Delegitimizing strategic power: Normative identity and governance in online R.E.M. fandom

Lucy Bennett

School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales

[0.1] Abstract—How can strategies of governance in an online fan community be resisted by fans? By drawing on Henry Jenkins's application of de Certeau's concepts of strategy and tactics to fandom, I examine the regulation of normative behavior and show how fans can collectively devise tactics to delegitimize and reject strategies applied by the hierarchy, consequently becoming self-steering. To articulate these tensions that can arise within a fan community, I draw on a case study of normative fan identity within Murmurs, an online community for fans of left-leaning liberal American rock band R.E.M. I show how norms in the community are constructed through values of liberalism such as tolerance, equality, and goodwill. Focusing on how normative behavior in a community is not a given but is governed through strategies of power employed by the hierarchy, I explore how two strategies were successfully resisted by members on the basis that they subverted these values of liberalism. My argument demonstrates how the strategies worked to explicitly expose governmentality (Foucault's concept) within the community, with fans becoming aware that they were instrumental in a process of self-governance, collectively devising tactics, and steering themselves to reject the strategies. This has broad implications for understanding and predicting the power dynamics of other online fan communities, and in particular for formulating responses to implementation of strategies of surveillance and governance.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; Governance; Internet; Music; Normativity

Bennett, Lucy. 2011. "Delegitimizing Strategic Power: Normative Identity and Governance in Online R.E.M. Fandom." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 7. doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0281.

1. Introduction

[1.1] By drawing from an ethnographic study, I will explore how strategies of governance in an online fan community can be resisted by members. To illustrate this, I will draw on a case study of Murmurs, an online community for fans of the American rock band R.E.M. This band has promoted strong political involvement throughout their career, releasing their 1988 album Green on the same day as that year's US presidential elections, expressing their left-leaning liberal politics through such actions as becoming part of the 2004 Vote for Change tour, and placing advertisements urging Americans to vote for the latest Democratic candidate (note 1). As observed by Liesbet Van Zoonen in her study of the connections between politics and popular culture, "Fan groups and political constituencies resemble each other when it comes to the endeavors that make one part of the community" (2005, 53).

[1.2] In this sense, I demonstrate how normative behavior in the community is constructed through the values of liberalism such as tolerance, equality, and goodwill (Kernohan 1998). Drawing on Henry Jenkins's (1992) application of de Certeau's notions of strategy and tactics to fandom, I will show how normative behavior in an online community is not a given but is governed through strategies employed by the community's hierarchy. In this sense, strategies used by the hierarchy are actions of dominance, whereas tactics used by the rest of the community work as tools of opposition to these actions. Thus, the maintenance and governance of normative behavior in online fandom can be fraught with power dynamics between site managers and community members.

[1.3] I argue that the introduction of an Ignore User strategy—an application that allows members to block others so that their posts are not visible to them—highlights contradictions within the values of liberalism aspired to by Murmurs, such as the tensions between equality and freedom of speech, and the difficulty of protecting these values while seeking to encourage normativity in the community. This philosophy of liberalism is here defined then as involving the maintenance of "intellectual and political freedom, of reason and conscience" (Rayner 1998, 18) and "a commitment both to the equal moral worth of persons and to the tolerance of diverse points of view on how lives should be lived" (Kernohan 1998, 1). Kant identified three values that citizens should rightly access: "lawful freedom to obey no law other than that to which he has given his consent…civil equality in recognizing no-one among the people as superior to himself…and civil independence which allows him to owe his existence and sustenance…purely to his own rights and powers" (Kant [1797] 1991, 139). As I will show, this commitment to goodwill and freedom of expression demands that "political decisions about what citizens should be forced to do or prevented from doing must be made on grounds that are neutral among the competing convictions about good and bad lives that different members of the community might hold" (Dworkin 1990, 13).

