WTMD is listener-supported radio from the campus of Towson University.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Statement from our GM about the Trademarking of the word Hon


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.

Stephen Yasko
WTMD’s General Manager

30 comments:

Tom said...

Such a great summation! This just about says it all ...

Amanda said...

I, for one, am very glad WTMD did decide to speak up on this issue, hon. Ms. Whiting was very wrong..she lost touch with reality trying to 'money grab'. She may think 'Hons' are 'cheap dime whores', but anyone who was born and raised in Baltimore by (or even just had a relative Baltimore hon) knows they can not be bought/owned; They made themselves into a National brand...Exactly! Yes, she grossly underestimated the essence of a hon. Thanks again, hon.

Anonymous said...

well stated, steve. just for the record, i just trademarked "music for music people". hehe. - scott mogol

Owl Meat said...

Well done. A very thoughtful summary. The pure rancor that this woman inspires is amazing.

barbara foltz said...

Thank you WTMD. Well said. I hope Ms. Whiting will take note. Also, as a home grown Hampdenite, "hon" was never really a Hampden thing.

Joyce King said...

I think that the outrage over Denise Whiting and the HON ownership was a catalyst for resentment that has long simmered in many Baltimoreans, and Hampdenites in particular. As a fourth generation Hampden resident, I never appreciated the caricature and exploitation that she used to promote her cafe. She has never made original Hampden residents feel welcome in her restaurant. I for one, have never stepped foot inside of it, and never attended Honfest. I am not the only one. Most of us from Hampden feel the same resentment. We feel she capitalized on our blue collar ethic, moral code, and strong generational ties to promote herself, all the while spitting in our eyes. Most people I know that have lived in Hampden all of our lives do not support anything that has her "brand" on it. She is the ultimate carpetbagger, and for once her art of shameless self promotion has boomeranged back to bite her in the derriere.

Anonymous said...

Amen. I grew up in Baltimore (Canton, before it was gentrified), and can attest that everything you said is true. Down with Cafe Hon, but Up with Hon!

Democradance said...

Thank you for not only posting your very thoughtful blog but for allowing us to gasp in concert to this appauling trademark - it simply flies in the face of all Hons

John said...

The whole Hon exploitation is one of those typical city hipster things where they are acting like they are paying homage to something, but instead they are making sport of it, and it this case, have decided to merely profit from something they didn't create, and has existed long before they were born. My wife and I have discussed Ms. Whiting's recent move and we've concluded that we will no longer patronize her establishment, where we frequently took out of town guests. We supported her in her battle against the City over the flamingo, as I'm sure many residents and patrons did, but no more.

marc steiner said...

Steve, you hit the nail on the head - some folks think they need to own everything they touch ... the outrage is widespread - Antero Piettela wrote a great response as well ....
thanks
marc steiner

Swamp Thing said...

"Doesn't realize she has violated this sense of community," ?

Are you kidding? I'm sure she's fully aware. Nothing but a money grab, very similar to MTV's "The Situation" trying to trademark the phrase "The Situation" (oh yes he did try!).

To answer one of the true Hampdenites who commented though, Ms. Whiting and her cohorts have done amazing good for the neighborhood over the years. Many "4th generation Hampdenites" were able to sell their 4th generation, run down homes for prices well over $200,000 (about quadruple what they were really worth) and get the heck out of dodge. The "new" (15 year old) businesses also employ kids and adults from the neighborhood.

It's not like Cafe Hon has been the demise of Hampden's grand and eclectic culture. At it's best, these businesses have fostered and encouraged the traditions (and stereotypes). At worst, they are trying to make sure they turn a profit on it (and us).

Joyce King said...

@Swamp Thing

Hampden was in a revival at least 18 months before Cafe Hon came here. We were not dying, on the contrary, we were on the upswing, which is the main reason she came. Also, you obviously do not know the real estate market. Home prices were inflated across the country at that time. Denise Whiting had nothing to do with the market in Hampden or Baltimore. And, Mr. Thing, many homes in Hampden were NOT in disrepair. As in many neighborhoods as old as Hampden, all things do not look shiny and new. That is part of the charm. Many Hampden homes have passed through genterations of the same family, and were well maintained. You, Mr. Thing, are rude and insulting. Denise Whiting did nothing that did not promote Denise Whiting. I assure you, she did not do it for the people of Hampden.

