His hand grips her shoulder a little too tightly as he lifts the remote and starts the video. She shifts her thigh away from his on the couch, slowly, praying he won’t notice. As images of her “amazing progress” (that’s what he insists on calling it—to her, it’s debasement) flash across the screen, every cell of her body aches to retreat from his. 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.
To anyone who hasn’t seen a commercial for the wildly expensive subscription home-exercise bike, the horror imbued in the scene above may feel obvious or overwrought. To that I say: Watch the clip, and tell me this shit isn’t wildly sinister. 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.
Titled “The Gift That Gives Back,” the 30-second commercial is a mere glimpse into the barrage of horror its protagonist, a young wife and mother, slogs through daily. At the outset, her husband gives her the titular Gift: a Peloton. She recognizes the machine instantly and exclaims accordingly. It is unclear whether or not she already has an inkling of how this bike will become the instrument of her subjugation. The middle of the clip proceeds in the form of a vlog—she captures (or is made to capture?) her journey with Peloton, from the first ride to early mornings devoted to the Peloton and, by proxy, to the altar of her own improvement. Although it is initially unclear who the vlog’s intended audience is, the clip’s final act serves as a chilling reveal: In the next cut, the woman is shown sitting on the couch next to her husband the following holiday season, presenting the footage to him of herself performing excitement about and gratitude for her exercise bike in a supercut, evidence of fealty to the Peloton and, by extension, to him. “Thank you,” says the Peloton woman’s avatar on the screen. She turns to him, searching his face and trying to gauge his reaction. He grants her a smile, a squeeze on the shoulder. She has appeased her benevolent, Peloton-bestowing god… for now.
According to a report from the Atlantic, the Peloton user base has surpassed that of competitors like SoulCycle and FlyWheel, and tight-knit, supportive communities have apparently sprung up around the app thanks to the virtual classes where members of a captive audience elect (or feel obligated) to engage with each other.
Whether Peloton’s devotees feel only genuine joy about their purchase, the universe of its advertising presents another angle: Every day is the same day. We reach out for human contact, but instead what we are all cycling imperceptibly closer to is the void. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a frantic woman cloistered in her own home, stamping down on the pedals of her Peloton while recording it—forever.
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