for the most part, they are totally normal things, like electrician or art historian). After the regiment, there are no more siblings, or best friends (for a time, anyway). It is not made clear how long the initial regiment itself lasts, only that it includes both drugs and some sort of “therapy”. Be warned, they really like lighthearted euphemisms for more sinister truths in this show.

The narrator comes in the form of the voice on a series of relaxation tapes issued to the listener/patient. Specifically to this patient, in fact, but let’s leave it at that, and talk about themes.

Over the course of the ten episode first season, the show brings up a lot of questions about morality as it pertains to platonic, familial and romantic relationships, as well as the commitment to “the greater good” on a societal level.

Considering that none of us ask to be born, what debt do we truly owe to society? Is it enough to not be antisocial? Or do we owe a society anything it deems necessary for its existence, like our childhood memories? Do we owe it the opportunity to hold our newborn child? Moreover, is what society has to offer us enough to warrant our sacrifices?

I think it is a common thought that there is a such thing as a little white lie. That we can selectively choose to withhold truths if we believe it is in the best interest of the other person. WTW does a good job of painting a scenario in which this is the most harmful way of dealing with an uncomfortable or potentially hurtful truth. One character remembers another, from before they were ten. They choose to try and recreate the sort of dynamic of love, trust and companionship they had at that time, without telling the other that it ever existed. This is perhaps a scenario that is played out more than once, to different ends.

Do you think she should have told you the truth? What would you have done? Would you have wanted to talk to her again? Would you have asked her for dinner, maybe, instead of just saying goodbye and walking away? As if she was the least important person in the world?” – Relaxation Cassette 8.

Is this unethical? Is this still a white lie, or a more serious sort of deception? Are we our most pure selves as children, and if so, would the people who knew us as children know us most completely as adults? Is this sort of connection worth using deception to pursue, not only for ourselves, but for the other person as well?

It is, perhaps, unfair to try and meet someone as if for the first time, with so much knowledge about them. It is, perhaps, unfair to know someone so well when you are a complete mystery to them.

If that is how you feel about things, then I am sorry.” – Relaxation Cassette 8.

Lastly, let’s talk about beauty. There are many beautiful things about this podcast. The actress, Janina Matthewson (who also co-wrote the series) is as versatile as you’d expect the best actress in any medium to be; at turns menacing, calming, vulnerable, and flirtatious. She pleads with a voice so pretty and engaging that I can’t listen to this at work anymore, because holy blushing, Batman.

The series discusses the beauty in art, and the connection that we have to it. For example, in this quote, from Relaxation Cassette Six:

Alone, static and still, on a stark white wall, carefully labeled and observed, a work of art is simply a relic, a file folder of medical analysis.

What is a Georgia O’Keeffe, when academically studied on a white wall, but a flower and a series of words that strip mine eroticism from technique and intent. Analysis forcibly extracts feelings as words.

What is a Georgia O’Keeffe, when placed in a garden or a bedroom, when it reminds you of someone?

What is a Georgia O’Keeffe, when the only one who can see it is someone who feels it and knows it?”

With this quote fresh in mind, I went to an art museum that I have always enjoyed. I emptied from mind all of the things I normally think about, which is mostly the question of how artists in visual mediums create art. Instead I thought of a few pieces; an art deco drink set, a fortune telling scale, a painting I had never seen. I mentally placed them in another time, another place, serving another purpose. I realized on that excursion that while it is nice to see so many beautiful things in one place, we cheat ourselves out of the real emotional pleasure of art with galleries. We make our evaluations of them too shallow or too technical.

My lungs are two lakes. Why not me?…My lungs are two lakes. Memories, and of sadness.”

This series taught me of the beauty in sadness. I have felt sadness before when consuming art (I may someday write about the last five minutes of the film version of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, because I get goosebumps and a lump in my throat just thinking of it), but this was the first piece that ever really made me not power through the sadness, but rather sit with it. I thought about the experiences in my life that were similar to the tale the narrator spun. I thought about how ultimately, salty and sweet compliment each other in such a way that one does not seem complete without the other. I thought about how they bring about the complexity in one another. Without the sorrow in my own life, would I still be beautiful? Would the other people I loved? I got the answer in the form of a teary grin, sweet and salty.

If anything about this sparked an interest, I highly suggest that you set aside 300 minutes to listen to the entire season one of Within the Wires. Preferably with wine, a window with a view, and no one else around. Then, get in touch and tell me what you think!

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