Well, as they say, that escalated quickly: Two weeks ago, Peloton, a company which makes stationary exercise bicycles for the terminally soulless and self-involved, debuted a Christmas-centric advertisement called “The Gift That Gives Back” in which a 30-year-old man buys a Peloton for his 22-year-old wife (who has a 9-year-old child already). She is initially terrified by the exercise bike, which seems odd because she is already at the peak of physical perfection, even after becoming a mom. However, she submits to the gift without complaint and uses her iPhone to capture a daily “vlog” detailing her efforts. At one point, she squeals with joy because a Peloton instructor speaks her name. A year later, she explains to her husband how much she has been changed, for the better, by the Peloton… and scene.
This was the rare commercial which offends everyone, even the secular puritans at Vice:
She would rather be anywhere else in the world than here, in her glacial home with the husband she loathes, putting on this sick pantomime of wellness and marital bliss; she’d even rather be back on the dreaded Peloton… Her grim motivation that pushes her to drag herself out of bed combined with exclaiming at the camera how blatantly, inexplicably nervous the Peloton makes her paint a bleak portrait of a woman in the thrall of a machine designed to erode her spirit as it sculpts her quads.
Others drew sinister parallels to an episode of Black Mirror where an entire society is forced to pedal exercise bikes in order to keep the power turned on and where there is no escape from the video screens on all sides. The actor/businessman Ryan Reynolds hired the “Peloton wife” to star in a quickie ad for his “Aviator Gin” where the woman downs three martini glasses’ worth of alcohol in an attempt to forget her year of cyclo-suffering. Peloton’s stock took a $1.5 Billion-with-a-B hit in the wake of the commerical’s release — but to be fair, that dip did not erase the 48% lift the stock saw during October and November as the market breathlessly anticipated the purchase of who-knows-how-many $2,245 exercise bikes.
Much of the criticism leveled at the ad was of the OMG Y U SO SEXIST nature, but I’d like to suggest that there’s nothing sexist about it — or at least, there’s nothing misogynist about it. This isn’t a straightforward advertisement. It’s not even an aspirational advertisement. Rather, it is fantastical, and that makes a big difference.
I’ll go through this shot by shot, although not to the same level of detail I used with the Audi Super Bowl piece from a few years ago.
The opening is tricky, isn’t it? We don’t actually see the husband’s face — and it’s a husband, these people are from the only socioeconomic class that still gets married — until later. He’s a shadow, an all-dark-clad creature in this all-white space where the wife and daughter are identical and the decor is color-matched to the snow outside. That’s how you know that this is the wife’s fantasy, not the husband’s; because she is made-up and razor-sharp while the man of the house is fuzzy-edited down to an anonymous provider of gifts. She never even looks at him, nor does she address him directly.
“Give it up,” the on-screen instructor chirps, “for our first-time riders!” Now we are certain that this is a female fantasy, because the woman is doubly observed, both by the instructor on the screen and by the phone, which is recording a video for her family to watch later. It’s worth noting that in a male fantasy about a woman on a Peloton, she would already be grunting and sweating — and in a man’s fantasy about his own improvement on a bicycle, we would see him working without affirmation, as in the infamous (and hugely evocative) Rocky IV Training Montage.
We need this shot to drive home that our heroine is, in fact, part of the upper middle class; this is how she comes home from work, as opposed to wearing her Subway T-shirt. Also, notice that she doesn’t have her child in tow. She has domestic help. You didn’t notice this, but the women watching the advertisement did.
“SHE JUST SAID MY NAME!” the wife chirps. Her name, by the way, is “Grace from Boston”. You didn’t hear it, but the women did. This isn’t a Tammy or Tawnya or Tina. She is a Grace, from Boston. She’s always been part of the right crowd. If you’re counting, we are now up to at least five social-status markers. And the husband has reappeared…
This is the scene which upset Woke Twitter, because you have this very rugged, very handsome man here who is examining the video with approval as the wife fidgets. But you have to look at what they are wearing. She is in the mandatory high-buck, Chinese-made-but-American-branded “athleisure” worn by her class; the husband, by contrast, is dressed like a cosplay lumberjack. She is socially and economically superior to him, a point reinforced without subtlety by the volume swell given to our soundtrack, which is the noted cuck-anthem She’s So High:
She’s so high
High above me
First class and fancy free
She’s high society
She’s got the best of everything
What could a guy like me
Ever really offer
How most of the cultural commentators completely missed all of the above in an effort to paint the husband as a controlling, sexist monster, I’m not sure — but you can rest assured that their subconscious got the message, even if their forebrains are clouded with too much soy-derived estrogen and Netflix. As the wife gives her little speech about how much the Peloton has changed (read: improved) her (read: her body), we get the absolute last snare-drum crash of narcissism, just to make sure you understand that this is her world and everyone else is merely living in it:
That’s right! Her daughter is right there to play the role of observer. Not to get all TLP on you, but it is characteristic of the modern era in media that children have gone from the object of attention to the providers of it. Did you notice, in retrospect, that the biggest part of Christmas morning for this family, the very first thing that had to happen, was for the wife to get her exercise bike? When did the daughter get her presents? After Mom got the full demo and a spin on the thing? Or had anyone remembered the child at all? Thank God the maid remembered to feed the girl, otherwise we’d have been short one observer for a Peloton session.
