Sunday, April 12, 2020

Really Dark in Such a Layered Way

Remember when Twitter was a "microblogging platform" and not a hyperloop-style on-demand delivery system for anxiety and despair?

A recent Tweet by @lifecreep transported me back to when 140 characters or less (and a picture) really could be worth a thousand words:

As long as we're partying like it's 2009, here's a thousand words about a Tweet!

One could be forgiven for not immediately seeing the darkness, or the layers, inherent in this photo. After all, it's a shining, happy family, all fit and perfectly matching thanks to NordicTrack (it's an ad for the Peloton-style NordicTrack workout bike prominently framed by the family).

What's there to be weirded out by?

Well, for starters, poor @lifecreep has been beset by legions of Nazi weirdoes proclaiming this woman and her family a paragon of the White Race -- to the point that while I was drafting this, @lifecreep locked their account, forcing me to re-upload the picture. Nazis wouldn't be swarming if this whole thing weren't at least a little off, so let's pick at the threads a little bit and see if it'll unravel.

First of all, there's the whiteness in question. Not only does the ad feature four blonde, white kids of a (bottle) blonde mom, this room--which is apparently dedicated entirely to working out on the NordicTrack in question--is painted entirely white, and carpeted white, complete with a white rug on which to place the NordicTrack.

This is a class signifier: Besides having a house big enough for a dedicated workout room, this person has the spare money, time, energy and possibly live-in assistance to keep her workout-room carpet immaculately white. YOU don't, of course. Nobody does. Even the handful of one-percenters who could, wouldn't. It's a weird flex, but it's unmistakably a flex.

Then there's the perfectly matching kids. Anyone who's ever tried to pose kids for a picture knows how hard it is; that they're all in a row and making cute faces is a subtle flex in and of itself. But the kids aren't all matchy-matchy just because they're siblings. They're matchy because they're all wearing identical workout clothes!

Mom and all four kids are wearing identical stretch pants with a happy little pineapple print on it, and the Mom, two older daughters, and baby girl are all wearing identical strappy workout tops.

This is the really, truly, objectively weird thing: the baby is wearing athleisure.

That baby cannot ride that NordicTrack. That baby cannot even "work out." Even if it could, it shouldn't! It's a baby! Why is it wearing workout clothes?

To a lesser extent, the rest is true for the other kids. As long as they've got the opportunity, ability, and inclination to run around and play, most kids are 'fit' without any kind of workout regimen. Again, even if you could regularly convince your kids to get all dolled up in Lululemon and spend an hour  sweating out some calories with Mom--without sweating on the carpet!!--you probably shouldn't.

This leads us to the next weird flex: Lululemon doesn't make everything they make in every size from grownup to infant. Mom didn't buy all those pants, let alone strappy baby workout tops. That mom made all those clothes.

Now, again, making clothes in and of itself is not weird! Sewing all your kids' clothes in trendy fabrics and prints is easier and more popular than ever. Making matching all-family outfits for special occasions like Christmas or Easter is very, extremely normal.

But this woman not only has a white-carpeted NordicTrack room, and four perfectly behaved kids who'll wear matching clothes to not NordicTrack with her, she has the time to make a full family's worth of matching clothes for a random Tuesday workout! It's Easter every day at This Lady's house! You, you beleaguered parent looking at this ad, you feel lucky if you can get all your kids' Halloween costumes made before Halloween Eve.

But, maybe if you had a NordicTrack...


That's it, that's the ad.

This is a two-thousand-dollar workout bike. So this is a picture chock-full of aspirational signals to NordicTrack's target market. If you're not already an upper-middle-class-to-upper-class adult of family-having age who already works out and maybe even has a workout room (albeit a little less ready for a magazine spread), you are not in the market to buy this bike. And therefore, if you don't think this picture is extremely #goals, NordicTrack doesn't care what you think.

The parents this ad is targeting probably already dabble in sewing, or photography, or other domestic-adjacent hobby. They may have even made it some kind of side business (some posters made the obvious MLM references)! Yet here this woman is, wearing makeup to work out with her perfectly matching kids in her perfect workout room, effortlessly making clothes better than you make clothes, taking pictures better than you take pictures.

Ah, yes. The pictures. There they are, up on that wall. Printed out in black and white onto giant canvases, stretched and mounted. Looming directly over the actual kids, reminding them that They Are Loved.

Are you ready to go deeper with me? Take a deep breath. Let's jump in.

Taking pictures of your kids is totally great. Framing and hanging family pictures is the very picture of normalcy. But those gigantic portraits? In black and white? As others replying to the thread said, they look weirdly like memorial or funereal photos, or maybe some kind of Citizen Kane thing:

There's a certain strain of parenting thought that revolves around kids being reflections of, and on, their parents. Your kids shouldn't just be well-behaved, they should behave in ways that make other parents look at them and think, "Boy, those parents must be good parents."

Your kids should look like you, act like you, reflect you and your values back out into the world. All the weird mental and physical gymnastics that were necessary to produce this photo? The hours spent sewing the toddler sports bras, the $2,149 spent getting four bigger-than-life-size portraits blown up to Citizen Kane size and hung on the walls, the money spent getting the white carpet steam cleaned and hassling the kids to spend who knows how long getting in perfect line and taking pictures until they get just the right one for the 'Gram?

All of this time and effort and money is spent to broadcast the values of Being Good Parents, the Right Kind of Parents, of Raising a Happy Family out into the world.

...and boy, those kids had better appreciate it.

What happens when one of those kids doesn't want to pose for the Instagram photo? Doesn't want to be used as promotional material for Mom's side hustle? Doesn't want to go to church this Sunday? Might have Inappropriate Thoughts sometimes??

Well, of course they love them, sweetie! If they didn't love them, they wouldn't have spent $2,149 getting those portraits made For Them! If they didn't appreciate their strong-willed, independent spirit, they wouldn't have made them those pineapple pants! PINEAPPLE PANTS! Would a controlling, overbearing parent have allowed you to wear pineapple pants?? Of course not! We're a wild, fun, creative and independent family, all in exactly the same way!!


Sorry, I might have been pulling something from somewhere.

I don't mean to get too negative or project too much on these very real people, because if some of the replies are to be believed this is NOT a posed, staged ad. Instead it is a rich person with a clothes-making business's posed, staged Pinterest photo--one that was entered in a NordicTrack giveaway contest.

This is a layer I'm not sure I want to peel back. I mean, what's darker, a creative team pulling together this image of an unsettlingly Perfect Family to sell NordicTracks? Or a couple of parents willing to mold their actual family into an unsettlingly Perfect shape to sell NordicTracks (and toddler sports bras, and pineapple pants)?

I wish I had a better, simpler, pithier explanation for why @lifecreep is being besieged with Nazis and Karens insisting this is a photo of everything right with the world, when to so many it feels like everything wrong with it.

But I've spent enough time ignoring my kids to write my first real personal blog post since like 2009. Hat-tip to my eldest, @GaleOctober, for pointing it out to me and talking through it with me.

Happy Easter.

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