R.I.P. to the Notorious R.B.G. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is perhaps the best-known Supreme Court Justice in American history, an unlikely celebrity in a country where most people can’t name a single member of the nation’s highest court. Her death on Friday provoked a massive outpouring of grief, a show of mourning on a scale rarely if ever seen in response to a justice’s passing. But more than that, Ginsburg held — and continues to hold — a space in pop culture completely unique to her, a fixture of memes, merchandise, and the cultural lexicon in a manner truly unprecedented for an American jurist. How, exactly, did that happen?
As only the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court (after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), Ginsburg held a place as a feminist symbol bolstered by her lifelong advocacy for women’s rights. Yet her pop-cultural stardom wasn’t cemented until two decades into her tenure on the Court, with a series of strongly worded, tightly composed dissenting opinions. Many observers cite O’Connor’s 2006 retirement, which left Ginsburg the only woman on the Court, as a key turning point in her judicial career. The next year, she read two stinging dissents aloud from the bench, then a rare move to signal intense disagreement with the Court’s decision. The New York Times noted that the term would “be remembered as the time when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg found her voice, and used it.”
In 2013, after another round of furious dissents — particularly in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder case, which gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act — NYU law student Shana Knizhnik launched the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr, riffing on the moniker of iconic rapper The Notorious B.I.G., who, like Ginsburg, was a native of Brooklyn. The internet, as it’s wont to do, ran with it. A proliferation of memes and merchandise quickly ensued, with another dissenting opinion from Ginsburg, in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, boosting the viral sensation.
“The name is obviously a reference to Notorious B.I.G., who is this large, imposing rapper, a really powerful figure; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is this 90-pound Jewish grandmother,” Knizhnik told The New Republic that year. “The juxtaposition of the two made it humorous, but is also a celebration of how powerful she really is.”
The viral phenomenon became a full-blown cultural phenomenon over the next several years. Kate McKinnon debuted her impression of Ginsburg on Saturday Night Live in 2015, playing the justice as a foulmouthed rabble-rouser fond of lobbing “Gins-burns” at opponents. A documentary about Ginsburg (titled simply RBG) was released in 2018, along with a biopic, On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones as a young Ginsburg embarking on her legal career. Movies ranging from Deadpool 2 to Booksmart to The Lego Movie 2 gave her shout-outs.
But Ginsburg’s iconic status was truly galvanized by Donald Trump’s election in 2016. As the oldest justice on the bench and the de facto leader of the Court’s left-leaning faction, Ginsburg became a champion for liberals who dreaded Trump’s potential to shape the future of the Court. She was no longer merely a judicial hero; she was a symbolic barrier against a decades-long conservative Supreme Court majority. Her workout routine to stay fit and healthy soon became another part of the R.B.G. mythos.
For her part, Ginsburg — typically soft-spoken and reserved in public, despite her fiery dissents — usually spoke of her newfound status with demure amusement. “I haven’t seen anything that isn’t either pleasing or funny on the website,” she told Katie Couric of the “Notorious” Tumblr in 2014. “I think she has created a wonderful thing with Notorious R.B.G. I will admit I had to be told by my law clerks, what’s this Notorious, and they explained that to me, but the website is something I enjoy, all of my family do.” The same year, the justice said she had “quite a large supply” of “Notorious R.B.G.” T-shirts, and that she gave them out as gifts.
Of course, Ginsburg’s foremost concerns were always the law, human rights, and movement for change. Speaking at the Sundance premiere of RBG in 2018, the justice said, “I’d like to see this Court do the job that it has been doing for now well over 200 years, to do it in a way that’s faithful to the Constitution that I believe was made to govern us through the ages, for one generation to the next. I have said many times that our Constitution starts with the words, ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union.’ I hope I can continue to be part of making that more perfect union.”
She also expressed her hope that more women would follow the path she blazed. “The more women who are out there doing things, the better off all of us will be for it,” she said. “That’s something that my dear colleague Sandra Day O’Connor often said: the more women who are out there doing things, the more young women will have the courage to go on. And I am heartened by the number of women who will be in races for our Congress and governorships and state legislative positions. It was a favorite expression of Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’”
That’s the true legacy of the Notorious R.B.G.: Doing her utmost to bend that arc toward justice, and inspiring others — through memes, dissents, or otherwise — to do the same.
