Internet Famous: Ruth Baby Ginsburg
The legend of Ruth Baby Ginsburg is another case of an unlikely and perfect convergence, right from its inception.
Parents Kate Livingston and Sam Affholter met when Affholter was considering applying for the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies program at Ohio State, where Livingston is a doctoral candidate (Affholter now works at the Columbus School for Girls). “We met and had a lot in common in terms of our love for feminism,” said Livingston. “And that's what gave birth to his Halloween costume, actually. That's what literally gave birth to Sycamore.”
Livingston and Affholter’s son Sycamore was only 12 weeks old when he became a viral sensation after Livingston decided to dress him up (perfectly, may we add) for Halloween 2014 as feminist icon Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“(Ginsburg) had just written a really powerful dissent for the Hobby Lobby decision,” said Livingston. “So she was getting a lot of press for that dissent, and I knew that our colleagues would really appreciate a political costume.”
Livingston pieced together the costume from thrift store finds, snapped an impossibly adorable photo, and added the timely caption, “I dissent.”
“I was at work and she was sending me pictures,” recalled Affholter. “After she made the picture and made it public on Facebook, she was like, ‘This is going to make our baby internet famous.’”
“Other people had done Ruth Bader Ginsburg baby costumes before, but I thought my particular composition was excellent and my costume was excellent,” Livingston laughed. “So, yeah, I did call it, but that's because I come from a family of braggarts. But I didn't anticipate that it was going to do what it did at Halloween last year.”
What it did last Halloween was take off, first on Twitter, then on sites like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Elle.com, Today.com and more. “Now if you Google ‘Ruth Baby Ginsburg,’ the first hundred images are that one, because it's on so many sites,” said Affholter.
The sudden popularity of Sycamore’s costume had the couple bracing for a backlash that thankfully never really materialized. “It was scary for a second when he first started making the rounds on the internet, because I was afraid that people were going to steal his image or turn him into a meme or say nasty things about him or us,” said Livingston, “But that didn't really happen.”
“It was overwhelmingly positive. People found it adorable and also politically astute, I guess.”
Livingston first reached out to sites that were posting her image — generally without express permission, with the exception of an attorney who operated a copyright law blog and asked before publishing — to clarify Sycamore’s gender.
“The original assumption was that Sycamore was a girl. I have no problem with him being mistaken for a girl, but I thought it was interesting that everyone assumed it,” said Livingstone. “So I corrected the original Buzzfeed author that Sycamore was a boy of feminist parents.”
The proud father, not generally a heavy internet user, also got in on the fun. “I was commenting that I was the dad. The dad wasn't anywhere in any of the things, and I was like, I'm his dad! I'm his dad!” Affholter laughed.
“It’s ironic that your kid became internet famous for a day,” Livingston teased her partner. “Because you don't go on the internet.”
The couple takes their son’s brush with internet fame in stride, even joking about it. “We think ... he's kind of child star,” said Affholter with a grin.
“No,” corrected Livingston. “Stop saying that.”
They did see their first — and only — financial gain from the experience when they were paid a small sum for the publishing rights of the photo in a book from the popular blog dedicated to Ginsburg, “Notorious RBG.” “They paid him several cases of diapers basically, which is nice,” said Livingston.
The couple was impressively forward-thinking in gathering screenshots of the moment to show Sycamore when he’s “old enough to care.” “When it's on the front page, that's the time to get it,” said Affholter. “Because it's not going to be there again.”