That Protest Against Next To Normal‘s Alice Ripley? It Was a PhD Student’s Social Experiment

After Next To Normal‘s Alice Ripley used the word “fag” on her Facebook page, and promptly apologized for it, some theater queens were supposedly going to protest the Broadway actress outside her stage door. Didn’t happen.

“Walked by the booth….VERY quiet….I doubt there r any idiots going to protest Alice Ripley,” tweeted one passerby of Thursday’s supposed protest. That makes sense, since the protest was organized not by actual outraged theater gays, but a PhD student working on her thesis. Seriously.

“Not only did no one show up for the protest, but the reason it was being organized had nothing to do with defending the gay and lesbian community against a slur,” reader Lisa tips us. “Ms. Ripley just happened to be the actor caught up in the organizer’s calculating set up, in the name of research, religion, and recruiting. It could have been anyone.” Well, anyone who used a nasty word on their Facebook page, but still.

The user “isntitromantic” started a thread on titled “stage door demo for Ripley’s FAG slur Thurs. at 10 pm.” There, she wrote:

Bring your “Alice Hates Fags” signs a la Fred Phelps to Shubert Alley Thursday night at 10. Homophobia will not be tolerated in the theater community. Spread the word. Queers unite against Crazy.

Eventually the thread exploded to 26 pages of rants, including messages from critics and supporters, with some religious nonsense thrown in. But it was all a ruse, as isntitromantic would eventually come clean on June 9, the day before the supposed protest.

Folks, its time for me to come out of the closet and reveal myself.

I am a PhD candidate in psychology doing my part of my doctoral thesis on the long term effects of anonymous internet use on posters who share a common interest, i.e., Broadway or a particular performer. (I have always been partial to Miss Bujold myself, Phyllis).

I posted the intitial post about the rally to:

a. see whether such a thing would happen
b. bring in the Christian thread with the avatar
c. see how the fans/non-fans of a celebrity of Ms. Ripley’s stature would react and interact
d. see what other issues would come up.

(The M&M thing was quite delightful).

I would like to interview some of you personally about your responses and feeling about things that were posted on this thread. Please message me if you would be willing to speak with me.

For the record, I was not overly familar with Ms. Ripley’s work with the exception of Sideshow, but I did find her use of a slur distasteful. I saw the show last night and explained who I was. She has agreed to be interviewed and understood completely what I was attempting to do.

Please message me if you would like to be interviewed as well.

In an earlier (and perhaps foreboding) post, isntitromantic posted this, now clearly a way to charge up the web mobs:

I’ve prayed over this and all the pain this has caused Ms. Ripley. Dennis Shepard, at the sentencing of Matthew’s killer, Aaron McKinney said to him “remember you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night.” Ms. Ripley also had that opportunity before she hit the return to post her hate talk. We are responsible for our actions when they affect other people. I think, from what I have read, Ms. Ripley must be a good person, if somewhat bewildered.
And now, I’m going to call Jason Bennett because I want him to coach me on Rodgers and Sondheim’s “We’re Gonna Be Alright.” Thank God I’ve found him. The Lord does work in mysterious ways.

So as it turns out, there was no protest, because its organizer revealed him/herself to be a fraud with an academic agenda. I’m curious to see what her PhD adviser would think about such tactics — where she purposefully targeted a public figure and instigated rage against her just to test the waters. (Does somebody really need to write a thesis about Internet commenters and their proven crazy?)

And I stand by my original declaration that the protest against Ripley was a stupid idea to begin with. Instead, fault the woman for not knowing who each of the Golden Girls are. Now that is a real sin against the gays. (Cue to 9:34)

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  • counterpoll

    If this lame-arse twit was one of my PhD candidates she’d be kicked out of the program for lack of integrity. There’s no excuse for sloppy ethics.

    Ms Ripley’s words were ill-chosen, no doubt–I personally despise that particular epithet– but *before* organising a protest it’s best to reach out and request clarification/amendment.

    Anyone preparing or defending a thesis should be aware of “tainting the source” or injecting themself into the story without good reason.

    I hear Walmart is hiring. That would be a good place for the candidate to assess her logic and ethics— and evaluate the appropriateness of her actions.