[1.4] Continuing to explore the use of strategic power to encourage normative behavior, I show how two strategies, Reputations and User Notes, introduced into the community to help maintain intellectual standards in posts were successfully delegitimized through tactical resistance by community members because they subverted values of liberalism. My argument demonstrates how the strategies worked to explicitly expose governmentality (Foucault 1978) within the community, with fans becoming aware that they were instrumental in a process of self-governance, collectively devising tactics, and steering themselves to reject the strategies. Governmentality describes a form of power that arises when the state endeavors "to improve the wealth of the nation and the happiness of its citizens by means of the systematic identification of individual needs and characteristics whilst at the same time regulating and policing their actions in ways which act to strengthen the role of the state" (Loader 1997, 12). The government's role within this regulation is not all-encompassing, but rather "one of coordination…that gathers together disparate technologies of governing inhabiting many sites" (Bratich, Packer, and McCarthy 2003, 5). This population management is exercised through "one instrument or another, never directly" (Sterne 2003, 112). Thus, coordinated within the "more apparent forms of external government [such as] policing, surveillance and regulatory activities" (Lupton 1995, 9) is the instrument of self-governance, or what Foucault termed "technologies of the self" (1988) and "conduct of conduct" (1982, 220–21), which involves "considered and calculated ways of thinking and acting that propose to shape, regulate, or manage the conduct of individuals or groups" (Inda 2005, 6). This is to say, that "while individuals internalize the state's systems of control and surveillance, the state in its turn appropriates the various 'technologies of the self' as its means of government" (Gilleard and Higgs 2000, 102). Therefore, governmentality incorporates "not just the ordering of activities and processes [but also] operates through subjects…to the extent that authoritative norms, calculative technologies, and forms of evaluation can be translated into the values, decisions and judgments of citizens…[in order that] they can function as part of the 'self-steering' mechanisms of individuals" (Miller and Rose 1990, 18). In this sense, the concept has also been associated with neoliberal government rationalities, where "individuals are compelled to assume market-based values in all of their judgments and practices in order to amass sufficient quantities of 'human capital' and thereby become 'entrepreneurs of themselves'" (Hamann 2009, 38). Social control is increased "while encouraging self-regulation" (Nadesan 2008, 29). I will then provide insight into fan behavior by demonstrating that when fans become aware that they are instrumental in a process of surveillance and self-governance, introduced by the hierarchy, that contradicts the stated ethos of the fan base, they can collectively devise tactics to delegitimize and reject the strategy, consequently becoming "self-steering" (Miller and Rose 1990, 18).

[1.5] Murmurs ( is the largest and most productive online community for R.E.M. fans. The band was formed in Athens, Georgia, in April 1980 and has frequently been acknowledged as a politically and environmentally aware intellectual or "thinking" band (Fricke 1985; Gray 1992), a notion complemented by their early success on American college radio (Greer 1992). R.E.M. maintained a distinctly artistic approach in the early half of their career, producing music videos that were more avant-garde than the slick commercial products most record labels wanted and refusing to compromise their beliefs to secure a chart hit (Sullivan 1995, xxi), an ideology that has been deemed a strong characteristic of 1980s indie guitar rock genre (Bannister 2006). For instance, Robert Sloane views the band as continually and currently being "artist-intellectual, offering meaningful texts that reflect thoughtfully on the context of their production and reception alike" (2003, 88). Murmurs has been frequently acknowledged by fans and the band itself as the definitive dwelling place for those interested in R.E.M.-related news and discussion of these "meaningful texts." The Web site, which took its name from the first full-length R.E.M. album, entitled Murmur, began life in April 1996 as a basic R.E.M. news page and soon developed into an online forum. Since then, the community has steadily grown; by January 2011, it had achieved almost 18,000 members who have created over 2 million posts.

[1.6] The data for this study were collected through a cyberethnography of Murmurs, of which I have been a participating member since 2000. Therefore, as a fan of R.E.M., I have conducted this research from the position of a scholar fan (Hills 2002; Phillips 2010). During this time, I was also appointed part of the Murmurs Crew, a group of members assisting with the day-to-day running of the Web site. After alerting the community to my researcher status, I observed Murmurs over a 4-year period (between 2004 and 2007) and monitored all discussions within the general community discussions forum (the Community Center), where conversations surrounding the introduction of User Notes and Reputations took place. I also performed an additional search in the community archives for these terms. To maintain the anonymity of members, I have refrained providing user names.

