A Modest Defense of Denise Whiting

by John E. McIntyre (The Baltimore Sun, 12/11/2010)

The Baltimore Sun article on Denise Whiting’s trademarking the word for her business, Cafe Hon and its enterprises, has provoked a great outpouring of outrage.

Cafe Hon, we are informed, serves lousy, overpriced food. The annual Honfest insults Baltimore and its working-class heritage. Ms. Whiting is a greedy self-promoter who shamelessly exploits Hampden and reduces it to a tawdry stereotype. And then the comments get intemperate.

I hold no brief for Ms. Whiting. I have eaten at her restaurant a few times, finding the food and drink agreeable, and my daughter enjoys attending Honfest. But I am an auslander in Baltimore, and my daughter doesn’t count as a native either, because she was already two years old when we moved here. But I do think that I can detect something simmering beneath the unfavorable comments: envy.

Ms. Whiting is a shrewd businesswoman who has made a success of her enterprises. Her restaurant continues to have customers, and Honfest draws hundreds of people to Hampden every year. Successful entrepreneurs do not tend to have charming personalities, and if people find Ms. Whiting pushy, well, that is part of the package.

A while back, John Waters denounced Honfest as cheap and inauthentic, and that is part of the chorus of denunciations of Ms. Whiting as exploitative. But really, though Mr. Waters has portrayed Baltimore’s working-class personalities lovingly, isn’t there a degree of exploitation in his displaying those personalities for personal fame? And cash. Ms. Whiting is doing for business what writers and filmmakers do for art.

Continue reading “A Modest Defense of Denise Whiting” at The Baltimore Sun.

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