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Opinion: Mr. Big’s Peloton Clapback sells a well-known fantasy

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This scene opens the latest advertisement for the Connected Home Fitness brand. In a twist that suggestively blurs the line between fantasy and reality, the ad is a direct response to the debut episode of “And Just Like That …”, the reboot of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” which starred with that silver Der hairy gentleman Mr. Big (Chris Noth) dies of a heart attack after completing his 1,000th ride with his favorite instructor Allegra (in the real peloton instructor Jess King, his handsome companion on the couch). Like CNN, HBO Max is part of WarnerMedia.

The commercial came to life to resurrect Big just days after his death, and it generated so much peloton-related buzz that a member of the company’s health and wellness advisory board made a statement to the press arguing, that Big’s bike didn’t actually kill him. This now viral ad, and the alternate ending it featured (which Big appears to be very much alive in) frenzied a prestige TV-watching, peloton-riding subgroup of the population, largely praising the brand’s skill, quickly a devastating act to be turned into shiny gold. A Peloton spokesperson said in a statement the ad was intended to “reinforce the story that peloton and cardiovascular exercise are good for you and help millions of real people live long, happy, healthy lives.” This Tizzy and the conversation that inspired it shows how clever this advertising strategy is. From a historical perspective, it also shows how closely fitness is intertwined with our need for personal transformation and how strong the specific fantasy of movement as an erotic act has been for a long time. Peloton’s seemingly edgy ad game here – selling exercise as a path to eternal sexual youth for men – has longstanding historical precedents and shows quite conventional gender politics.

Peloton as a cultural phenomenon

The ad skilfully but cruelly picks up on the teasing between Carrie and Big about his innocent crush on Allegra, a figure whose distance and two-dimensional existence on an exercise machine makes her less threatening than a real woman in the gym could be. The sting lies in the unsubtle suggestion that happy to the end – even heaven – means endless spin courses with a hot instructor who is half your age, not getting old with the woman who … . “And Just Like That …” has just witnessed crying and robbery, and whoever “Sex and the City” fans know has shed many tears over Bigs Womanizing.

Those images are harrowing and disappointing, given Peloton’s solid progressive track record in an industry that is often far from different, and because the ad seems to confirm the aging woman fears that overwhelmed so many of the early episodes of a television series. which was so, originally created to focus on the friendship and sexual adventure of women, especially when they resisted social norms. A look back at Peloton’s last viral ad in December 2019 shows just how much the brand’s cultural position has changed. A 30-second commercial about a woman who received a peloton for Christmas from her husband infuriated the Internet at the time: about the husband who urged his wife to train under the guise of a gift, about the big-eyed one To brave the already slim woman on a “wellness journey” in a culture that rewards rich aspirants with expensive fitness toys and enviable spacious houses to put them in. and steak “extravagant lifestyle”, likely offset by exercise, few suggested that an expensive home bike could reasonably be taken as further evidence of this Wall Street investor’s extravagance rather than an antithesis. It is clear that the pandemic has allowed Peloton for many to lose its primary image as an equipment of abundance. Owning a peloton (or a much cheaper app subscription) very quickly became a more culturally acceptable – and even virtuous – way of exercising without venturing into a gym and potentially jeopardizing public health for your own cause close. The stock soared accordingly, and even after breaking those unsustainable highs, the most popular instructors have risen to new levels of mainstream celebrities. The icons boast more than hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers; They are featured on People Magazine’s shows about their engagements and new babies, and on Dancing With The Stars. Interestingly, the brand’s many Facebook groups had long shown an economically and racially diverse membership base than predicted by the brand’s elegant showrooms in New York and Los Angeles, but these mainstream media hits confirmed and anchored Peloton as a veritable cultural phenomenon.

This cultural recognizability comes from a pandemic that has tied relatively privileged teleworkers not only to stationary bikes, but also to streaming networks and social media feeds that mutually reinforce and reinforce each other. But it is also the result of an evolving attitude towards training and what it promises and who has it long in prospect.