Broadway comes to TV with ‘American Utopia’ and ‘What the Constitution Means to Me’
Both shows are worth the time, although seeing them at home, frankly, reinforces what’s lost in translation given the tingle that live theater, at its best, can send up your spine — a sensation that doesn’t quite emerge on either front. Together, they underscore what “Hamilton” so impressively accomplished by conjuring that elusive magic. Notably,…
Both shows are worth the time, although seeing them at home, frankly, reinforces what’s lost in translation given the tingle that live theater, at its best, can send up your spine — a sensation that doesn’t quite emerge on either front. Together, they underscore what “Hamilton” so impressively accomplished by conjuring that elusive magic. Notably, HBO Max’s “The West Wing” special also captures some of that by bringing a TV show to the stage for the purposes of watching at home. (Like CNN, HBO is a unit of WarnerMedia.)Byrne, the Talking Heads front man, has always possessed a theatrical and cinematic flair, including his 1986 directorial effort “True Stories.” Those qualities inform “American Utopia,” a collection of songs — imaginatively choreographed and lit — that conveys the joyous and playful aspects of his music.On the plus side, that sense of fun is entertaining enough. The main drawback is that while Byrne addresses pressing issues during his chatting with the audience — including the importance of voting, and introducing his performance of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout,” name-checking Black people killed by police — there’s scant thematic adhesive to the presentation, unlike some other productions wedding rock to Broadway (Bruce Springsteen’s “Springsteen on Broadway,” filmed for Netflix, comes to mind).Lee does an admirable job of shooting the performance from every conceivable angle, although while the overhead shots are quite cool, one could probably do without closeups on Byrne’s feet, which along with the rest of the performers, are bare.Byrne’s playlist includes the hit “Burning Down the House,” and a boisterous rendition of “Road to Nowhere,” which includes a march through the appreciative audience.”American Utopia” doesn’t set the screen ablaze, but Byrne and his collaborators certainly know how to put on a show, even when it feels like they’re going nowhere.”What the Constitution Means to Me,” by contrast, is an audacious idea, one that starts slowly — at least in this format — before sinking in its hooks about halfway through.Playwright-star Schreck (a Tony nominee on both scores) earned college tuition money by competing in Constitutional debates, and revives her 15-year-old self to explore — humorously at first, pointedly later — its troubling and inequitable aspects, including mistreatment of women.Schreck’s reminiscing about “Dirty Dancing” and visiting legion halls to wax eloquently about the Constitution to mostly older men come into sharper focus when she exits the time capsule, and pivots to speaking in her 40-something voice.At that moment her memories and observations become sharper, from the patriarchal values of the court to violence against women to her own experience with abortion.”When abortion became illegal, it didn’t become rare,” she says, referencing the days before Roe v. Wade. “It only became deadly.”Schreck closes by engaging in a debate with a teen orator, Rosdely Ciprian, about whether the Constitution is indeed the living, breathing document that we’ve been taught to admire in school — adaptable to the modern age — or a hopelessly dated construct that needs to be discarded, starting over from scratch. It’s an interesting device, while lacking the impact of the material that precedes it.Directed by Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), “What the Constitution Means to Me” serves as a reminder that those pining for the past tend to ignore historic inequalities. There’s even quotation from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — who caused a stir when she saw the show last year — which makes the special feel extra timely and poignant.Minor drawbacks aside, both shows have plenty to recommend them. And if live theater means anything to you, they provide at least a taste of what you’re missing.”What the Constitution Means to Me” premieres Oct. 16 on Amazon.”American Utopia” premieres Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO, which like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.
