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Dispatches from the Peloton Cult
The Newsletter of Newsletters, volume 5.
Every week I highlight three newsletters that are worth your time.
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Anne Helen Petersen is putting together a multi-part series in an attempt to come up with a Unified Theory of Peloton and I am there for it!
Once upon a time I was a serious, but undistinguished, runner. Captain of the XC team in high school. Did a marathon late in life. Couldn’t imagine a world in which I wasn’t capable of banging out five 7-minute miles on a normal day.
And I never—ever—listened to music while running. For me, a big part of running was being alone with myself, making myself comfortable with that solitude, and investigating what I found in it.
Then I had kids and 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣.
Today I could not throw down a single 7-minute mile if you offered me $500 to do it.
And if I don’t have a podcast, or an audiobook, or music on a run, I’d probably fall into some sort of Lovecraftian madness.
As Roger Murtaugh put it,
What I’m saying here is that my internal capacity for motivation in the field of physical activity was exhausted. I needed some external motivation.
So I joined a cult.
And I am fascinated by how great Peloton is. I love it. Here’s Petersen:
Why analyze an expensive piece of equipment used by 4.4 million people? Because, as any Peloton user will tell you, it’s much more than a bike. That sounds lame, but it’s really a way of saying that it’s serving a much more potent ideological function than “just a new exercise fad.” Some aspects of what Peloton is doing are not at all new, and some, like the parasocial relationships with individual fitness instructors, combine the previous blueprint for celebrity fitness with the prolonged digital intimacy and “authenticity” of influencer culture.
The company is particularly skilled at cloaking what is, in fact, just a bike (or just a (recalled) treadmill, or just an app) in the language of lifestyle — a shortcut, of sorts, to personality, particularly appealing to the sort of bourgeois consumer whose work and parenting commitments have subsumed the corners of their lives where personality was once cultivated. It offers immediate, instant access to exercise, purposefully malleable to the user’s schedule.
And unlike, say, pilates DVDs or self-directed push-up routines, it’s endlessly dynamic and incredibly adaptable to the individual’s fitness needs or goals. You can use Peloton to get the same workout you would get while doing the elliptical on low resistance while watching HGTV, or you can get in the best shape of your life — by yourself, in your living room or the sliver of space next to your bed, surrounded by the aura of community, but not the inconvenience of it.
Yes! This! I would sooner cut off my pinky-toe than be part of a real-world community. Peloton is like the best parts of community—but without the people! I would like to import this model into the rest of my life.
But for now, I want to talk about the stars. Without them, there is no Peloton. They are tremendously valuable and, at least within the Peloton universal, meticulously individualized. Jess King is a rave kid. Alex Toussaint is the drill sergeant. Robin Arzón gives you type-A tough love. Ben Alldis is a Ken Doll. Emma Lovewell just wants to chill. Ally Love is giving the youth sermon. Sam Yo is the buff ex-Buddhist monk. Christine D’Ercole is the Gen-Xer who wants to release you from your own bullshit. Cody is the gay friend. Denis is the Silver Fox. Jenn Sherman is Mom. . . .
Many instructors come from the fitness world, and many were poached from places like SoulCycle, where a cult of personality had already formed around their particular teaching style and image. The forgettable fitness instructor you kinda like has no place at Peloton. They sought out charisma.
Which is why a significant portion of the fitness stable comes from the dance world. Ally Love, Emma Lovewell, Jess King, Cody Rigsby — all dancers. Their rides are, ultimately, choreography. The fitness is secondary to the performance of fitness leadership — the combination of instruction, encouragement, repartee. Cody distracts. Ally focuses. Emma calms. Jess King does Jess King. . . .
MGM made Elizabeth Taylor, but Elizabeth Taylor didn’t need MGM. Her magnetism was far more the sum of the studio’s publicity acumen. There are stand-outs amidst Peloton’s star stable, and all of them are fundamental to the larger pull of the brand. But the real star — the product that keeps people coming back — is, to be incredibly cheesy, found in the user. It’s how you fucking feel. The instructors are a big part of that, but they’re also readily replaceable with similar types. So how else does Peloton cultivate that feel — and keep users addicted to it? That’s for the next edition.
2. Damian Penny
Speaking of parasocial relationships, I had missed the fall of Chrissy Teigen. Damian Penny has thoughts:
It’s hard to muster much sympathy for Teigen. Snarky and mean tweets are one thing, but when you’re sending direct messages to people telling them to kill themselves, that’s not playing to the crowd so much as evidence of psychopathy.
And yet, there’s a part of me that feels like she’s being scapegoated for behaviour in which we all enthusiastically partook. I remember late 2000s/early 2010s online culture well, and pretty much all of us went after marginal pseudo-celebs like Courtney Stodden in deeply personal terms. For even more famous and obviously troubled celebrities like Lohan and Britney Spears, we were even worse.
It seems like the online mob has shifted its focus in the last five or six years, and we no longer make such sport of people in obvious mental distress or drug addiction. Now it’s all about going after people - famous or not - for real or perceived racism, sexism or other -isms and -phobias. And, for others, going after the people going after these people.
Oh, and stay for the end where he gets into the history of the Ford Mustang:
Ford’s base-model Mustang — the one that sold in big numbers and made up the huge majority of Mustang sales — was proudly referred to as “a secretary’s car” for years.
I seem to remember someone who is super-duper, double-manly, yet drives a 4-cylinder Mustang . . .
3. Regular Car Reviews
It’s not a newsletter, but if you do YouTube, you really should subscribe to Regular Car Reviews. It’s for gearheads, but not just gearheads. It’s for people who care about America.
I cannot exaggerate how great it is.
For instance, there’s this review of a real sports car:
Which is actually about GM, which makes it actually about America.
There’s this review of the Ford Raptor, which is actually about tribalism and the cultural resentments of people who’ve been left behind by progress. You should watch the whole thing, but if you want to skip to the money shot, start at the 9:36 mark.
Squeal like a pig.
And finally, there’s this review of the Toyota Century, which instantly shot up to #1 contender status for JVL’s Mid-Life Crisis Car.
My friends, this is poetry:
Some people say they know what love is. But all they know are song verses.
Some cars say they know luxury. But they only know large.
The Toyota Century.
Have you ever been in love? Do you even know what love is? Because I don’t think it’s possible to really comprehend the depth and dimension of feeling that goes into it until a V-12 kicks in and takes you to a plane of existence where comfort is balls deep in function and giving style a dry reach-around.
Go and subscribe. It’s phenomenal.
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