2. Normative fan identity in Murmurs

[2.1] Normative fan identity within Murmurs is closely reliant on a liberal intelligentsia, encompassing political and cultural awareness, humanitarian and environmental concern, and an expressive appreciation of art, music, and literature (Jovanovic 2006, 9). It can be argued that these values originated from and are maintained by R.E.M. in both their professional lives and musical style. As Matthew Bannister argues, "The lyrical concerns of indie can be viewed as an inversion of pop values: anti-romantic, pessimistic, ironic, intellectual and often serious (not dissimilar to high culture values)" (2006, 77). For example, the band has been described as "liberal, laconic and oozing emotional intelligence" (Crampton 1998; Kannberg 2001) (note 2). R.E.M. is also "concerned with conservation, the environment [and] general humanitarian causes" (Gray 1992, 198) (note 3), consistently supporting organizations such as Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Greenpeace, and becoming involved in many local projects within the Athens area (Gill 1991; Branson 1999, 9). They have also been perceived as avoiding "the traps of celebrity, [and maintaining] their freedom of speech, presenting themselves as defenders of common sense and morality" (Bowler and Dray 1995, 3), a prospect that has led to them being described as one of America's "most liberal…rock groups" (Phillips 1996). In this sense, they have also been regarded as "confident and high-profile liberal activists" (Marino 2004), "die-hard liberals" (Stern and Smith 2001, 5), and "a liberal, democratising voice within the music business" (Buckley 2002, 196). Their fans have also been viewed in the same light, as a "kind of liberal, free-thinking audience" (Flynn 2001). As posted on Murmurs by one member, "There are certain aspects of the character of an R.E.M. fan which we share…civility, sensitivity, exploration, intelligence, tolerance, liberalism, caring" (November 26, 2003). R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck also observed that "almost all the fans I meet are pretty cool people. They're intelligent and tend to think about things a bit more than your average rock'n'roll fans: sensible people I wouldn't mind having a drink with" (Snow 1992, 71).

[2.2] The development of social norms in a community has received much attention from scholars, most specifically with regard to its definition and distinction from social rules. In this respect, Burnett and Bonnici stress that rules differ from norms in that they are "more formalized through codification and are prescriptive and controllable" (2003, 334). They can in effect be used to control or punish deviant behavior. The purpose of norms, on the other hand, has been seen "to give individuals a sense of balance, a way to gauge what is normal in a specific context at a specific time. [They] point the way to acceptable standards and codes of behavior" (Burnett, Besant, and Chatman 2001, 537). Social norms therefore can "guide social interaction and may be linked to a sense of collective identity" (Kimoto 1998, 97).

[2.3] Nancy Baym suggests that within an online community the norms that develop are "directly related to the purposes of the group. It is to meet the needs of the community…that standards of behavior and methods of sanctioning inappropriate behaviour develop" (1998, 61). Additionally, online communities may import these normative values from their off-line counterparts or develop their own by determining "what is acceptable and what is not" (Jacko 2003, 603). The establishment of norms has been deemed as vital in order to achieve social stability: "Communities, as organized sets of relationships, need mechanisms for limiting the potential for destructive activities on the part of…members" (Sypher and Collins 2001, 194). Likewise, Howard Rheingold viewed the introduction of norms as an essential safeguard, not only for the prevention of "destructive activities," but also to preserve free speech in an online community: "The only alternative to imposing potentially dangerous restrictions on freedom of expression is to develop norms, folklore, ways of acceptable behavior that are widely modelled, taught, and valued, that can give the citizens of cyberspace clear ideas of what they can and cannot do with the medium" (2000, 54).

[2.4] Nessim Watson, in his case study of the online community for fans of the band Phish, discovered a certain normative conduct that members were encouraged to uphold. Even though the forum did not appear to impose restrictions, "certain fan values regarding respect for the band and appropriate behavior both on the Net and at shows [were] not considered to be debatable" (1997, 113). In some communities, membership is dependent on displaying these fan values. Crabbe, Solomos, and Back (2001) found that "gaining entry to the interpretive community of football fans is a matter of being able to articulate and master the implicit cultural codes that police the boundaries of acceptance" (77). Thus, members "may adapt their behavior to what they perceive as the normative standards of the community" (Sherman 2001, 59).

[2.5] A Murmurs thread concerning a 2004 concert in Atlanta where a large number of audience members vocally and physically opposed the band's onstage comments against George Bush displays how rejection of left-leaning liberal politics is viewed as a breach and misunderstanding of the norms of R.E.M. fandom:

[2.6] There were several very strange and tense political moments where parts of the crowd seemed to actually be attempting to drown out Stipe's comments by yelling "4 more years" or just booing, while the Kerry supporters were yelling back. I personally found such a contentious and almost openly hostile atmosphere to be totally depressing at an REM show…it…seemed profoundly sad to see fellow REM fans so divided, and that animosity seriously detracted from the atmosphere of the gig, and my ability to enjoy it. I mean there were lots of people walking around in Bush-Cheney t-shirts, and there was a big "W" banner that some people were holding out from the upstairs club seats. It was just really a weird feeling. I honestly can't understand why they would go to an REM show to do that. Have they never actually listened to the band's music and listened to the lyrics?

