How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Became a Pop Culture Icon

The New York Times:     Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived a storied life. In 1972, she became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School. In 1980, she was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. And in 1993, she became the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, where she cemented her legacy as a crusader for women’s rights.

It wasn’t until much later in her career, though, that she achieved celebrity status. From movies to merchandise, here’s how Justice Ginsburg permeated pop culture in recent years.


In 2013, Shana Knizhnik, a law student at the time, created a Tumblr account

celebrating Justice Ginsburg after her memorable dissent in Shelby County v. Holder, a voting-rights case. Ms. Knizhnik gave the justice an alter ego, Notorious R.B.G. — a play on the rapper Notorious B.I.G. — and overnight, Justice Ginsburg’s face was plastered on stickers, memes and T-shirts. Two years later, Ms. Knizhnik and Irin Carmon, a journalist, wrote “Notorious RBG,” a breezy chronicle of the justice’s life told through illustrations, archival photographs and intimate interviews. In her review for The Times, Jennifer Senior called the book “an artisanal hagiography, a frank and admiring piece of fan nonfiction.” It later inspired an exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The Tumblr site started by Ms. Knizhnik, meanwhile, now also hosts an online store, replete with R.B.G.-themed hats, mugs, totes, onesies and more.

In 2016, the author Debbie Levy and the illustrator Elizabeth Baddeley published this biographical picture book, a whimsical take on the justice’s early obstacles and notable dissents. In 2019, Ms. Levy followed up with another picture book, “Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice.”

Justice Ginsburg was known for staying fit well into her 80s, hitting the gym twice a week with her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson. In 2017, Mr. Johnson published this illustrated exercise book featuring the justice’s own workout.

“The hour-long routine he has developed suits me to a T,” Justice Ginsburg wrote in the foreword. “This book, I hope, will help others to experience, as I have, renewed energy to carry on with their work and days.”


See the justice work out for yourself in this 2018 episode of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” Wearing one of her “super diva” sweatshirts, Justice Ginsburg invites Mr. Colbert to do push-ups and planks along to opera music. And he struggles to keep up: “I’m cramping, and I’m working out with an 85-year-old woman.”

Justice Ginsburg is among Kate McKinnon’s most beloved “Saturday Night Live” impressions. The actress portrayed the justice in a 2012 skit and later returned with friskier impersonations on “Weekend Update” segments, introducing the phrase “Ginsburned.” Other skits have featured Ms. McKinnon’s justice in a rap video and a workout tutorial.


The 2018 documentary “RBG,” by the directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen, gives viewers an unfiltered look at Justice Ginsburg’s personal and professional triumphs. The film captures her celebrity status and delves into her marriage to Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer who stood out among other members of his generation by putting his wife’s career before his.

Months after “RBG” hit theaters, this biopic followed. The drama, starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer, revisits the justice’s early days as a lawyer struggling to find work. The movie goes deep into her breakthrough case, arguing that a man denied a tax benefit is a victim of gender discrimination.


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Originally posted on The New York Times. All rights reserved.

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