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NPR Arts & Life

RBG Wasn't Just A Supreme Court Justice. She Was A Pop Icon Too

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday, the nation lost a Supreme Court justice and a pop culture figure. Here's NPR's Andrew Limbong.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

COLIN JOST: Here now to comment on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is current Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

(CHEERING)

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Maybe nothing has had a bigger effect on cementing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in pop culture than "Saturday Night Live."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

JOST: So what did you think of these Kavanaugh hearings?

KATE MCKINNON: (As Ruth Bader Ginsburg) Oh, my gosh. Colin, the guy was going nuts - crying and yelling and ralphing and boofing (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MCKINNON: (As Ruth Bader Ginsburg) Seriously, he thinks his confirmation hearing was unfair? My confirmation hearing was they threw me in a river to see if I float.

(LAUGHTER)

LIMBONG: Played by "SNL" cast member Kate McKinnon, this version of Ginsburg - or probably more appropriately called RBG here - was spry and punchy. And especially as President Trump's administration was just getting started, RBG's message was she wasn't going anywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

MCKINNON: (As Ruth Bader Ginsburg) Is that ghoul Giuliani really going to be our attorney general? Although if I want to live forever, maybe I should just let him bite me.

(LAUGHTER)

MCKINNON: (As Ruth Bader Ginsburg) Speaking of bite me, Giuliani, you just got Ginsburg'd (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

LIMBONG: In a statement, Kate McKinnon said playing her was a profound joy. Quote, "for so many of us, Justice Ginsburg was a real-life superhero, a beacon of hope, a warrior for justice, a robed crusader who saved the day time and again." People were enraptured with her - her accessories, her health, her diet, her exercise regimen. There's a segment in 2018 on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" where she and the host did planks and pulled resistance bands.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

STEPHEN COLBERT: I'm cramping, and I'm working out with an 85-year-old woman.

LIMBONG: At the gym, Colbert asks her about her nickname, the notorious RBG, cribbed from the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, aka Christopher Wallace. She said they had one thing in common.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: And that is we were both born and bred in Brooklyn, N.Y.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BROOKLYN'S FINEST")

THE NOTORIOUS B I G: (Rapping) Who shot you? Mob ties like Sinatra. Peruvians tried to do me in.

LIMBONG: The title comes from an old Tumblr account by the same name that eventually turned into a book by Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon. Carmon talked to NPR in 2015 and explained the RBG fandom couldn't exist without young women connecting to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

IRIN CARMON: Because I think the Internet has given young women an opportunity to choose our own heroes, the hero that so many young women chose was this 82-year-old grandmother. And I think part of that is because there's this desire on the Internet to find something that feels authentic and real and raw.

LIMBONG: Beyond the Internet, you can find RBG's face on T-shirts and tote bags and onesies and mugs. In 2018, she got her own biopic and an Oscar-nominated documentary, which is to say even if Justice Ginsburg is gone, RBG lives on.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. SONG, "NOTORIOUS B.I.G.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.