I have no desire to diminish the massive crush that the Internet has Alison Brie; I don’t want to tarnish the luster. The site and our readers were one of first to jump on that train. Before the meme-ification of “Community,” before the Alison Brie GIFs overwhelmed the World Wide Web’s circuity, and even before “Community” had become network television’s cultish martyr, Pajiba was all over it: Alison Brie, in fact, had risen to the ranks of the Pajiba 10 well before she’d frayed the underwear strings of the rest of the Internet.
I don’t want to overthink it, but I also have a certain intellectual and aesthetic curiosity. Why Alison Brie? She’s not a supermodel; she doesn’t have a strong movie star appeal; and she’s not exactly a Maxim pin-up girl. She may not even be the most objectively beautiful woman on “Community.” She’s very pretty; she’s exceedingly cute; and she’s well endowed. But objectively speaking, how does she stand up next to the likes of Mila Kunis, either in a casual context or in a sexy photo shoot?
What’s so exceptional about Alison Brie? What has drawn the Internet toward her, and why hasn’t it translated into big screen success yet? What’s the allure?
Here are a few theories:
The Good Girl with a Dirty Mind: I think this was the first attraction: Annie Edison was a neurotic, pill-popping barely-out-of-high school prude with an unhealthy crush on Troy, and our only other real exposure to Brie was an equally prudish 1960s Trudy Campbell on “Mad Men.” The Alison Brie crush didn’t reveal itself really until she posed for Complex magazine, and the dichotomy between what we saw in Complex and the Annie Edison we thought we knew — combined with Jeff Winger’s at first kind of creepy attraction (you’ll recall the Model U.N. episode and their first kiss) — suddenly escalated Alison Brie into a sexual being. The fact that this sexual object was also a “good girl” magnified that crush because that’s how men work (don’t ask me to explain it; I cannot).
The Attainability Factor: Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate insists that this is what it’s all about, that dudes think that because Alison Brie is not Angelina Jolie or Brooklyn Decker, that they have a shot with her. Listen to me, and listen to me closely: You don’t, although I will grant that the one dude with whom we know she’s been romantically attached looks kind of like a tool. I don’t buy into this theory. However, I will concede that whatever it is that makes men think that Alison Brie is “attainable” is the very same quality about Alison Brie that makes her seem approachable. She seems very friendly; she’s a big presence on Twitter (she even retweeted that Pajiba 10 post that she was incuded in); and she seems very nice and very modest. She may not date you, but she’d totally humor you at a bar if you were drunk and wanted a hug.
The GQ Photoshoot with Gillian Jacobs: It was the GQ photoshoot that elevated the cute Alison Brie crush into full-on, white knuckle obsession. That picture is almost certainly the most used image on the Internet in 2011 (replacing the one from The Human Centipede in 2010). Not only had Alison Brie become a sexual being in the minds of many who watched “Community,” she was now exploiting it: She was consciously putting it out there and attempting to foster that image in a profoundly sexual yet also tongue-in-cheek manner that allowed her to do it without seeming like she was coming off as desperate (and if there was a desperation there, it was all for a good cause: The ratings of “Community”). Indeed, the fact that she’s cute and approachable is the only thing that kept the Internet from thinking that she was trying too hard. It didn’t hurt, however, that the GQ photoshoot lived up to the male fantasy about Brie and Jacobs. Again, don’t ask me to explain the fantasy; it’s just how dudes work.
Dan Harmon’s “GIFable Moments”: The New York Times ran a misguided and ill-informed piece yesterday on the “meme-ification” of television and claimed that a lot of television shows consciously create content they know will become viral (like the Robin Sparkles video). However, the only person that’s ever actually admitted as much is Dan Harmon, who knows better than anyone how to mix cleverness and sexuality in a way that allows him to be both geeky and kind of a brilliant meat-head (unfortunately for “Community,” popularity on the Internet does not translate into Neilson ratings). It’s very smart, especially in the way that Harmon can slyly exploit Brie’s cleavage without destroying the character of Annie Edison: These GIFable moments arise out of semi-organic situations (at least in the universe of “Community”): Brie running during one of the paintball episodes, or — as above — Brie singing in a Santa Claus suit while in a “Glee” trance.
That said, the Betty Boop sequence was a little distressing in that it was almost too knowing: Harmon clearly had the Internet in mind when he wrote in that sequence, and once you start down that road — especially by exploiting a sexist Betty Boop cliche — you’re threatening your relationship with the Internet. Memes are meant, in a way, to be found objects, oddities and curiosities that enter the Internet zeitgeist naturally. The Betty Boop sequence felt manufactured, almost like an email from a PR flack that said, “Please post this on your website.” NBC has already, on occasion, created their own GIFs and uploaded them onto the corporate site, and once the Suits get in on the joke, the joke begins to lose its appeal. I do hope when “Community” returns that Harmon can continue to be a little more sly about it objectifying Alison Brie. The crush needs to be cute, not gross.
But getting back: Those Alison Brie GIFs are sexual teases: Revealing, but not too much. They work the crush the Internet has on Brie into a frenzy without extinguishing it, and I think as long as Harmon can avoid stepping on the pedal too hard, he can cultivate the fascination without making it feel too contrived. And that, in reality, is why I think the Internet has the hots for Brie: It doesn’t feel contrived (at least not yet). She’s like a found object we all came to around the same time, and as long as “Community” remains in the fringes, the Internet can feel a small sense of ownership on that crush (not in a stalk-y way, but in a cute meme-ish way, like LOLCats, only with more breasts).
Beware, however: The second that Brie takes a leading lady role in a manufactured romantic comedy, the crush will vanish and Brie will become just another Kate Hudson.