The Rise of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an Internet Icon
There has been much speculation and debate over the recent Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which resulted in a decision that allows companies to opt out of providing contraceptive care insurance coverage to employees if it interferes with the company’s religious beliefs. The final vote came down to the court’s five conservative justices siding with Hobby Lobby, against the three female justices and Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
One noteworthy outcome from the Hobby Lobby ruling, however, was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 35-page dissent, in which she lambasted the majority for allowing employers to impose their religious beliefs on employees.
The 81-year-old justice said in an interview with Yahoo’s Katie Couric that she believes the justices who voted in favor of the company have a “blind spot.” By this Ginsburg meant that the justice’s views are always changing, and that she hopes in the future the court members’ “eyes will be open.”
A similar case occurred before when Ginsburg’s dissent to a 2007 ruling against a fair pay lawsuit resulted in the court passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act two years later.
Over the past year or so, Ginsburg has become an unlikely icon of sorts, inspiring T-shirts with her likeness and YouTube songs compromised of lines of legalese set to old school hip-hop. The creation of the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr page by NYU law student Shana Knizhnik, who made the blog last summer in response to Ginsburg’s dissent to Shelby County v. Holder, decided to compare Ginsburg to the late rapper Biggie Smalls, due to the justice’s scathing dissents and formidable representation of feminist rebellion — similar to the rapper’s formidable and powerful presence.
Ultimately, it was her most recent dissent to the Hobby Lobby ruling that would be the latest boost to Ginsburg’s pop culture icon status.
Ginsburg is not the only female political figure to become an internet phenomenon, though.
A photo of Hillary Clinton looking at her phone from behind a pair of sunglasses became the basis for the Texts from Hillary Tumblr page, in which she sends assertive texts to everyone from Barack Obama to Ryan Gosling.
The hot pink tennis shoes Wendy Davis wore during her 12-hour attempt to filibuster a bill that would restrict abortion rights in Texas became symbolic with the fight for women’s rights and a voice.
Why juxtapose these older women with youthful pop culture references?
The decision to compare Ginsburg to Notorious B.I.G. and to turn Clinton into an assertive ‘too cool for you’ figure texting behind her shades ultimately comes down to the laugh factor, although looking at some basic facts, Ginsburg and Biggie Smalls actually do have a lot in common. Both are from Brooklyn, both have experience with the law and both are known for telling it like it is.
In an interview with Business Insider, Knizhnik said the juxtaposition between the large, male figure of Biggie Smalls and Ginsburg, the 81-year-old Jewish grandmother, made the hip-hop reference of the blog not only laughable, but also showcased Ginsburg as a powerful figure herself.
Many of Knizhnik’s blog readers fall into a certain range; Knizhnik herself is a law student in her mid-20′s. They fall somewhere between remembering hip-hop and pop culture of the 90′s and entering a world where politics affect them (just as they too affect the choices being made in politics.)
The audience for these blogs and memes are also getting just as much of their news from older media such as The New York Times and CNN as they are from John Stewart and The Daily Beast, if not more from the latter. These audiences who are being influenced by these new forms of media and political discussion as well as by powerful political figures such as Clinton, Davis and Ginsburg, also happen to make up the youngest generation of voters.
According to exit polls conducted by the Center for American Progress, 53 percent of voters in the 2012 elections were women and the early National Exit Poll showed that voters aged 18 to 29 made up 19 percent of all voters.
These younger voters have taken notice of women like Clinton and Ginsburg, who are willing to stand up to an established power structure and work for change in the system. These younger voters are eager to find reliable, female politicians, and many of them are creating the blogs and memes that celebrate these women.
The combination of new media and humor undoubtedly appeals to a generation who are just as up-to-date on new technology as they are on political happenings.
Simply the fact that these women are getting things done in politics (or trying to) instills a sense of hope and excitement in younger voters; especially when remixed to the sounds of Notorious B.I.G.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons