Outrageous Outrage -- Take a Ride

By Jackie Cushman

December 5, 2019 5 min read

In today's narrative-driven, social media-focused world, it's easy to slip into outrageous outrage. Let's take this week's social media commotion over a Peloton commercial that, according to Bloomberg News reporter Joshua Fineman, led to a drop in stock price.

The commercial, titled "The Gift That Gives Back," begins with a woman walking into a living room with a young child. It's Christmas morning, and she received a Peloton, the stationary bicycle that starts at $2,245. The 30-second advertisement shows snippets of a video diary created by the woman over the course of the following year.

It shows her taking her first ride, getting up at 6 a.m. to cycle and cycling again after work. The video diary ends with her saying, "I didn't realize how much this would change me. Thank you." The commercial shifts back to a shot of her and the man who gave her the gift — presumably her husband — seated together on the couch. She is clearly thankful for his gift.

This commercial hits home with me. That's because, two years ago, my husband did give me (well, us) a Peloton, and I love it! It's great when it's raining, or when, like yesterday, I have to shove in a workout between work and child duties. Granted, I am not as thin as the actor in the commercial, but my goal was not to lose weight; it was to stay fit and relieve mental stress.

Other people had a different take. "Online outrage over a Peloton Interactive Inc. holiday ad drove down shares and prompted calls for the stationary-bike maker to pull the commercial," wrote Fineman in an article titled "Peloton Stock Is Pummeled on Backlash From 'Gift That Gives' Ad," on Tuesday. "The TV spot ... struck some viewers as sexist. Critics on social media said the ad made it seem like the woman was being pressured to keep her weight in check."

In the commercial, the woman does not appear to lose weight during the year she has the Peloton. She seems happy to have received the gift initially and even happier after a year — going out of the way to create a video diary to say thank you. (I hope my husband is not expecting the same ... a bit too late now).

While the stock closed down 10% from the day before, it was still up 33% for the year.

So, where does this online outrage come from? "Outrage often begins with a sense of certainty. Certainty that you are absolutely, undeniably right in whatever you believe or do, and that the other person or group is absolutely, without question, wrong," I wrote in my recently published book, "Our Broken America: Why Both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening."

"Outrage is a reflexive response — something that you can claim has been caused by another — another person or group. It allows you to become the victim and accuse the other of being the aggressor." In this case, Peloton is bad; whoever recognizes this evil is good.

But maybe the Peloton commercial is NOT about being thin. Maybe it's about feeling better, which the character appears to feel during the commercial. Last month, Brett Steenbarger wrote "The Unexpected Psychological Benefits of Aerobic Fitness" for Forbes Magazine. While those benefits might have been unexpected to him, I have known for decades about the mental benefits of aerobic exercise. I began running during my junior year in college and have remained active since. I try to work out four to six times per week, for my mental well-being as much as my physical well-being.

"Exercise therapy has been found to improve a measure called heart rate variability, which is associated with greater levels of psychological well-being and resilience in the face of stress," wrote Steenbarger. "A well-constructed program of exercise, expanding our abilities to extend our limits and sustain self-control and efficacy, provides a uniquely effective form of self-development — a promising ... program for mindfulness." This is exactly my experience with exercise. From training for and completing five marathons to taking the time out of my day to attend a strength training class, it's not about being thin; it's about getting fit and staying on my game mentally.

Instead of attacking Peloton, maybe these online mavens should give the company accolades for providing mental health benefits for their clients, or possibly even put down their smartphones and take a ride themselves.

Photo credit: skeeze at Pixabay

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Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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