[2.7] The political thing was ridiculous—who goes to an REM show expecting anything but a liberal slant? (October 24, 2004)

[2.8] The comments in this thread indicate that a rejection of left-leaning liberal politics by an R.E.M. fan is viewed as a rejection of not only intellectualism but also the central values of R.E.M fandom. However, this denouncement of particular political viewpoints highlights the dilemma that can be found within liberal politics, which will be explored further in the next section: how to support tolerance and freedom of speech toward opposing views and interests that are seen as a threat to liberal views. This principle has been determined as "the problem at the heart of liberal politics—how to reconcile the exercise of authority with the very values—freedom, tolerance, diversity—supposedly protected by that authority" (Fish 1994, 34).

3. Strategies of policing normative behavior

[3.1] I shall now examine the strategies introduced by the Murmurs hierarchy to reinforce normative behavior, and the tactics that were employed by members to retaliate against these strategies. In Textual Poachers (1992), Henry Jenkins applies Michel de Certeau's notion of poaching from The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) to fandom, which opposes tactics to strategies. Strategies entail "assertions of power and dominance" (Jagodzinski 1997, 197) that are "performed from a position of strength, employing…property and authority" (Jenkins 1992, 45). They are "associated with space, and specifically with those spaces which are owned and operated by [these] forces…consolidating power over others who impinge on that space" (Bukatman 2001, 160). In contrast to this, tactics are "performances, tricks, poaches, parasitic appropriations" (Jagodzinski 1997, 197), "the negotiation and resistance of imposed frameworks" (Brooker and Jermyn 2003, 169), exercised by "the mobile population of the dispossessed and the powerless" (Jenkins 1992, 45). As such, "the place of a tactic belongs to the other" (Bukatman 2001, 160). De Certeau criticized Michel Foucault for placing too much emphasis on strategies of the dominant, which only "neglects the incessant activities of opposition" (Barbour 1993, 58). He argues that it is "impossible to reduce the functioning of a society to a dominant type of procedures" (de Certeau 1984, 48) and instead concluded that "a society is…composed of certain foregrounded practices organizing its normative institutions and of innumerable other practices that remain 'minor'" (1984, 48). In this sense, I will argue that within R.E.M. fandom, R.E.M. as producers performs strategies, whereas their fans use tactics. In Murmurs, it is those in charge of the community, such as the administration team, crew members, and hosts, who have strategies, while tactics are employed by subordinate community members.

[3.2] The development of these power calculations (de Certeau 1984, 35–37) in Murmurs can be determined alongside the move of the Web site in 2001 from the previous Web board to a larger forum Web space to cater to the increased membership and to facilitate a higher frequency of posts. In this new and more populated location, there arose issues of nonnormativity that received immediate attention from normative members:

[3.3] I've noticed a number of people who seem to reply to every thread and start many topics when they don't even have anything to add to them…it really is getting to be a problem…I rarely start a thread myself and when I do I make sure it isn't something that's been done or that nobody would give a shit about. A simple rule that would make this place much better would be to make sure you have something to say at least most of the time that you post. Sure, there's times when a simple "I agree" and not much more elaboration is fine and ok and even necessary but try to facilitate at least a little discussion some of the time. There are people with 200 or 300 or more posts that I've really never read anything even slightly interesting from at all. (May 31, 2001)

[3.4] To combat this nonnormative behavior of failing to create sufficiently intelligent posts, an Ignore User strategy was implemented into Murmurs in an effort to mark and silence nonnormative posters until normative behavior could be reestablished. As Ian Buchanan states, rather than being seen as binary opposites, strategies and tactics are "dialectical rather than polemological" (2000, 86), a notion evident in the discussion of normative strategy between the Murmurs hierarchy and community members. However, I will argue that this strategy, as a result of its subversion of freedom of speech and tolerance, made visible the contradictions within values of liberalism and the difficulty of protecting these values in the community while seeking to encourage normative behavior.

[3.5] The ignore list provided members with the option of adding fellow users to a list that removed all their posts, instead stating, "This user is on your ignore list. To view this post anyway, click here." Personal messages sent from the ignored user to the member using the feature against them were also rejected. However, hosts, moderators, and Webmasters were immune from the ignore system. An example of the feature being used against the nonnormative poster is evident in a thread created by a Murmurs host entitled "Let's ignore [member]," which urged other members to place a user on their ignore list as a result of his resistance to communal norms:

[3.6] He's obviously a sexist and racist asshole that doesn't belong in this community. He doesn't accept anyone that's different from him, and nothing we say will change his mind. He gives Christianity a bad name. I've put him on my ignore list, and I encourage everyone else to do the same.

