Far too many of us are confusing unnecessarily manufacturing artificial outrage with being “woke”.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. There’s always someone who wants to voice their displeasure without fully understanding what there is (or is not) to be upset about, and the recent negative response to the Peloton commercial “The Gift That Gives Back” is the latest shining example.
We do need to be on the lookout for inequality, sexism, and toxic behavior. That’s different, though, than injecting those things into situations where they are not naturally present just so we can attack them.
In the commercial, the woman receives a Peloton exercise bicycle as a Christmas gift from a man we’re supposed to assume is her partner. If we take her reaction at (no pun intended) face value, she seems both surprised and pleased to receive it.
This is probably the point where we first start losing folks. Undoubtedly, someone out there who wants a reason to be bothered by this commercial is thinking, “Well, maybe she was just ACTING surprised and happy to receive it.”
That’s definitely what happened, and do you know how we know that? Because the real woman is an actress in a commercial. The character being portrayed isn’t real and doesn’t have real emotions. The fictional character isn’t faking delight at receiving the bike because she was made up by the people who did the writing for Peloton, and they want that character to be genuinely happy to receive the bike.
So, yes, we do have to take her reactions at face value. She’s not disguising her disappointment and dissatisfaction with being trapped in a toxic relationship with an overbearing male partner, this fictional 30-second character.
Some people have been triggered by the fact that the male partner is shown to be the one giving her the exercise bicycle. It has been opined that he’s pressuring her to exercise against her will. Some have gone as far as to say that the male character — who has done nothing more to earn the assumption that he’s evil than to appear physically male and to give his female partner a very expensive gift for which she is thankful (remember, face value) — has the hidden agenda of trying to push her to lose weight or to maintain her current weight.
We have to start believing that women are capable of having their own quests without assuming that male manipulation must have played a part.
There’s an important point to be made here: We do need to be on the lookout for inequality, sexism, and toxic behavior. That’s different, though, than injecting those things into situations where they are not naturally present just so we can attack them. In many real life relationships, it would probably be valid to have concerns that some man had an ulterior motive, but again, the male character in the commercial isn’t real, so there’s no complex and shadowy background of manipulation here.
The reality is that the woman is thin in the beginning of the commercial, there’s zero mention of weight anywhere in the commercial, and there’s no noticable outward difference in the woman over a year’s time. It’s not stretching or being willfully ignorant to recognize that the commercial has nothing to do with weight loss.
In order to assume that weight loss, or even maintaining her weight, was this allegedly diabolical man’s controlling plan for his female partner, we have to begin with the incorrect assumption that the only benefit of riding an exercise bike is weight loss/maintenance. It’s not. He didn’t buy her a Weight Watchers membership or a lock for the refrigerator; he bought her an enviable piece of equipment that allows her to participate in an enjoyable and healthy activity.
Loads of people ride stationary bicycles for other health benefits and just for sheer enjoyment. Cycling improves cardiovascular health. It improves joint mobility. It strengthens bones and improves endurance. Cycling can even improve posture and coordination. We don’t know what this fictional woman’s state of physical health is because it doesn’t exist, and we don’t know what her Peloton goals are because they are not stated, but we do know that the actress does not appear to be struggling with her weight at any shown point during the simulated year suggested in the commercial.
For all we know, the imagined backstory (if there even was one) was that this piece of exercise equipment was the one and only thing this fictional woman wanted for Christmas. That seems the most probable scenario, since she was written by people being paid by Peloton. Maybe in her imaginary free time she’s an avid imaginary cyclist but sometimes prefers to exercise surrounded by the comfort and convenience of her imaginary home.
There is already an incredible amount of real inequality and sexism in the world and in our culture. Fighting against it is already a massive and daunting task to which we must dedicate our time and energy. We don’t need to invent more to add to it. Additionally, “crying wolf” is detrimental, not beneficial, to the cause. We cannot allow the message of greater awareness of and opposition to sexism and inequality to be weakened by false and unconvincing claims. Let’s stamp out sexism and inequality wherever and whenever we find them, but let’s not pretend to find them when and where we haven’t just so we can feign stamping them out.