This one certainly deserves an immediate induction into the Dumb Outrage Hall of Fame.
Peloton’s stock has taken a nosedive this week after an intense backlash against a holiday-themed ad for its exercise bike. The reaction was so widespread that Peloton was one of the top trending topics on Twitter over the weekend. You can watch the allegedly offensive commercial here if you dare.
Be careful. Proceed with caution. The 30-second spot is, after all, “sexist” and “dystopian” and “disturbing” and “creepy” and “bizarre.” It’s also “unsettling,” “confusing,” and so “perplexing” that it “incensed the internet (though some say it only “angered the internet” because, look, let’s not be dramatic about this).
If at this point you are too terrified to look for yourself, I will describe the “body-shaming” advertisement for you. The scene opens as a husband surprises his wife with a Peloton exercise bike on what appears to be Christmas morning. I won’t assume that it’s Christmas, though. This could be a Buddhist or Jewish family with a pine tree randomly sitting in their living room. In any case, the wife is very excited about the present. She then documents herself using the bike over a period of many months. The ad closes with the husband and wife sitting in their living room while watching the video of the wife’s fitness journey. And that’s it. That’s the end. That’s the whole commercial.
The only confusing and perplexing thing about the ad is how anyone could be confused or perplexed by it, much less offended or incensed. It is an extremely normal holiday advertisement for a piece of exercise equipment. So, why are people so “unsettled?” The first answer is that the country is filled with idiots. I could probably end the analysis there. The second answer, from what I can tell, is that people find it weird that she’s so excited about the bike, and sexist that she was given the bike to begin with. Let’s go through both of these.
Why is the wife excited about her Peloton bike? Well, because she’s a character in a Peloton advertisement. It would be quite a bit stranger if she reacted with a polite smile and a look of disappointment in her eyes. This, again, is an advertisement for a product. The people featured in advertisements are typically way more psyched about the advertised product than any normal human would be. Have you ever seen how people act in Pepsi commercials? Contrast that with how you actually respond when you order a Diet Coke and the waiter says, “We don’t have Coke products. Pepsi okay?” No, Pepsi is not okay. Unless you’re being paid by a marketing company to pretend it is.
Is it sexist for a husband to give his wife exercise equipment as a gift? Well, again, even if it were real life, it wouldn’t be in an advertisement around the holidays. Case in point: In reality, it would destroy your marriage and ultimately your life if you bought your spouse a $55,000 luxury sedan for Christmas. But people in Lexus and Mercedes ads do this all the time. And the spouse receiving the gift never says something realistic like, “You did this without telling me? Now we have a $1,200 car payment every month. How are we going to pay the mortgage? We’re going to be homeless now, you psycho.” That’s because, as has already been stated, it’s an advertisement, not a documentary.
Also, it’s actually not at all sexist to get your wife an exercise bike. I got my wife an elliptical for her birthday. Why? Because she specifically told me that she wanted one. And even if she didn’t, people who enjoy exercise and fitness would probably love to have a high-end piece of exercise equipment in the house. It’s not an insult to buy it for them. I have no way of measuring this, but I’m betting that the average BMI of the people outraged by this commercial is well above doctor recommendations. I can only assume this because otherwise, why would they be so “perplexed” and “confused” about someone wanting to exercise?
I’ve also heard that the ad is problematic because the wife was already skinny and didn’t “need” the bike. But would it have offended everyone’s delicate sensibilities any less if she were fat? Wouldn’t that have only made it worse? So, it’s body-shaming to advertise an exercise bike to skinny people, and body-shaming to advertise it to fat people. Who, exactly, is Peloton supposed to target? What kind of ad would pass the perpetually outraged litmus test? Maybe a disembodied, genderless voice saying: “Here is a Peloton. It is an exercise bike. You can use it. But you don’t need to use it. But you don’t not need to use it. We’re not saying anything about you, either way. Never mind, just forget we brought this up.”
I’m sure someone would find a way to be offended by that. It’s the one thing we’re good at in this culture. The only thing, it seems.