’Tis the season for phony outrage

Published 6:21 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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By Rich Manieri

Thanks in large part to social media, and in equally large part to the mean-spirited discourse of the day, virtually anything can be turned into a national controversy.

For Exhibit A, I go to Melania Trump or, more specifically, to the first lady’s coat.

If you remember last holiday season, Mrs. Trump was lambasted by the media and Hollywood types for her red Christmas trees.

This year, because there are no red Christmas trees or otherwise scandalous decorations in the White House, Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan went wardrobe on Melania.

“Melania Trump’s Christmas decorations are lovely, but that coat looks ridiculous,” Givhan wrote. She also called it “a discomforting affectation taken to a ludicrous extreme.”

Based on Givhan’s criticism, you’d think the first lady was wearing a fresh bear carcass with the head still on.

I’m no expert in women’s fashion, as any woman I know will attest. But I like the coat. I would encourage you to see for yourself, but in the photo released by the White House, the coat is draped over her shoulders. I’m not sure of the color. Looks like an off-white or beige to me, but I think it looks nice. But, as I say, I’m no expert.

Was it Sigmund Freud or Calvin Klein who said, “Sometimes a coat is just a coat.”?

For Exhibit B — and I could keep going down the alphabet but there’s only so much time — I take you to Twitter, currently abuzz with criticisms and parody videos of a holiday Peloton commercial made by angry people with incredible amounts of downtime.

CNN ran a story under the headline, “Peloton’s perplexing new holiday ad has incensed the internet.”

The internet is always incensed about something, so that’s not exactly breaking news. But the ad itself, which you’ve probably seen by now, features a woman receiving a Peloton indoor bike as a gift from her husband and then chronicling her fitness journey on video.

The ad has been called sexist, among other things.

In its report, CNN asks the question, “So what, then, makes this ad so offensive?”

The question, of course, assumes that everyone finds the ad offensive.

I don’t see what’s offensive about it. It seems to me that Peloton has actually exercised (See, what I did there?) significant restraint, under the circumstances.

Peloton bikes feature an interactive screen with live and on-demand fitness classes led by a professional. Imagine the possibilities for offending.

“Pick up the pace, pork chop!”

“Why is your house so dark? You must be blocking out the sun. Pedal faster!”

“Come on! Imagine there’s a pizza at the finish line!

Now, that’s offensive.

As it stands, I don’t see what’s objectionable about a well-to-do, professional woman getting an exercise bike as a gift. But I’d clearly be in the minority in any survey of the frequently outraged and easily offended, a growing group which now includes Vice writer Katie Way.

“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,” Way wrote. “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.”

“Barrage of horror” might be just a bit strong. The woman is pedaling a bike, not landing on Omaha Beach.

These bikes aren’t cheap — about $2,500 — and given the woman’s luxurious surroundings, some have said the commercial smacks of “privilege,” which I suppose means a privileged person can be defined thus: Someone who has something I want but can’t afford so she shouldn’t have it either.

There is one thing a little odd about the ad. The woman featured appears just as fit at the beginning of the commercial as she does at the end. This is not a “before and after” scenario. The benefits of her fitness journey seem a little ambiguous.

But why should I care? My workout often includes hitting tractor tires with a sledge hammer. Whatever gets you through the day.

Was it Freud or Jack LaLanne who said, “Sometimes a bike is just a bike.”?

RICH MANIERI is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. His book, “We Burn on Friday: A Memoir of My Father and Me” is available at amazon.com. You can reach him at manieri2@gmail.com.