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These Jennifer Aniston fans weren’t born when “Friends” aired

“We can’t just see women succeeding all the time,” said Dr. Gray. “A good feminist image should show us women who struggle and sometimes make bad decisions. Jennifer Aniston often occupies this role. People are connecting. It’s ‘Yeah, she doesn’t know what she’s doing and neither do I.’ “

For admirers, Ms. Aniston’s apparent bewilderment is built on a granite plinth.

“A lot of celebrities, when under pressure, break down and start making bad decisions,” said Nancy Eastman, 15, a sophomore high school student in New York City. “Suddenly you hear they’re in rehab. With Jennifer Aniston, that never happened. She just tried to get on with her life and do what she loved. For me she is Rachel. “

That she confuses the actress with her character seems obvious. “Fans are always trying to find out the connection between the characters played by the actresses and their real lives,” said Leo Braudy, professor of literature, film history and American culture at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. As for Ms. Aniston, “If she’s a role model, it’s the role of a survivor.”

To some, Ms. Aniston seems to have diligently cultivated this cool girl character – tough but not hardened, cheerful or tart as it suits her. Her performance, if any, is reminiscent of Amy Dunne, the surprisingly crafty title character of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 thriller “Gone Girl,” who styled herself, as Amy observes in What is perhaps the most frequently cited passage from the novel. , “like this hot, bright, funny woman who loves football, poker, dirty jokes and burps.” And, as Amy observes, never gets angry.

But if Ms. Aniston mostly sticks to the script, does that matter?

The actress herself was quick to tap into her red carpet appeal in a black leather minidress or a sensational tacky bias dress. She seems to generate heat, but young male fans rarely respond with unbridled lust.

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