A Vancouver actor finds himself at the centre of an Internet firestorm after co-starring in a fitness ad that’s gone viral for all the wrong reasons.
Sean Hunter, a Vancouver-based actor and gym teacher at Simon Fraser Elementary School, stars as the husband in the much-maligned Peloton commercial that’s been all over social media in recent weeks.
Initially well-received, the Internet has turned on this ad in a hurry, and now Hunter, who filmed the commercial in Vancouver over two days in mid-September, has unwittingly become the public face of tone-deaf men the world over who are clueless enough to think it’s sweet to get their partner an exercise bike for Christmas.
But while Hunter is a fitness buff, he insists he isn’t that guy — he just plays one on TV.
Hunter, 32, appears only briefly in the ad, shot from the back as his character reveals the cringe-inducing present, and later from the front as he and his partner, known online as the Peloton Wife, reflect on how the $2,200 smart bike has changed her life.
On the surface, it’s a sweet 30-second clip, set to B.C. singer Tal Bachman’s stirring “She’s So High”, but on second glance, it’s difficult to feel anything but pity for the Peloton Wife, who forces herself to love the gift and to ride it every day, even though she seems to hate every moment of it. In scenes shot to look like candid iPhone videos, she expresses her dread at using the machine, complains about waking up early to do so, and later gets so excited at being mentioned during a streamed spin class that one wonders if she’s actually a prisoner in her own home, desperate for contact with the outside world.
In a Vice article published on Dec. 2, Katie Way called the ad “wildly sinister,” describing it as “a bleak portrait of a woman in the thrall of a machine designed to erode her spirit as it sculpts her quads.”
“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,” Way said. “She’d even rather be back on the dreaded Peloton.”
The Peloton commercial has now racked up up 3.7 million views in the two weeks since its release, many from people hate-watching the ad, or seeking it out after seeing it disparaged on social media. The commercial has received over 15,000 downvotes, more than double the number of Like buttons smashed over the same span.
Much of the vitriol is directed at Hunter’s character, the sinister “Peloton husband” whose Christmas gift to his loving partner, viewed cynically, is little more than a fitter wife for himself.
“I started to get these personal attacks,” he said. “I was reading them going, ‘you don’t even know who I am.’
Hunter lamented Thursday that his five seconds of airtime had turned him into a villain.
“My friend texted me today declaring that I’m ‘a symbol of the patriarchy,’” he said, admitting that he viewed the commercial’s narrative much more innocently. To him, the ad was about a healthy relationship with fitness.
“The ease of working out on a spin bike at home is very optimal for (the Peloton wife),” he said. “So to create that positive dialogue is what I resonated with first; that’s how I viewed it from the get-go. To see other criticisms of it, I had a tough time getting into those mindsets.”
As the ad continues to make the rounds online, Hunter admitted Thursday that he’s beginning to worry about how his newfound infamy will affect his acting career, as well as his private life.
“I currently sit here hoping that I’ll be able to continue auditioning for commercials without any taint, and that if my students happen to find the commercial and recognize me, they won’t think about me any different than they already know me,” he said.
One imagines Hunter isn’t the first actor to be surprised by the way the public interprets his performance, although that’s small consolation for anyone experiencing this phenomenon for the first time. Going viral sounds like a great deal of fun until it becomes clear how powerless one often is to control a conversation that is about them.
In his statement, Hunter describes his initial excitement at landing the role — one that he hoped would help him to grow as an actor. But now he’s not sure what to feel about the ordeal, which has gone from a positive to a negative experience faster even than the Peloton wife learns to love her troubling Christmas present.
“I guess the exposure is positive,” he said. “It depends on how you spin exposure. It’s overwhelming — it depends on if you define that as positive.”
Still, Hunter is trying to have some fun with his notoriety. On Thursday, he changed his Instagram to @PelotonHusband, and he said he was enjoying fielding calls from media eager to speak to the man behind the Internet’s most hated spouse.
But while Hunter is not the Peloton Husband, the Vancouver actor said the bizarre experience would not dissuade him from gifting his significant other an exercise bike for Christmas.
The price tag might, though.
“We share the same opinion about fitness and we push each other for sure,” he said. “If I could afford a Peloton, I would.”
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