The eroticization of movement

Of course, fitness has long promised eternal youth, especially women who were a good sign for products and services and reassured (or threatened) potential customers if, for example, they only carefully followed the 300 instructions in a volume from 1961, saying they could be 30 years old without becoming matronly and unattractive. Fortunately, this message has evolved a bit over time. In the late 1960s, Lotte Berk, the mother of the barre madness, was teaching exercises like Naughty Bottoms or The Prostitute to increase their own sexual desire for women, and a decade and a half later, Jane Fonda’s aerobics trainer began emphasizing that Fitness made women feel “energetic, healthy, and limber” whether or not they had a “perfectly proportioned body.” But the idea that movement is a way to achieve a narrow aesthetic ideal of beauty and youthfulness – presupposed prerequisites for sexual desirability – has held up and is only more firmly anchored as the expectation of modern femininity. Gay men bought and sold fitness products that were packed with similar promises of aesthetic transformation. In the 1950s, Physique magazines published pictures of scantily clad muscular men, and under the guise of an interest in bodybuilding, gay men were able to associate more freely in public spaces where both racial segregation and homosexuality were vigorously monitored. By 1980, men’s gyms often explicitly advertised fitness and sexual boasting as intertwined – a chain in Houston featured their nude dressing rooms in a magazine spread but made it clear that, given the negative impact of such notoriety on the community, actual sex “strongly does not allow ” may be . Selling fitness to straight men was a little more difficult. Since the 1920s, sports enthusiasts fought the assumption that exercise was feminine by aggressively emphasizing how it would make men more sexually energetic and more attractive to women. Bodybuilder Charles Atlas’ chronicles of how exercise turned “97-pound weaklings” into fit men who proudly walked the beach with girlfriends in their bulging arms was a staple of mid-century comics read by teenagers . When then-Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson suffered a heart attack in 1955, his wife advised women worried about their husbands heart health to play “tricks” to draw attention to diet and exercise, such as counting calories “Following the world” to compare series results, ”or“ fight every pound like it’s a political opponent. ”It didn’t hurt that some of the most popular trainers were curvaceous young women, more suggestively dressed and more apologetic than many mainstream TVs -Personalities at the time. Debbie Drake, known as “the most beautiful gymnastics teacher in the country,” taught exercise on a syndicated television show in the 1960s, and infallibly donned a collared leotard and ball bra. So many men tuned into her program that (male) journalists giggled at their motives, but when the entrepreneur Dra When ke discovered that “men only watch their syndicated program by staring,” she set out to devise a man’s routine. These efforts helped ensure that the idea of ​​working on your character was a sign of normal male sexuality, not deviant. In 1983 Rolling Stone named health clubs “the new one” in a cover story that soon appeared on a feature set at Sports Connection, a Los Angeles health club known for its dating scene that people called it Sports Erection Singlebars “was explained” And since sex has been sold, the mainstream fitness industry has not shied away from blurring the line between eroticism and exercise itself. “My motto is not ‘Be healthy'”, said gym impresario David Barton, but “Look Better Naked ‘”. same sensitivity as justification for membership. The latest Peloton ad brings this eroticization of exercise to one of the fastest growing gym demographics – Americans over 55 – who rarely get fitness marketed as a route to sexiness. These dynamics absolutely reflect age-appropriate assumptions about sexual viability, as exercise is often highly packaged for the elderly as it serves noble ends, like raising your grandchildren or living long enough to graduate, a kind of liberation from superficial aspirations a slim waist or sinewy biceps.

But as much as this latest ad turns typical marketing strategy and tone upside down, it still leaves us in a reactionary space. The stars of this cranked fitness fantasy are an older womanizer and the youthful object of his affection, a clutch that doesn’t question assumptions about sex and desire, but positions them on a stationary bike. Carrie and her friends are completely absent and are reportedly still in mourning.

I didn’t love the hyperproductive wellness mom of 2019; the look of this macho version of the sexual conquest of the peloton fantasy appeals even less to me. Still, I know firsthand that the Peloverse offers such a wide range of experiences and sensitivities that I could make it to my thousandth trip without having to accept social norms that I find tasteless. However, it will be difficult to evade the stubborn attitudes and assumptions about sexuality, gender and aging that made this phenomenon possible in the first place.

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