This patient's beyond help.
Some folks pay mere lip service to the idea that audio is a fun hobby. They demonstrate instead in actions, thinking and all manner of expressions nothing other than the solitary agony that is the dark dungeon of their listening room and insecurities. They're the apostles of doubt and reluctance. They're nailed to their saintly crosses of navel-gazing and endless repairs. But then there are some who actually do live up their passion. They invite folks over to their digs. They listen to other people's systems. They hang with the local retailers and distributors. They exchange equipment and opinions. They're social animals who know how to share. They openly indulge everything that passionate people do with others who share their obsession or interest. They're figurative swingers. They have fun.

But something terrible happens when such enthusiasts enter the folds of the press. The straight jackets go on. They're forced to pretend that they're really lone wolves, tied-into-a-knot geeks who are tethered to their rigs in rooms nobody enters except them - and from which they never emerge so as to not become tainted by the world beyond. God forbid they invite others over who may have any kind of affiliations or connections to the industry. God forbid they frequent a certain shop and swill beers with the owner. God forbid they routinely visit the home of an importer to listen to the latest landings of exotic gear on domestic turf. God forbid they accept an invitation to visit a foreign manufacturer on his nickel (since their salary as a writer is so opulent). God forbid they accept paid-for hotel rooms to cover a trade show rather than spend their own money to promote someone else's event.

Should any of this become known or worse, become a feature of their work? Instantly, the unfortunate inheritance of certain precedents and scapegoats asserts itself. Fingers point, rumors spread and the reviewer finds himself discredited for having friends, for having fun, for living the hobby to the fullest, for incorporating other listeners' opinions, for having certain expenses reimbursed. Having and making friends, mixing and mingling, remaining open and curious and friendly and accessible and on the neighborhood beat means he must be influenced and played. He's no longer trustworthy. He's on the take, on a collision course with collusion. Importer X feels uncomfortable sending him review product since he's clearly tight with distributor Z who happens to be local. The reviewer becomes known as the guy who loves everything Nixon makes. He becomes the butt buddy of scorn.

I think this situation isn't entirely balanced or realistic. It's psychologically flawed. There's something fundamentally wrong with perception when reviewers are forced to pretend that they live on an island floating in the limbo of outer space. Think about it. The more outgoing and proactive reviewers are, the more you stand to learn from their ongoing explorations. The more friends and connections they have, the more they will be on the inside track of hot information. Having connections means more access so you can enjoy reviews of some of the more unusual gear you've never heard of before. The more those writer guys and gals open themselves up to the greater world around them, the more their writing, their head space and their actions operate within and reflect that bigger picture. Isn't that what you should want from your favorite writers?

Never mind, that's not what certain readers demand. They insist on isolation, on a nearly inhuman distance, on twisted geekdom. The question becomes, should reviewers rise above such distorted perception and do their thing without regard for the consequences? Or should they be afraid of perception, anticipate it, heed it, kowtow to it and thereby pander to those who would give credence to -- and perpetuate or even start -- rumors and conspiracy theories and narrow-minded mudslinging?

Of course, there is plenty of apparent anecdotal evidence that not all rumors are perhaps based entirely on imagination, that not all suspicions are unwarranted. There's good cops and bad cops. There's honest reviewers and dishonest reviewers. But should the former adapt their outlook and attitude to avoid being mistaken for the latter? If you answer yes to that question, don't you essentially also condone the resultant perpetuation of that archetypal notion - the lone audiophile who sweats over bad anxieties in his room? It strikes me we've already got enough of that. Doesn't it you? The unfortunate reality is that perception rules over intention and often over reality. Anyone who pursues audio writing for a living (i.e. professionally) seems to feel forced, to some extent, to pander to perception. If my perspective on that has any merit, the blame for that rests equally on the bad press apples as it does on a certain small portion of the audience. Those readers forget that most writers are motivated by passion and enthusiasm, not questionable schemes. Passionate people don't live in cages. They're out and about networking and connecting. They expose themselves since that's the only way to learn new things. Exposure means mud will occasionally stick on you and people can -- and will -- take aim. But what's the alternative? Not coming out of your room and disavowing any and all human interactions with those who send you review gear or, like you, work in some fashion in the industry? Where's the healthy boundary? Do we need the kind of strict boundaries certain people seem to insist on? Can't professionals be trusted to party and then show up at work sober and properly prepped, the previous night and its social implications set aside?

Naturally, this only scratches the surface. For the purposes of highlighting one aspect, I've deliberately chosen to disregard others. Like people, aspects don't exist in isolation so this is oversimplified and lacks certain counter-balancing arguments. Still, it's a point that bothers me. While I don't know what exactly the appropriate balance should between painful restraint and rampant laissez-faire that would make everybody happy, I can at least state that I think something about this scenario is wrong. Should writers deliberately pander to perception and risk undermining many of the fun and social aspects of the hobby? Should they pretend to be Neanderthal cave dwellers so they can remain immune from criticisms of undue involvement and exposure? Should they curb their natural inclinations for human intercourse to appear as remote infallible judges somewhere up in them clouds? Is that what you want from and for your writers? If so, doesn't that seem a mite grotesque and - well, unhealthy? Could you do it? Would you even want to? Are you so sure that their motives are truly anything other than appropriately hobbyist and enthusiast? If so, you're a whole lot surer than I am...