WTMD doesn’t often wander into commenting on news stories or sticking our nose into other people’s business, but as the outrage grows over Denise Whiting’s trademarking of the word “Hon,” some of us at the station can’t get it out of our heads. We keep trying to figure out why we, and thousands of others, feel anger and contempt for Ms. Whiting, owner of Café Hon in Hampden.
Ms. Whiting is certainly within her right to try and grow a business, build a brand and serve her customers. But what angers people most is she is using a concept that predates her restaurant. Ms. Whiting didn’t invent the Baltimore Hon. The images, emotions and memories encapsulated in these three letters are the very heart and soul of our city.
For most of us, the visual image of a Hon, an old Baltimore housewife from the 50s, is encapsulated in the transformation Edna Turnblad makes in Hairspray (the comedy, not the musical). Hons were authentic women concerned about making sure their kids grew up ok, their husbands got to the steel mill on time and they kept an eye on Baltimore’s neighborhoods making sure they were safe and clean. They always had a pot of coffee on the stove to sip while gossiping with their girlfriends. Hons are selfless and even innocent.
Behind the glasses, the hair and the accent were strong, protective women who lived in their own world and never considered the changes that could take us from the Buddy Dean Show to the Wire in just one lifetime. Coffee was black-no-sugar, not a Grande Skinny No Whip White Mocha. Hons remind us that life was simpler once and perhaps we long for a time when a Blackberry was something you made into a pie.
They are our mothers and grandmothers, the older lady down the street we keep an eye on; they are people we care about. We would never think to exploit them. And that is what Ms. Whiting has done. She didn’t invent Hon, she found it, sculpted it, and turned into something that makes money. Trademarking the word so that others can’t print it is the final act of theft and I think we’ve all been shocked at how Ms. Whiting has manipulated the word and perhaps us.
Sure, we all think Honfest is a blast. Dressing up in the exaggerated costumes and pushing the essence of the Hon to the limit seemed like we were paying homage to these women. But in many ways the brand Ms. Whiting has built on this word is just plain old disrespectful to the women that it’s based upon. Ms. Whiting is not alone in this stereotyping, we’ve all had a good time dishing the leopard skin prints, the cat’s eye glasses and spending big bucks on those rubber beehives. I think a little collective guilt is playing into our reactions to Ms. Whiting’s theft of our beloved Hon.
Yet, as the Internet outrage points out, we all feel ownership of Hon. We don’t want the right to use the word in print taken away from us. And we don’t understand how Ms. Whiting doesn’t recognize that she has violated that sense of community. A sense of community the women of 1950s Baltimore created by just being themselves. Not being able to print that word on a coffee mug, T-shirt or bumper sticker cuts the rest of us off from people we care about and respect. By crowning herself head Hon, Ms. Whiting has taken away a very personal connection to our past and cheapens our relationship with our City’s heritage.
WTMD’s General Manager