  • JPinWeHo

    There is no way this is a psychology study. It would clearly violate serious ethical standards for conducting such studies.

  • Justin O

    I doubt she got IRB approval for this experiment.

  • alan brickman

    if this was a man..we would be outing him right now…but a woman?..pass?

  • glasshouses

    Echoing Justin and JPinWeHo’s comments. The chances that an IRB approval was given for this study are slim. Even the timing suggests as much. What, she got approval in the space of a few hours?! Where alternative universe is she in?

    The student could claim that deception was required, which it may have been for the purpose of the study but that likewise has to be approved. The APA’s position on deception also entails a protocol for debriefing– neither really happened.

    More than the study itself, it kind of strikes me as a pretty strong case of academic dishonesty. Regardless of Ripley’s personal response, the Academy and APA really don’t enjoy such falsehoods. It makes the institution look bad and really calls into quesion the quality of a doctoral (!) program, the focus of which is research. Seriously, undergrads may try to prove this kind of crap and it would still be suspect. A person trying to get a terminal degree that is held by an extremely slim percentage of the public, that’s unacceptable. I know I would have gotten booted; hell, I knew people who did for a lot less.

  • Sergio

    She would have to of had IRB approval from the University for doing this study, without it she would have gotten kicked out of her PhD program. I am in the process of writing an IRB application in order to do my experiment, and trust me, it is tough to get something like this through the IRB! She does not need to get written consent from the subjects (other people who posted comments on the facebook page). This happens all the time in Psychology experiments! There have been worse studies (i.e. Stanley Milgram experiment, stanford prison study, etc.) Sometimes psychologists need to use deception when doing experiments. They need to do it because they want to know how people would react in a normal situation. If they knew they were being studied they would act differently.

  • glasshouses

    PS: What doctoral student uses the phrase doctoral “thesis”? It’s called a dissertation, dear. You get a write a few hundred pages on a topic. ‘Probably best to know its name.

  • glasshouses


    Agreed, but there we have the public space argument. She is asking for action via the protest, not just recording public comments that are created outside of her influence. I would argue that’s different than the public space argument.

    A few things on Milgram:

    1) IRBs changed a lot since then; what was that, like ’57 or so?
    2) Dude got booted for it.

  • Alex

    She may have been a foreign student as thesis is closer to what we use in France, thèse, and I don’t see why she would have to lie about being a PhD student – at least her experiment seems more interesting than the majority of uninspired, boring experiments my bf’s students seem to come up with (that may have to do with them being French… or not).

  • Lamar

    I don’t see why people think what she did was ethically wrong, she called us fags and people just let it pass after simply saying sorry but when someone is carrying out an experiment that gives Ripley the bad press she deserves everyone is all on her (the student’s) behind.

  • Steve

    In every university, every experiment that involves human subjects requires prior review to check that it is ethical and will not harm the subjects. Universities in the US call this board an IRB. Every university worldwide has something similar, but of course the names vary with the language.

    The requirements of the IRB vary according to the particular university and department. Considering that any person could write any content in a blog discussion, IRB review of an experiment that simply proposes particular blog postings might not be particularly strict. I expect the major consideration might be that the proposed blog postings not actually solicit the readers to harm another person. Proposing a peaceful protest would seem to be acceptable, under that criteria.

    Researchers are supposed to propose new questions and new methods of getting answers to those questions. That’s what research is about. That some people might be surprised or offended by the methodology is inherent in the process. IRB review is to prevent people from being harmed, not to prevent people from being surprised or offended.

  • bobito

    @Lamar: she didn’t “call us fags”. She used the word as a negative slur against somebody who’d written unflattering things about her (admittedly stupendous) performance in her show. Then she publicly and openly apologized for her use of the word.

    It’s a sad sign of the state of things to know that a celebrity who has been quite supportive of the community found it so easy to use that particular slur to strike back at somebody who’d offended her, but as we all know, once you click on that “submit” button, it’s out there in the cybersphere and you can’t take it back.

    The PhD student then went so far as to compare Ms Ripley’s momentary lapse of judgment for which she apologized the next day to the actions of the men who repeatedly pistol-whipped a helpless man who was unarmed and tied to a fence and then left him there to die. This goes far beyond “over-reacting”.

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