[3.7] Well, he stopped arguing in the "PC" thread when I refused to bother refuting his points—it works. If someone is being obnoxious in their desperate bid for the spotlight, turn the spotlight off. The philosophy board is what WE make it…We can turn this train around any time. As long as we recognize what is going on, we won't be victims of it. Count me in. (November 23, 2001)

[3.8] However, it is evident that the Ignore User strategy, through its means of exclusion and rejection, contravened the values of tolerance, goodwill, and freedom of expression that were central to R.E.M. fandom and the Murmurs community. One member lamented the loss of these values in the actions of members who were actively supporting the system:

[3.9] please tell me this thread is a joke. what happened to live and let live. judge ye not etc. etc., ignore or engage. read or don't read??? will you be burning books next?? he's just stating his beliefs, he's just doing what he does, it's not like you have to accept any of it or respond to any of it. no one's forcing you to read his posts or respond to them. agree with them or not, he is entitled to post what he does without having to put up with bullshit like this. (November 23, 2001)

[3.10] This was also endorsed by another poster who viewed the ignore feature as incompatible with the freedom of expression central to liberalism: "If you want to ignore him, fine, that is up to the individual but I don't think a torch lit procession demanding or even suggesting ostracism…is in the spirit of Murmurs or free speech" (November 23, 2001). However, the strategists defended their actions as their right to exercise their own freedom of speech: "I think everyone should be able to express their opinions, but when someone offends over half the people in the forum, there can be the natural consequences of opposition and rejection…The opposition and rejection is free speech too" (November 25, 2001). Ultimately, because of this, Ignore User as a feature was not tactically resisted successfully.

[3.11] This situation highlights the contradictions and tensions within liberalism between demanding freedom of speech yet opposing intolerance to normative standards. As Kernohan states, "Just as free expression serves important interests, an accumulation of expressive activities harms important interests." Therefore, the apparent solution, which does not do away with a contradiction at the heart of discourses of liberalism, is to "weigh these interests against one another" (1998, 103).

[3.12] In this sense, the users of the ignore feature, observing the member's "sexist and intolerant" (November 25, 2001) remarks, viewed their "important interests," that is, the values of liberalism in the community, being harmed. As Stanley Fish explains, "In the eyes of the liberal, the pronouncements of fundamentalists are…dangerous…They flow from ignorance and bigotry, and if they go unchecked they may succeed in turning the nation away from reason" (1994, 136). However, Stephen Carter suggests that liberalism "has very little idea of how to cope with the…people who embrace [conservatism]" (1987, 978) and ends up being "curiously intolerant" as a result of this (1987, 981). Larry Alexander, discussing "the failure of liberalism to provide a justification for tolerating illiberal views," concludes that this occurs because "the great liberal freedoms" are "deeply paradoxical" (2005, 147). As Stanley Fish explains, "Liberal thought begins in the acknowledgment that faction, difference, and point of view are irreducible; but the liberal strategy is to devise (or attempt to devise) procedural mechanisms that are neutral with respect to point of view and therefore can serve to frame partisan debates in a non partisan manner" (1994, 16). This contradiction is therefore innate in liberalism, and thereby, I conclude, also in the Murmurs community: "Liberal government cannot help but be partisan, which means that liberalism as governmental non-partisanship…is an impossibility" (Alexander 2005, 147).

[3.13] However, Reputations and User Notes, two specific strategies of surveillance by the official Murmurs hierarchy to encourage normative behavior, were successfully tactically resisted by fans because these strategies, by making implicit norms explicit, rendered community hierarchies of subcultural capital visible in a way that contradicted the liberalism values and egalitarianism of R.E.M fandom.

4. The delegitimization of strategic power through tactical resistance

[4.1] In July 2004, two strategies, Reputations and User Notes, were introduced into the community by the Murmurs hierarchy to enforce normative behavior. However, both were successfully tactically resisted by fans who discursively positioned the strategies in a way that defended the values of liberalism within R.E.M. fandom.

[4.2] The Reputation system was introduced to the Murmurs community as a strategy for rating members and indicating quality of posts. Because of this, its intended application in the community was to function as a system to mark the nonnormative from the normative and encourage resistant users toward normative behavior. Indeed, the notion of reputation has been viewed as working to achieve moral and social order in that it "results from transmission of beliefs about how…agents are evaluated with regard to socially desirable conduct [which] represents one or another of the solutions to the problem of social order and may consist of cooperation or altruism, reciprocity, or norm obedience" (Conte and Paolucci 2002, 1).