Anonymous said...

One person said they will never go in the Hon cafe again. I think this is the best and most effective way to show your ire, outrage, disgust or whatever negative adjective you may have for such a downright vile act. If I were to print a bunch of cards saying "Merry Christmas From a Baltimore Hon" for my friends, what gives her the right to stop me? Your power is in withholding your business. Hit her in the pocketbook since that is all she seems to understand.

Grrrr said...

Denise Whiting is no HON. It's been said that there are a few names far more suited to her disposition. Did the Bard attempt to tradmark SHREW for Kate. Did the AKA get a lock on B!TCH? There's still hope.

kenneth the menneth said...

In Denise Whiting's own words:
"I disappointed the city, my family and myself." No wait, that was Sheila Dixon.

In any case, when all of the fries settle, and the roaches stop scurrying, I guess we all will see who has the last laugh: Denise Whiting, who is under the impression that one must be hard and firm in Business, ignoring the chatters and grumbles and concerns of the masses- when it involves matters of Business- or the People of Baltimore, who have come to bite the hand of "The Thief of Hon, Proponent of None."

Take a look at Cafe Hon's reviews. Talk about a sip...and bite: http://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-hon-baltimore

Laura said...

Thank you so much, Steve, for this thoughtful reflection, as opposed to the many knee-jerk diatribes I've seen over the past week. You have put into words many of the discomforting thoughts I've had about Cafe Hon and Honfest over the years. Sure, she has helped make the Avenue in Hampden a destination over the past 15 years, but there is more than a hint of exploitation in what she has done.

Again, thank you.

Robert said...

@SwampThing

You are wholly misinformed. Have you ever been to Hampden? Sure, maybe in the last 5 years or so.
I moved into Hampden 16 years, not because of the Cafe H*n, but because it was safe and affordable. The homes I looked at were run down, yet very affordable. I moved to a block that had already been resettled by newcomers, mostly families. I can name at least 15 friends who moved into the neighborhood before the real estate boom, and none of them bought in Hampden because of The H*n.
In fact, when I moved in, she had her cafe across the street, in the space currently occupied by Suzie Soba. Her cureent spot was a hardware store, and her current bar was a jewelry store. We ate her a cafe several times but decided the food was better and more affordable at the old Avenue Diner and Ye Olde Eate Shoppe. Yeah, places you've never heard of because you don't speak from experience.
To state that she had anything to do with the resurgence of Hampden is folly. We made her, not the other way around.

Anonymous said...

Taking the word Hon from us is like saying we can't say or use the word Baldimore anymore. Geesh!
Thanks for speaking out.

Melissa said...

I have sat back for almost the past week and watched as many posted their thoughts and opinions on the "Hon" situation and it seems the ones with her loudest cry of support have absoutly nothing to do with nor come from the WONDERFUL community that is Hampden and that I have called home for ALL my 29 years here on Earth. I am 5ht gengeration Hampdenite I have seen many things come and go in regards to Hampden. Some for the good but none of which where asked for by Hampden or really for TRUE Hampden. Where did my May Fair go? It was replaced by Honfest! Where did the Small Fry parade go? The kick off of the CHILDRENS baseball season THE Hon moved in.. Denise and her band of followers are so quick to praise her "great works" More like her high priced nasty food, and her watered down beers. Or better yet the coperate greed that is "Cafe Hon" If she is not in it for a profit on branding "hon" then where was she this past summer when I the person that run Roosevelt Park Pool put together a Family Day at the pool to kick off the summer every merchant in the HVMA contributed to the event. Do you think the Hon did? No! And the worst part your favorite "Hon" had just had her money making fest the weekend prior! Did she even give me her Honfest cast off to support the day? No she did not. It was the original Mom and Pop shops like Sandys, Falkenhan or Angelo's who provided all the pizza for the day (and there was well over 200 people in attendance)and the newly started business 9th Life, Charlotte Elliott, Atomic Books, Dreamland, Double Dutch so please all thoes that see MY neighborhood as a wateland STAY AWAY! Go back to the high rent area you came from. Hampden with all it down falls has been and always will be better off without Denise!! Hampden always has and always will be a wonderful town even more so when all you "hon loving" indivuals leave.. Hampden will still have the charm you wanted to steal with or without Denise Once I hit send I am sure Denise's band of merry idiots will respond. But remeber this Hampden showed you'd you how REAL communities act, showed you how to band togehter and act like a community Blue collar is still alive and well here! So HOn if you don't like true Hampden go find your own area and give me back mine! And but up your own darn Christmas Lights too while your at it !!!

