Arts and Entertainment

Notorious RBG, a Real Superhero

Notorious RBG’s well-earned pop culture era.

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If you were to walk into my room right now, your gaze would immediately be drawn to my Notorious RBG pillow. If you were to then look at my computer, you’d see it covered in various RBG stickers; next to it sits my RBG bobblehead. You might then look around to see the many more RBG knick-knacks that lie scattered around my room. How, you might wonder, did my room become an RBG shrine? And why is an 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice a pop culture icon for myself and so many others?

It all started in 2013 when an NYU Law student, Shana Knizhnik, posted about one of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG)’s recent dissents, using the hashtag “Notorious RBG” after rapper The Notorious B.I.G. When Knizhnik found out the term had never been used before, she went on to create a Tumblr page under the new moniker. Knizhnik is said to have originally used the term because of RBG’s “amazing writing style and force.” Knizhnik unwittingly set in motion Justice Ginsburg's sudden spike in internet fame with this clever appellation. Today, the term “Notorious RBG” is everywhere, from a sticker on the back of my computer to someone’s shirt I see while walking down the street. The Notorious RBG design includes a picture of the late Justice with photoshopped sunglasses and a crooked crown, like The Notorious B.I.G.

The name “Notorious RBG” sparked countless memes. Rather than mock her, however, many aimed to pay tribute to her through humor. Young women who knew how many doors she opened for them were eager to offer their praise. RBG started as one of only nine women in her class of 500 at Harvard Law School. Harvard’s graduating class of 2017 was 50 percent female. Much has changed since RBG first broke into the legal field, and women today recognize how much RBG fought for them, honoring her through pop culture.

One of the most popular forms of RBG fan art are drawings of her dissent collar. Her dissents perfectly symbolize her boldness, significant to the sentiment behind the name Notorious RBG. In one of her most notable dissents, she took the rare step of calling on Congress to act after the decision, and a law was passed based on her instruction. The famous collar image comes from the specific collar Justice Ginsburg wore whenever planning to dissent. She even wore it the day after Trump’s 2016 victory, making her one of the early faces of opposition against the current administration and further boosting her popularity.

Her pop-culture fame has only grown since, with both a movie and documentary made in 2018 to celebrate her many achievements. The movie “On The Basis of Sex,” in which she is played by Felicity Jones, depicts a groundbreaking tax case she took on with her husband, relating to her future work against gender discrimination. The movie additionally explores her relationship with her husband, Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer).

The documentary “RBG” depicts her career as a whole and other parts of the Justice’s life. Her workout routine became iconic after appearing in the documentary and inspired people to question: if a Judge in her 80s hadn’t slowed down, then what was their excuse? Her workout prompted a book by her trainer, Bryant Johnson, and an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. By doing her workout with Colbert and her trainer on the show, the Justice had acknowledged her pop-culture status. RBG was known to be fond of her own icon status, as she reportedly had a collection of Notorious RBG shirts that she gave out as gifts.

RBG even managed to make it onto Saturday Night Live. Played by Kate McKinnon, she was known for constantly throwing out insults called “Ginsburns.” In her most recent skit, Kate McKinnon did a parody of the RBG workout from her home (as it was during quarantine), in which she lifts Q-tips as weights and uses floss as a jump rope. Her inclusion in SNL is emblematic of the Justice’s cultural relevance.

Ginsburg’s perseverance and unapologetic feminism certainly earned the pop culture handle “Notorious RBG.” She was a hero and role model to generations of women and men in this country. Upon hearing that Ginsburg had passed away at the age of 87, after losing a 10 year battle with cancer, I burst into tears—and I know I was not the only one. Besides being a feminist icon, she was pro-LGBTQ+, anti-death penalty, and a defender of human rights during a time when they were increasingly under attack. Her admirers understand the significance of her work and celebrate her in the pop culture arena through memes, merch, and more. Notorious RBG will no doubt be remembered for decades to come, and her legacy will live on with the many women that she inspired.