So if you want to understand the Peloton ad, you need to look at the above image nice and long and hard. The woman is triply observed: by her handsome low-class husband who presumably tended bar or offered personal-trainer services near Vassar or Bryn Mawr before being elevated into the aristocracy by Miss Peloton on the strength of his chin, his chest, and his cock; by the hired help who cheer Miss Peloton on in her ever-more-fascinating journey into her own impeccably-fit navel; and by the child-as-accessory who did not receive an exercise bike and who needs to stay inside during playtime so Mom has a holy-trinity audience for her daily spin.
This is the scene from which most of the secular-church criticism sprang, and by itself it comes across as submissive-wife-yearns-to-please-husband. Note, however, that the man’s smile is genuine and unforced. He is thrilled to see his wife’s journey — and just as importantly, he is looking at the screen to receive her message, not into her eyes to establish dominance or hierarchy. And the only person who “smiles on command” in this advertisement is the husband; he is impassive-looking until she turns to him to make sure her video registers. This is her world. And it really is her world, as the final shot reminds us yet again:
Remember that the video chronicles a precise year, so this is Christmas of the following year. Take a look at the scene. What do you notice?
Did you see it? The girl hasn’t been allowed to unwrap her gifts yet. (The child in me also notes, with sorrow, that the gifts are wrapped in BEIGE PAPER, because we can’t let a child’s enjoyment override our home design.) She’s seated over at the tree, ready to finally have a Christmas of her own — but before we can do that, Mommy has to show us the video. Also, Mom isn’t in pajamas this year. She’s dressed, which means that we’ve already had her Christmas morning. The order of events, considered plausibly:
8AM — Mom wakes up and gets this year’s gifts for her
9AM — A little gluten-free breakfast courtesy of Consuela, the nanny/maid/housekeeper
10AM — Mom gets dressed and we all assemble in the living room to watch Mommy’s video, which if I know the fairer sex even a little bit probably had a few seconds from all 300 or so days she used the bike, for a total of 1800 seconds, or 30 minutes, which is also known as “half an hour”
10:45AM — Now the girl can open her gifts.
If you want a sense of just how far our intra-cultural stories have drifted, go watch this scene from 1983’s A Christmas Story where the father opens his bowling ball long after the kids are already playing with their toys. Back then, the holiday was for children; now it is for people stuck in the perpetual childhood of narcissism and borderline personality disorder.
Taken as a whole, this isn’t an episode of Black Mirror at all. Call it White Mirror, a world where everything bends, Inception-style, around the wealthy white woman who runs the show while commanding the lion’s share of attention and affection. And make no mistake, the advertisement was created, at mind-numbing cost and effort, to project precisely that image. It’s done well. It succeeds. So why are so many people so critical of it?
The obvious answer is that the wife makes sad faces on her Peloton — but that, too, is part of the message. Our secular church believes that il faut souffrir pour être belle, the same way that the old churches believed you should pray from your knees or scourge yourself in the public square. The wife must suffer to be perfect for the same reason that modern CEOs like to dispense advice regarding getting to bed early and whatnot — because it makes a virtue out of luck, because it means that you worked harder than the next guy in order to be successful. The old aristocracy prided themselves on doing nothing for their money, because it demonstrated the superiority of their birth. Our current aristocracy poses as a meritocracy, which means you must demonstrate merit of some type. She’s unhappy on the Peloton because that’s how you know she deserves her home, her clothes, and her accessory-family.
Most of this stuff is, in fact, hitting all of us in the subconscious, which is from whence our uneasiness with the ad springs. So the answer has to be a bit more subtle, and I think it is this: At some level, all of us understand that this new and ultra-woke vision of Western society is fundamentally broken. We cannot long exist as a place where everybody obsesses about their eternally and unnaturally youthful appearance while effortlessly earning Sun King wages from working in an office ten thousand miles away from the factory. This center cannot hold. And we can see the cracks already, everywhere we look. What will happen to the daughter in this ad? Will she go to Vassar and snag a bartender of her own? Will she force everyone to watch her, as she was forced to watch her mother? Or will she dye her hair blue, declare a fluid gender, gain fifty pounds, put on a black bandanna, and join Antifa?
Let’s stipulate for argument’s sake that the social construct known as “the patriarchy” was a bad idea, and that a change was, in fact, truly required in order for humanity to move forward. I’m not so certain about that, but I’m forty-eight years old and I’ve read too much Marcus Aurelius to ever truly absorb modern wokeness with an open heart. All I see is history repeating itself, over and over again. But I’m past the age where my vote matters much. Assume that we needed to make a change, that the extended families needed to be atomized, that the state needed more power, that the bonds of mother and child needed to be subordinated to the corporation, that men need to be humiliated and demoted to second-class status in the universities and the workplace. Let’s assume that all of this needed to happen. What’s going to happen next? ‘Cause I don’t think we are going to get to the next Prigoginic leap under our current cultural and societal guidelines.
Perhaps that’s why the Peloton ad is so fundamentally disturbing. It depicts a society where the superficial is paramount, where children are meaningless, and where narcissism is the state religion. In that society, we all think we are getting somewhere. We all think we are changing. We’re all becoming better versions of ourselves — except we aren’t. We’ve made a bad, bad deal. We trashed a society that produced results and got nothing in exchange. So we lie. We tell ourselves that we are taking a journey, when all we are really doing is riding a $2,245 bicycle, every single day, to nowhere.