by William P. Tandy (“Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!”, 12/12/2010)
In the days since the Baltimore Messenger “broke” the story of Café Hon owner Denise Whiting’s trademarking of the word “hon”, the public backlash has been palpable. Everyone from regular citizens to the editorial department of the city’s paper of record, The Baltimore Sun, has tried and convicted her actions in the court of public opinion. Many have called for boycotts of Ms. Whiting’s establishments and events.
Which is fine. However, ask how many of us really frequented these things before the shit hit the fan; I, for one, can count the number of times I’ve been to Café Hon, Hon Bar and Honfest on one hand that’s missing a digit or two. Tough to take back business you never (or seldom) gave in the first place. But the motivation behind the idea is well-founded. After all, though it’s doubtful that Ms. Whiting enjoys being the subject of such scornful public mockery, indeed, as an entrepreneur, loss of business is her kryptonite. So by all means, shun those things if you’re so inclined. Moreover, encourage your family and friends – out of town, as well as locally – to follow suit.
A few, including Ms. Whiting herself, have claimed that the burgeoning outrage at her actions is born of “envy” (or, better still, stupidity that renders her opposition unable to comprehend her genius). Anyone who buys that is missing the point entirely. The collective, citywide anger over what many see as a brazen attempt to monopolize a facet of Baltimore’s identity says there’s much more to it than that. No, Ms. Whiting – they don’t envy you; rather, they are appalled that such a thing would have occurred to you in the first place.
It’s well-known that Baltimore’s favorite son, John Waters – who grew up in Lutherville, outside the city – has made a career of lampooning Baltimore’s character. The key difference between these two individuals, however, is celebration (Waters) and crass exploitation (Whiting). Indeed, Mr. Waters’ personality and creative body of work, as well as all those involved with it, are by far more responsible than all of Ms. Whiting’s faux-hives and trinkets for creating the popular image of Baltimore for which she has deluded herself into taking sole credit.
In the end, it comes down to money; she is only as powerful as the dollars that walk through her door. Hence, while ranting and railing are fine, if you really want to make a lasting point, take your wallet elsewhere. And tell your friends, family and out of town visitors to do the same. There is no dearth of fine Hampden-area establishments, new and old, that are worth patronizing: Golden West, Rocket to Venus, One World Café, Frazier’s, just to name a few. Need a tangible souvenir of your time in Charm City? Visit Atomic Books, which stocks items actually made in Baltimore by Baltimore artists. And while you’re at it, take a stroll down the 700 block of West 34th Street – a true Baltimore institution – for a taste of “real” Baltimore, the city that builds community through hard work and dedication, not “suing people’s pants off”…
William P. Tandy, Editor, Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!