A Pop of Culture: Small But Biggie: How RBG Became Notorious
Updated: Sep 18
In the last decade, Ruth Bader Ginsberg has become a pop-culture icon in addition to remaining a judicial powerhouse. She’s embraced a particular nickname, based on rapper Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G.): Notorious RBG. This little Jewish granny has proven that she may be small in stature, but her influence is Biggie.
The moniker began when New York University law student Shana Knizhnik created a Tumblr account dedicated to highlighting Ginsberg’s dissent in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder case. While she has also been called the Thurgood Marshall of feminism, she stated in a 2017 interview that this comparison isn’t apt; her comparison to B.I.G. however, seems all too natural to her because they were both “born and bred in Brooklyn, New York.”
The moniker took off on Twitter and helped to introduce RBG to the millennial generation. Knizhnik has gone on to become a lawyer and the New York Times best-selling author of Notorious RBG.: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Knizhnik has also continued her Tumblr account and expanded the content to not only include Justice Ginsberg’s Supreme Court career, but also fan art, merchandise, and insight into her famous collars. In addition to Knizhnik, Ruth Bader Ginsberg has cultivated a legion of other fans, one significant fan being the Saturday Night Live cast member Kate McKinnon. In 2016, McKinnon began impersonating Justice Ginsberg and quickly coined the catchphrase “That’s a Gins-Burn” to describe zingers she throws at the Weekend Update hosts. In January 2018 during an interview at the Sundance Film Festival, Justice Ginsberg joked about stealing some of McKinnon’s lines and even using “GinsBurn” on her colleagues. In her documentary, The Notorious RBG, Ginsberg is seen watching McKinnon’s impression and commenting how marvelously funny McKinnon is. The internet blew up in August of this year when Justice Ginsberg and McKinnon met for the first time, by accident, at an off-broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof.
In the last decade, Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been set apart as not only a political icon but a pop culture icon as well. Her pop culture influence is not only deserved but has helped to draw young people into deeper conversations about politics, feminism and social justice. Over the past few years, Ginsberg has had several health scares, and social media has reacted in droves, with a number of well wishes that could top that of any A-List celebrity and making #ProtectGinsperg go viral. Some fans going as far as tweeting things like, “If Ruth Bader Ginsburg needs any of my bones or internal organs, I don’t need mine?” or roping in the Harry Potter fandom by pleading with J.K. Rowling for a protection spell. The further RBG’s influence reaches, the more invested young people are becoming in our judicial system. When asked during the on campus Q&A Monday, Ginsberg was asked what parts of celebrity does she dislike Justice Ginsberg sentiment was at 86 years old, everyone wants to take a picture with her and what’s not to like about that. With an ever-growing reach, this five-foot-one Jewish grandma from Brooklyn is continuing to prove that she may be small in stature but that her power is notoriously Biggie.
Pop-culture column by Hannah Davis Johns, Staff Writer