Why Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs’ “Funny/Sexy” GQ Spread Bothers Me

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Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs star respectively as the characters Annie and Britta on NBC’s Community. As part of a stellar crew supporting Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger, they offer two of the funniest and most likable female characters on TV. I think the actresses are immensely talented, and every article and interview I’ve read portrays them as a pair of genuinely charming and awesome ladies. However, this photo they shot for GQ very much rubs me the wrong way.

The idea that women want to appear sexy in photos doesn’t bother me in the least; in fact, I often enjoy looking at attractive women when they’re all unclothed and hot. And the idea that comedic actresses also want to be seen as sexual beings (as long as they actually are sexual beings is the caveat for me here) is also totally kosher and all right by me. It’s when sex and comedy get confused for one another that things get tricky, and that’s why this photo bugs me. What we have here is imagery comprised entirely of eroticism — but it’s pretending to be couched in humor. There are signifiers in this photo that indicate it should be taken as comedy — Alison’s expression, that metal thing Gillian holds as an awkward spanking implement (mirror, spatula, world’s most elegant shoe horn?) –- but there’s nothing actually funny going on in the text of the image. It’s just an attempt to turn us on.

Compare the Community shoot to this photo of Anna Faris, who we’ll argue is the finest comedic actress working today. Anna’s a stunning woman who nevertheless often uses sex self-deprecatingly in her work. However, Anna’s also capable of understanding when sex is just sex, and she presents that honestly. In this photo, there’s no attempt at comedy. Anna’s being truthful about being hot — because she doesn’t feel the need to make excuses for being sexual. And that’s an important statement to make!

It's great to have cool, empowered women who are perfectly fine with the sexual aspects of their selves. And it's really terrific when those women are also funny — I think that's genuinely important. But when women feel the need to lie about the reasons they're displaying themselves all sexed-up (comedy, in this instance), that's a detrimental statement to be making. Essentially, that's saying, “I want you to think I'm sexy, but I don't want you to think I want you to think I'm sexy.” (I think I just wrote English words there?)

And then there's the fake lesbianism issue (because, sigh, there's always a fake lesbianism issue). Here's a Gillian Jacobs quote from the accompanying GQ piece, the article in which she's photographed frozen in steamy girl-on-girl spank. She's addressing a kiss from a Community scene:

“The episode where I made out with my supposed lesbian friend was the first time I'd kissed a girl. I was terrified.”

Are you kidding me? It’s offensively disingenuous to offer visuals of lesbian eroticism while simultaneously spewing words that let everyone know you are in no way actually attracted to women. Gillian might as well have a speech bubble coming out of her mouth that says, “Men, how turned on are you right now?”

Joel McHale and Donald Glover are two of the most attractive men on TV. I, for one, would have no problem seeing them posed together in some state of undress, spanking implements in hand. Fat chance of that ever happening though, eh?