Gossip and schadenfreude are staples of the human condition, so it’s not surprising that social media sites are in high dudgeon over an apparent sexist ad for Peloton stationary exercise bikes. The indignant media storm is so severe that the company has suffered stock losses measured in the billions. Internet media attacks on the company are a red flag for a phenomenon afoot that instead of studying and understanding an inadvertent incident that appears to have sexist overtones, the reflexive response is to destroy the source.
The commercial is a Christmas ad suggesting that a $2,000 exercise bike would make a good gift for a husband to give a wife that has probably been daydreaming about getting one for years. It’s a piece of equipment that is essentially identical to those found in gym spinning classes, where members spin and sweat under the leadership of a spin coach.
The ad says more about Madison Avenue and television advertising than it does about apparent institutionalized sexism. It’s probably true that the woman appears meek and grovelingly grateful for the gift, but that’s on the producers of the ad, not the company selling the product. Don’t forget that in 1961 FCC head Newton Minnow stated that television and its advertising were becoming a voyage to the bottom of the bell curve. He described television and television commercials as a “vast wasteland.”
If you want to see a bad TV commercial, watch the one for GMC’s Denali truck. In the ad a wife or significant other gets her mate cheap sunglasses. He then trumps her gift with expensive trucks for both, suggesting that her financial resources pale compared to his.
He got the black one for himself but she wants it so she blocks it with her body indicating that access could be denied if he doesn’t relent and let her have her way. This looks like body-language sexism. She is an apparent, spoiled sex object, messaging that sex will be withheld if the mate doesn’t play ball; “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”
Minnow would probably swallow his face if he saw what television and television advertising have become. One ad depicts the Idaho Spud Man hijacking a car with a student in it. Ban those potatoes!
Peloton may emerge better off in the long run because many more eyes will be on its niche product. And after all, everyone benefits from exercise.
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