Justice Ginsburg Is a Total Baller: Welcome to the Generation Gap in Journalism

By Jack Limpert

Headline this week on washingtonian.com:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Attends Arena Stage, Is a Total Baller

I like to read about Justice Ginsburg—we both were born on March 15 back in the depression and you have to admire how well she’s held up. Though she’s 82 she’s still known for her energy and intelligence.

And she’s a total baller?

As an old editor, I asked a young editor at the Washingtonian what it means and he said, “Total badass.”

Another editor said it’s a slang term stolen from black street basketball.

The Urban Dictionary says: A thug that has “made it” to the big time. Originally referred to ball players that made it out of the streets to make millions as a pro ball player, but now is used to describe any thug that is living large.

Here’s the Justice Ginsburg story:

One day you’re discussing the future of the death penalty and your affinity to Notorious B.I.G., and the next you’re watching a heartfelt musical starring two twentysomethings who were once in Pitch Perfect and Glee.

That’s how Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rolls.

Last night, accompanied by a slew of bodyguards and donning her signature scrunchie, she attended the opening of Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage. A little context: The musical stars Ben Platt—Benji Applebaum in the acapella film series Pitch Perfect—and Laura Dreyfuss, a Broadway starlet who plays Madison McCarthy on the sixth season of Glee.

If there was any doubt whether Platt could pull off a leading role, those concerns were squashed within the first few moments of the eight-character play. This is a rare opportunity to witness a production while it still feels young and new, but make no mistake: Platt and Dear Evan Hansen will surely flourish beyond the walls of Arena Stage, and it’s a wonderful thing to see it, like RBG did, while it unfolds right in our own backyard.

RBG is a frequent theater patron. Last year, she recited a monologue at Arena Stage as part of a National Civil War Project event. In May, she participated in the Trial of Don Quixote alongside Justice Stephen Breyer for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Bard Association’s annual Mock Trial.

But last night, she didn’t linger. Once the play was over, while the audience erupted in a standing ovation, the Justice slid out of the theater, turning a few heads as she walked out the door.
I wrote a few heads that pushed the envelope. When Joe Bob Briggs wrote about the Sunday TV talk shows, I called it “Brunch of the Living Dead.” When Lisa DePaulo profiled James Carville, the head was “He Came From the Swamp.”

Is the total baller headline pushing the envelope? Some older journalists, once they understood where the term came from, thought so. One said headlines are supposed to be inclusive and not confuse or turn off readers, which he thought the baller headline did. Then I ran it by a younger journalist who in effect said, it’s okay, that’s slang that’s been around a long time.

Speak Your Mind