[4.3] Community members could award points anonymously to any posts they deemed worthy of approval, or give negative feedback to those posts considered unfavorable. An individual's acquirement of reputation was then displayed on their profile through a number of small colored icons that indicated their levels achieved. A number of red icons would indicate a negative reputation, and a row of green icons indicated a positive one. A similar point system is evident within the technology news Web site Slashdot in the form of "karma," which indicates a poster's "reputation for contributing high-quality comments, measured by the ratings his/her previous comments collected" (Cheng and Vassileva 2005, 153). Therefore, a member can "read the Slashdot site…knowing that what [is] read…will come from people who the community has found tend to make valuable contributions" (Shane 2004, 13). Alongside the rating given to users, members could also leave an anonymous comment to support their evaluation.

[4.4] The second strategy implemented in an effort to encourage normative behavior was the User Notes feature. These were attached to a member's profile and enabled other users to post a comment about that particular member for all to see. However, the fact that the Reputations system was based on anonymity, with the author remaining unidentified, became a cause for concern for some members, who felt its introduction would have a negative effect on the community: "I think that these reputation scores are already damaging the board and will continue to do so. I see nothing positive that will come from them. Is anyone with me on this?" (July 7, 2004). Other comments from members displayed five different tactics used in order to resist both strategies, as outlined in table 1.

Table 1. Five tactics used by fans to resist the Reputations and User Notes strategies in Murmurs.

1References to the tactics used in other online communities to resist strategies.
2The use of a discourse of "childishness."
3An emphasis on the strategies' subversion of values of tolerance.
4The use of discourse that stresses humanitarian values of R.E.M. fandom.
5Arguments stressing values of equality.

[4.5] The first tactic, stressing how members in other online communities had also made efforts to tactically resist the Reputations strategy, is evident in one member's post relating the actions by some individuals to manipulate the system by acquiring positive reputation points:

[4.6] I saw them cause a lot of problems. Whole 75+ threads were started for the sole purpose of repping the person above you so the posters would have many green dots. People were constantly interupting [sic] threads to bitch about a neg rep they'd just recieve [sic]. I think you can disable them…no one really did that, though, they just complained about getting bad ones. People said they were afraid to post because of the reps they'd get. (July 5, 2004)

[4.7] In the above member's example, community members' desire to gain status through an accumulation of positive reputation became the driving force for interactions and resulted in the system overwhelming the community. However, discouraging nonnormative members by making them afraid to post is seemingly the exact purpose of the Reputations system, which in Murmurs contradicts the stated liberal ethos of the R.E.M. fan base. This prospect alerts fans that by engaging in the strategies, they are participating in a self-norming process.

[4.8] The second tactic involved the use of a discourse of "childishness" to delegitimate strategic power. Some stressed that many members had already acquired reputations within the community on the basis of their conduct and style of interactions, and therefore, they did not need to be further classified in what was said to be a juvenile manner: "there are many people here with reputations, less so on a childish level but more of just a style of posting and replying" (July 6, 2004). Indeed, reputations are already implicitly assessed within the community through subcultural capital, a process that causes the nonnormative to be othered. However, as is evident from the poster's response, the Reputations system is viewed as providing a less sophisticated and more "childish" procedure of classification than that which already implicitly exists within Murmurs. As one member stated, "The reputations points process reminds me of the Slam books we used to pass around in junior high" (July 7, 2004), and another was reminded of her "elementary school teachers' check-mark systems on the board…don't get too many checks by your name, or it's eraser-slapping time!" (July 6, 2004). This tactic was used by another poster to criticize both strategies:

[4.9] I'm against them…I am intrigued by how the new system will work, once that comes together, so it's not that I'm against change. I just think that things like user notes and reputation points detract from a sense of community and they make me feel like I'm participating in a site full of high-schoolers. (July 9, 2004)

[4.10] Although this member objects to the introduction of User Notes, she is open to supporting elements of change within the community. However, her comments imply that the recent changes will not work to maintain the normative image of the community as a liberal intelligentsia but will instead promote childish practices found in high school. This viewpoint is supported by comments from a fan who also considers User Notes to lower the tone of the community to a nonnormative, juvenile level:

[4.11] I find these to be akin to junior high school slambooks. I don't know if slambooks still exist, and in case they don't, I will describe one. It is a notebook where people sign next to a number and every page has a person's name at the top. The point is to make comments about every person and you sign you comments with the number you signed in next to. So, if this were a slambook and I was on [a member's] page, I might write something like cute, sweet, really nice, very cool and then sign with my number. I don't mean to put down kids in junior high; I merely feel that this was one of the more juvenile pasttimes while I was there. If someone has an issue with me, they should pm me and start a dialog, or tell me off or whatever. (July 9, 2004)

[4.12] Therefore, these Murmurs strategies are projected by the tacticians to be in direct contradiction to the notions of liberal intelligentsia and masculinized discourse in the community, which themselves evoke a sense of maturity and adulthood. Administrators' attempted strategies are instead tactically associated with nonnormative feminized readings and discourse, which are seen as infantile.

