The photographer Mark Laita has a powerful YouTube channel called Soft White Underbelly that I can watch only sparingly (it makes for a visceral portrait of human suffering) but I’d seen enough episodes back in April that I was compelled to write about it. That blog post has become my most-read upload of the past few months. At first I figured it was just Laita’s base of viewers coming to commiserate.
And maybe that’s part of it.
But then I got an email from a high school-age blogger that began, “Dear Mark, I’d love to interview you about your project…”
I said, “My name’s Alex. Maybe you’re looking for Mark Laita?”
She apologized and dashed off.
A couple days later got an email from an older woman saying she’d like to have the contact info for a person who was recently profiled on Laita’s show. She’d like to help her.
This was also addressed to Mark.
I didn’t respond to that one.
There haven’t been more emails, but that post remains my most-viewed, every day, after like ten weeks.
So here’s my thinking: I like Soft White Underbelly a lot. I might even love it, if you can love something so painful. Something that stands as the journalistic equivalent of the sun. The show is so powerful that I feel almost morally informed by the end of a half hour. I think it’s a masterclass for anybody who wants to study the shields that people put up to cope with the hardships of life.
Maybe I should write about the show more often. Regularly.
Also, people seem to be so moved by the content of the show that they wanna chase conversation about it.
If what’d happened here is that I’d written a random piece about, like, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or houseplants or baking, and that blog post generated a huge response, I’d overlook it. Because I don’t naturally have anything to say about those things. They don’t interest me. But maybe I should take this situation with SWB as a nudge to start looking closely at challenging material that tends to both inform me, and scare me away. (Speaking of which: I recently saw an interview on YouTube with the photographer who took the “Falling Man” photo from 9/11, of the inverted man in business clothes jumping from the burning World Trade Center. He mentions that, when he’s looking at something through the lens of his camera, he isn’t really registering its emotional impact. The camera makes things digestible for him. I think I feel that way about writing. If I go into something that’s unpleasant, but I know I’m gonna write about it afterward, it makes the experience easier to stomach. (Although I’m still viscerally emotional about everything, needless to say.))
So let me go ahead and do that.
Going forward, posts that begin with the acronym SWB in the title will be response pieces to particular episodes of Soft White Underbelly.