Robert said...

@Baltimorerag -
Correction: The homes were NOT run-down. Just very affordable. I looked at many homes. They weren't rehabbed the way they've become, but absolutely clean and inhabitable.

-Baltimorerag

Anonymous said...

I guess it is okay to say nasty things on the internet about people you do not know, because no one gets hurt, right?? Just think people - she is a human being, just like the boy who was "outed" and committed suicide - internet posts don't hurt anyone do they??????

A Nonny Mouse said...

To Anonymous above: You're a little late. Ms. Whiting has already committed suicide- Financial Suicide.

Shawn said...

I can't believe that someone that did so much for a neighborhood is willing to take from a city a word with such deep meaning and use it for personal benefit. Everyone should boycott cafe hon until she gives back the name.

unfinishedscript said...

Unbelievable..

If my great-grandmother were alive today, I still think she would have welcomed Ms. Whiting into her home (though this may be over/under-estimating her character, depending on how you want to look at it).

I do not, however, think that she would have sat there and listened to any explanation as to why trademarking a symbol of Baltimore was anything but selfish and self-centered.

It might be more like, "Why in the hell would you do that?!"

Anonymous said...

"I guess it is okay to say nasty things on the internet about people you do not know, because no one gets hurt, right?? Just think people - she is a human being, just like the boy who was "outed" and committed suicide - internet posts don't hurt anyone do they??????"

really? do you REALLY think this woman gives a rat's ass about what people think about her? she is a shrewd shit disturber who only has her interests in mind. she relishes all of the negative press she generates. she is quite aware of what she is doing and it is absolutely reprehensible. how she can walk down the street every day without being tackled by an angry mob every day is beyond me. not quite sure why i quoted the 13 year old girl up there but i thought it was ridiculous and the equation made me laugh. SHE'S A HUMAN BEING! BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR INTERNET WORDS! Nope. I could care less if such an unthoughtful person offed themselves. She is the bully, not the other way around.

John said...

My last dining experience at Cafe Hon was far from great. My wife's dinner was practically inedible. As I said earlier, we are boycotting her establishment permanently as a result of the trademarking, but that aside, I doubt if we would've gone back very soon based on our last meal there. If she really wants to establish a "brand", then improve the quality of your product, and no trademark is necessary.

Anonymous said...

I just don't understand the spiteful hatred that has come out over this issue. If your mother was a 50's era Baltimore Hon then fine. Blast away. But if you never went to restaurant but kinda didn't like it for some reason or other and now you've got a soap box to stand on then give it a rest. I think Ms Whiting was trying to protect her business the best way that she knew how. And maybe she should have gone about it in a different way. But the mudslinging is shameful. How about putting some of this outrage and energy into, oh I don't know, the teen pregnancy problem in the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I grew up next to Hamden, not in it. I've always thought HonFest was pretty demeaning.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Yasko: Now that you have read Denise Whiting's latest apology, does that change in any way how you feel?

Ted said...

Steve, Thanks for your comments. A lot of what I have seen on the web has slammed her restaurant and patrons and hurled personal verbal assaults. It was great to read something sound, succinct and without emotion that states what all the others have been attempting to express.