Commentary: Pop culture needs to give Ruth Bader Ginsburg some space

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's influence has seeped into pop culture, but perhaps she should also be allowed the room to be human.
(Stephan Savoia / Associated Press)

The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for enthusiasts of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The 85-year old associate justice broke three ribs in a fall earlier this month, a terrifying reminder that the “Notorious R.B.G.” — as she’s lovingly nicknamed — is all too human.

On the brighter side, Ginsburg appears to be on the mend, and her ride-or-die fans have only a few more weeks to wait before the release of “On the Basis of Sex,” a new biopic examining Ginsburg’s life, which lands in theaters on Christmas Day.

In the meantime, Ginsburg’s admirers could always watch the numerous “Saturday Night Live” appearances by Kate McKinnon’s version of Ginsburg or a new rap about her that the sketch comedy show premiered over the weekend.


Or they could tuck in and watch the 2018 documentary “R.B.G.” Or learn how to mimic her workout routine. Or read 2015’s “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” Or in Los Angeles visit the Skirball Cultural Center’s current exhibit based on the book.

Actually, guys, maybe we should dial back the Ginsburg stuff a little.

As someone who uses a canvas tote bag with Ginsburg’s face emblazoned on the side, even I think it’s time to evaluate what exactly we’re trying to accomplish with the continued deification of the Brooklyn native.

Take the RBG rap from Saturday’s “SNL.” What was the point? That Ginsburg is indomitable? We know. That McKinnon is charming? We know. That to a certain segment of the populace, the thought of older individuals doing things is inherently hilarious? Sadly, we know this already too.

It’s one thing to celebrate someone’s accomplishments, and few people are more worthy of plaudits than Ginsburg, but how did we even end up in this place? The well-being of one aging woman now feels like the only thing standing between us and the uncertainty of another Supreme Court justice nominated by President Trump.

Ginsburg has done amazing things throughout her career and proved again and again her passion for protecting the rights of women and fighting for justice and equality. And it’s not wrong to appreciate the legends in our midst as they live, as opposed to waiting until they die, but there is a time and a place for everything.


That “SNL” rap does make a salient point, though: How many of Ginsburg’s champions truly understand what makes her such a pioneer? Pete Davidson’s character in the sketch is asked what his favorite RBG decision is — and he can’t name a single one. Sometimes it’s easier to be on the bandwagon than to do your research.

Ginsburg is a remarkable woman, for sure, but she is one of many. Despite her diminutive 5-foot-1 height, she stands tall among a raft of others equally invested in the fight for equality. If we’re looking for heroes to celebrate, we should widen our scope and look to lift up other women (and men) who stand between us and the powers that be.

But even more than that, it feels as though by lionizing Ginsburg, we miss the most beautiful thing about her. She isn’t a superhero. She’s not a goddess. She’s human. She faces the same challenges, the same workouts, the same frustrations as anyone, yet still manages to do good things.

You too can live like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You just have to stop rapping about her long enough to go out and do good.