Taraji P. Henson confirms split from fiancé Kelvin Hayden
The “What Men Want” actress confirmed during an appearance Monday on “The Breakfast Club” that she and the former NFL player have ended their engagement.”I just turned 50 and I mean, I hadn’t said it yet, but it didn’t work out,” she told the hosts of the popular New York City radio show. “I tried.…
The “What Men Want” actress confirmed during an appearance Monday on “The Breakfast Club” that she and the former NFL player have ended their engagement.”I just turned 50 and I mean, I hadn’t said it yet, but it didn’t work out,” she told the hosts of the popular New York City radio show. “I tried. I was, like ‘Therapy, let’s do the therapy thing,’ but if you’re both not on the same page with that then you feel like, you’re taking it on yourself. And that’s not a fair position for anybody to play in a relationship.”The couple got engaged in 2018 and were scheduled to be married in June this year.In March Henson told “Extra” they were postponing the wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic.”It’s probably going to be more like July,” she said at the time. “We have to see what this will be like at the other end.”The “Empire” star was part of a panel discussion on “The Breakfast Club” about trauma and relationships.She said she loves Black men and Black love and is a fan of mental health support for her community. “It hurts when relationships don’t last,” she said. “I love to see Black love and I want to see more of it. I want to see our relationships last and make it.”
‘Supermaket Sweep’ hopes to get you swept into the fun
The phrase “global pandemic” had just been thrown around in the news the day before and even though I’d been prepping supplies and canned goods since the month prior, I decided that morning that our household could use a fresh round of the basics so we could hunker down for a couple of weeks. Everyone…
The phrase “global pandemic” had just been thrown around in the news the day before and even though I’d been prepping supplies and canned goods since the month prior, I decided that morning that our household could use a fresh round of the basics so we could hunker down for a couple of weeks. Everyone in West Los Angeles apparently had the same idea. I’ll remember that morning for the rest of my life because walking into a crowded grocery store with mostly bare shelves was something I had been privileged enough to not have experienced before. Though, there had been a time when I wanted nothing more than to run through a grocery store, clearing shelves as I went along. I loved “Supermarket Sweep” as a child and was convinced I could achieve financial independence if only given the chance to run the big sweep one day. (My plan was always to start by grabbing an inflatable bonus, running it back and then heading straight for the expensive meats.) This store looked like it had fallen victim to lots of sweepers but not in a fun way. Carts were piled high but faces were masked and not smiling. The eyes that poked above face coverings were filled with worry. By the time my turkey, ribs and I got to the checkout counter, and I heard that familiar beep, I didn’t think about “Supermarket Sweep.” I thought, “Get me the hell out of here.” ABC will premiere its reboot of “Supermarket Sweep” on Sunday, hoping to feed viewers’ appetite for escapist programming with their new take on the game show once hosted by David Ruprecht. In the process, it will confront the question of whether it’s escapist at all to be reminded of our complicated relationship with grocery shopping and food this year, whether you couldn’t find toilet paper or are one of the millions struggling with food insecurity in wake of the economic downfall. “We want it to be received with fun and laughter and joy and a little escape from the mask of it all,” executive producer Alycia Rossier told reporters on a recent conference call. “The grocery workers in the States have kept us alive for the last six months. They went to the store every day. And we see our store as a place of celebration.” The show honors a grocery store worker in every episode and awards them $2,000, Rossiter said. The groceries featured in the show’s store were also all donated to the Los Angeles Food Bank or, in the case of perishables, donated to animal charities that could use them as feed.”We were thinking about it every step of the way,” she said. That includes host and executive producer Leslie Jones, who noted that while people aren’t wearing masks inside their fictional grocery store, they are essential items. (Contestants and those on set were tested for coronavirus prior to filming, which occurred in late July, and safety protocols were instituted on set.) “I’m going to say right here, yeah, you’re supposed to have on your damn mask,” she said. If you appreciate Jones and her brand of humor for being as inherently joyful as intended, you’ll enjoy her in the role of host. Other than the prices of groceries, which will inspire sticker shock and the maximum amount of prize money ($100,000), no notable changes have been made to the game itself. And that’s great news because the game was perfect as it was. Jones sees the hour-long show as a chance for people “to bond together and know that there’s still some good stuff going on and that there’s hope.” Ultimately, viewers will decide if they’re ready to buy that.