[4.13] The third tactic is one that extols the virtues of tolerance found within liberalism. One member engaged in this by drawing attention to the inadequacy and failure of the imposed strategy to allow for tolerant behavior:

[4.14] It takes time for people to get to know one another, and I guess I don't see that as a problem. There are several people here that I respect now after initially disliking them. A simple "good/bad" indicator is oversimplifying things in my opinion. Relationships are much more complex than that. (July 6, 2004)

[4.15] For this fan, relationships within a community are built through repeated interaction over time, and thus there is a need for the user to show tolerance rather than judge others through simplified indicators of their "good" or "bad" assigned characteristics. As I have shown, tolerance is a central value of liberalism, a notion that is also sympathetic to how relationships are developed within fan communities.

[4.16] Another poster also questioned the purpose to which User Notes would be used and introduced a fourth resistant tactic. This involved the use of discourse that emphasized the humanitarian values of R.E.M. fandom and associated User Notes with commerciality to show its breach of these values:

[4.17] I am a person and I want to be treated as such. This is not Ebay and I am not selling my reputation to post here nor do I feel that my persona has to be self-organized into some nice little data elements for someone else's pleasure. We are not putting stars by people's names as being a "Good Murmursian." What are we expecting in these usernotes?…I am not here to sell myself; I am here to learn information, to discuss, to argue, to think and to comprehend. Instead of the board itself being distributed like a city, now we are the city. We are the storefronts, our usernames and our personas are being used in a manner that is inconsistent with what I think is right. (July 7, 2004)

[4.18] User Notes are here anticipated as having a negative effect on Murmurs by transforming the community into one based on a drive for accumulation of positive comments from other community members. In this manner, the poster views the community being changed to a setting where members are eager to classify and promote themselves in a commercial sense, and his tactic of drawing an analogy between members and "storefronts" is an objection to being used or positioned as a commodity. This reaction could have been inspired by R.E.M's anticommercial stance: throughout their career, the band members have refused to allow their music to be used for commercial advertising. This is line with Matthew Bannister's observations on the genre of indie guitar rock, where "the image of the musician is often as anti-star—'ordinary,' modest" (2006, 86).

[4.19] The following comments engage in the fifth and final discernible tactic, which again argues for values of equality found within liberalism:

[4.20] This is just playground politics. The fashionable ones, the unfashionable ones, and the ones who just don't seem to fit in anywhere! You're making a coloured dot a first impression. In a forum, there shouldn't be status, everyone should feel at ease with saying something or answering back. The natural instinct of most is to "musy" up to the popular people, regardless of what they do or say. The whole idea stinks of compartmentalism, hierarchy and social acceptability—or not as the case may be. (August 16, 2004)

[4.21] This perception is critical of the way the Reputation system favors the normative (the fashionable) against the nonnormative (the unfashionable). Within Slashdot, a similar situation occurs as "good comments made by new users or the users who haven't contributed highly rated comments so far tend not to receive a deserving attention and to collect sufficient ratings to raise the 'karma' level of their contributor" (Cheng and Vassileva 2005, 153). This is a prospect in line with what Robert Merton termed "the Matthew effect" (1968; see also Merton 1996 for a reexamination of his theory). This process of social inequality occurs when "already eminent scientists gain disproportionate peer recognition and acclaim in cases of collaboration" (Sztompka 1996, 16), while "relatively unknown scientists tend to get disproportionately little credit for comparable contributions" (Merton 1968, 57). This thereby reinforces the normative in the sense of awarding credit to "already famous people" (Merton 1968, 57), ensuring that "reputational property increases like economic capital and, just like economic capital, creates sharp inequalities in status" (Fuchs 1992, 72).

