I’ve been thinking about Jeff Goldblum a lot recently. Honestly, though, that’s not unusual for me. For many years, Jeff Goldblum has regularly entered my thoughts for no apparent reason. Strangely, this isn’t occurring because I’m a fan of his acting. I have literally never seen a movie just because Jeff Goldblum was in it. On the other hand, I’ve never avoided a movie because he was in it. Basically, when it comes to movies, I’m Jeff-neutral. To me, he is sometimes the cornstarch of thespians (he strengthens the consistency of whatever cinematic stew includes him). Other times, he’s the bouillon (he provides a little zest – a zing – that makes the story more pleasing to the palate). Occasionally, he’s a Fig Newton (I never seek them out, but when I encounter one, I’m always pleasantly surprised by the taste and offer a silent apology for not recognizing they’re as good as many of their contemporaries.)
So, Jeff Goldblum’s movies don’t intrigue me, which means something else is causing me to think about him so frequently,
He actually popped up on my radar again recently, because he was doing a press tour for Jurassic Park Dominion, the third movie in the Jurassic Park franchise. (Another Goldblum film I don’t plan to see. Not because of him, though. I’m Jeff-neutral, remember. It just looks unappealing overall.)
Finding myself reflecting on Jeff Goldblum once again, I decided it was time to get to the bottom of his appeal, the je ne sais quoi of Jeff (je ne sais Jeff?), if you will, because I needed to understand once and for all why he’s always orbiting the periphery of my psyche. I’m happy to report that after some very robust Googling, I landed on an answer, which I’m excited to share with you now.
First, it’s important to look beyond the 69-year-old actor’s body of work, which is admittedly impressive. He’s appeared in seventy movies, many of which are iconic. The Fly, Jurassic Park, The Big Chill, Annie Hall, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are just a few in a long list of noteworthy titles on his resume. The guy is a heavy-hitter when it comes to making movies.
But movies are just the starting point of the Goldblum mystique. Evidence of his quirky appeal can also be found elsewhere, particularly among the Jeff Goldblum products and paraphernalia for sale across the internet. I’m not talking about t-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with his likeness (although there’s tons of those). I’m talking about more niche products, like Jeff Goldblum spatulas, condiments, and doormats which, trust me, are very popular. I even tried to purchase a Goldblum door mat recently, but they were sold out.
I’ve actually witnessed first-hand the universal appeal of Jeff Goldblum products. Two years ago, while I was in the hospital after a serious health event, a friend sent me a pillow that featured an image of Jeff and a baboon (remember this, it will be important in a minute). In the image, Jeff sports one of his typical facial expressions. You know the one. It seems to say, “Hello there. I’m a human man. And this is an adjacent monkey. We are comfortable with ourselves and love you, just as you are.”
I was ecstatic, and to my surprise, so was nearly every healthcare professional in my unit—several times a day people – nurses, aides, and a few doctors – stopped by my room. “I heard about the pillow,” they’d say while checking my vitals and then taking a gander at the said pillow. Laughter always ensued and was followed by, “I need to tell X to come see this.” (‘X’ always did come see it and was equally amused.)
Why was everyone so captivated by a pillow with an image of Jeff Goldblum and a monkey? I didn’t know why, but it felt right.
As I continued my recent quest for insights into Jeff Goldblum’s enduring popularity, I read many articles analyzing his appeal. A number of them mentioned something I think is an essential clue in this mystery. For many people, Jeff Goldblum isn’t just a ‘person’. Instead, he is a concept, an idea, an aura. And aspects of that aura have been frequently celebrated in memes. In fact, several analyses declared him the ‘most memable’ celebrity. A few even said he is a ‘living meme’.
Here’s why that matters: Memes are not new. They’ve existed in some form for centuries. The term was actually coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 to describe an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. Or, as he explained, “A meme is just an idea that rips through the public consciousness.” That’s what a good modern-day meme does. It rips through the public consciousness when it’s shared repeatedly on the internet.
But meme-sharing doesn’t have to just take place on the internet. It can happen offline, too. That’s what my experience in the hospital felt like – a series of people observing and then sharing something they found compelling. My Jeff Goldblum pillow ripped through that hospital ward quicker than a Fig Newton lights up a taste bud.
Why did everyone on the 5th floor of North Memorial Hospital want to see the Jeff Goldblum pillow?!
I finally found an answer to that question a couple of days ago when I read something that gave me a jolt of clarity. It was an interview with Travis M. Andrews, a culture writer for the Washington Post. He wrote a book called “Because He’s Jeff Goldblum: The Movies, Memes, and Meaning of Hollywood’s Most Enigmatic Actor.”
For the book, he interviewed many people who have interacted with Jeff Goldblum in various contexts throughout his 50-year entertainment career. The stories were overwhelmingly positive and demonstrated repeatedly that Jeff Goldblum may be enigmatic, but he is also kind, funny, empathetic, and just generally receptive to others.
In the interview, Andrews also shared an interesting story about something that occurred on the set of “The Fly.”
A number of scenes in the movie had to be shot with a baboon, which was very challenging because the baboon was upset and acting out. Baboons have sharp fangs and claws, so an out-of-control baboon can be very dangerous. No one on the set could calm the baboon, except for Jeff Goldblum. He was able to soothe it and then pick it up and walk around the set with it in his arms. And then the same thing happened on the set of another movie. There was a baboon, and Jeff Goldblum calmed that one, too!
That anecdote finally answered my question about why I think about Jeff Goldblum so often, and perhaps why many other people do, too. It’s simple, really:
Jeff Goldblum calms our baboons.
I don’t mean literal baboons. I’m talking more figuratively about the fears, anxieties, and loneliness that trouble our minds and weigh down our spirits. Our inner baboons, you might say.
The Jeff Goldblum vibe, the aura that conveys the traits identified by the people interviewed for Travis Andrews’ book – the kindness, empathy, humor, and receptivity – are present in the ‘memifications’ of Jeff Goldblum, and they calm our collective baboons.
Whew. Reaching this long-awaited conclusion makes me feel so much better! A weight has been lifted. My baboon has been calmed and once again, I must thank Jeff Goldblum. But let me be clear, this isn’t goodbye. After 2+ years of a pandemic, along with all the other crises that have occurred, I have frequently feel besieged by baboons! While my Jeff Goldblum hospital pillow still sits on my couch, I often need more consolation. Fortunately, I can take some comfort in the knowledge that when the opportunity arises, Jeff Goldblum will stroll through the fearful crowds, bend down, and cradle whatever baboon awaits him. Whether that comfort will be offered on a pillow, a spatula, an air freshener, or in a good old-fashioned internet meme remains to be seen, but Jeff will appear when and where he’s needed. For now, our baboons can remain calm.⇠ Back to BLOGalot