[4.22] The following poster highlights the possibility that a member's first impression of others would be reduced to, and based on, the interpretation of a "coloured dot." For her, this is a situation that, by encouraging the influence of status within the community in this manner, ensures the boundaries between social groups are more defined, an occurrence that promotes inequality:

[4.23] The entire purpose of this site even with the stupid avatars or sig files or whatever is that you have the opportunity to choose your own individuality and not have something assigned for you by other people that can positively and or negatively influence other people. Now they might do nothing, they might do something. I do not think that these are principles that this community was founded on. (July 6, 2004)

[4.24] However, as I have already established, there is already a de facto reputation/status hierarchy within Murmurs through the subcultural fan values and via levels of subcultural capital. Rather, it is the move from implicit to explicit norms that appears to concern community members because it makes community hierarchies that contest values of equality highly visible. I argue that as long as these hierarchical systems remain implicit, the contradictions embedded within liberalism can be glossed over and remain ignored. However, as soon as the hierarchies come under surveillance or are made explicit, the contradiction becomes too visible and threatening. As Michel Foucault states, "Visibility is a trap" (1977, 93).

[4.25] The act of surveillance in society has been deemed a strategy of power that acts as a "component in an ideological offensive to reclaim…a desired sociospatial order" (Coleman 2004, 2; see also Bell 1984, 108). I would argue that the purpose of the Reputations and User Notes strategies within Murmurs is "to operate invisibly while providing visibility; and to foster subjects' participation in their own monitoring (self-policing), sometimes involuntarily" (Ericson, Haggerty, and Carriere 1993, 35). This is to say, members are encouraged to engage in surveillance in order to mark and govern any nonnormative fan identity themselves. Therefore, the strategies could be considered as leading the community to the position of a surveillance community, or what Foucault termed "governmentality" (1978), which entails "continuity between the rule of self, household and state whose interruption precipitates crisis in all these areas" (Baddley 1997, 64). This form of control is conceived as "the ensemble formed by the institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics, that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex form of power, which has as its target populations" (Foucault 1978, 102). Therefore, to "improve the wealth" (Loader 1997, 12) of the community, Murmurs employs these strategies of power to reinforce the central values of R.E.M. fandom. However, as I have shown, the strategies used precipitated crisis because they at least partially contradicted the very values of liberalism that they were attempting to defend. Ultimately, the strategies did not translate "into the values decisions and judgements of citizens" (Miller and Rose 1990, 18).

[4.26] The Reputations system was eventually abandoned on July 7, 2004, after only 3 days of use in Murmurs, and although User Notes remains available, the feature is seldom used. Therefore, both strategies were successfully tactically resisted by the community.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] Repercussions occur when strategies of surveillance are introduced within an online fan community by the hierarchy in an effort to encourage the self-policing of normative behavior. This situation demonstrates that when fans become aware that they are instruments of governmentality that introduces policies that contest the central values of the community, they can, as demonstrated by Murmurs, tactically reject the processes, consequently becoming self-steering (Miller and Rose 1990, 18). As Holford observes, "Technologies of governing are neither all-embracing nor universally successful…Citizens are active in state-sponsored projects; but…they do not always act along officially-encouraged lines" (2007, 99). Thus, fans can steer themselves in an alternative direction to the official strategies.

[5.2] From this study, it is clear that strategies of governance implemented in a fan community by the hierarchy can be resisted by community members through tactical power. It is vital that the tools of governance must not visibly contradict the central ethos of the fan base, but instead appear to be working in an effort to protect these values and "improve the wealth of the nation" (Loader 1997, 12). This has broad implications for understanding the power dynamics of online fan governance and highlights how this is a dialectical process that can continue in any fan community as long as normative fan identity is policed and governed. As Henry Jenkins warns, "Tactics can never fully overcome strategy; yet, the strategist cannot prevent the tactician from striking again" (1992, 45).

6. Acknowledgments

[6.1] I thank Matt Hills, Iñaki Garcia-Blanco, and Rebecca Williams for their valuable comments. I also thank the Murmurs community for their support through the research process.

7. Notes

1. Examples of these include a 1986 radio advertisement by Michael Stipe where "he urged people to vote for [Georgia Democrat Wyche] Fowler over a backing tape of 'Fall on Me'" (Gray 1992, 198–99), and a 1988 advertisement in a Georgian newspaper stating, "Stipe says don't get Bushwhacked, get out and vote. Vote smart, Dukakis" (Gray 1992, 200).

2. As Michael Stipe stated in an interview with Italian television in 1989, "The one thing that R.E.M. can offer is music that you can dance to if you want, you can ignore it, you can use it like furniture, but there's also something there that you can listen to and say 'this is intelligent' or at least 'this is not stupid'" (Bowler and Dray 1995, 3).

3. For an exploration of R.E.M.'s numerous humanitarian involvements, see Gray (1992, 193–216).

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