My wife had to go to Johns Hopkins this weekend to take a test so I drove her there and decided to kill an hour or two in Hampden. I had forgotten that this weekend was Hon-Fest, Baltimore's celebration of everything kitschy. Luckily I was early enough to still get some street parking because all of 36th Street aka The Avenue was closed off from Chestnut to Falls Road. There were street vendors and festival food and crafts everywhere. And plenty of people dressed in their full Hon-ware regalia, which is anything remotely 50s or 60s with big hair and tacky colors.
For non-Baltimoron readers, "hon" is a local term of endearment used by waitresses and hairdressers and the like. I have been unironically "hon"-ed by all sorts of people. However, in Baltimore, the word has taken on a larger embrace of all things trashy. John Waters in a Washington Post article has officially renounced his association with hon-culture. From the article he says:
"To me, it's used up," Waters said of Hon style. "It's condescending now. The people that celebrate it are not from it. I feel that in some weird way they're looking slightly down on it. I only celebrate something I can look up to."I'm not really sure how Baltimore became associated with all things kitschy except through Water's off-kilter tributes to his hometown like Hairspray. But he clearly created a beehived monster. The phenomenon has outgrown its roots and the flames of Hon-ness are fanned by marketing juggernaut Cafe Hon in Hampden (recently reviewed by Alex here).
Of more concern to me was the notice that Atomic Books is moving off the Avenue to consolidate digs with Atomic Pop on Falls Road. I wrote about Atomic Books back in this post and I have irregularly patronized the store since its original location on Maryland Avenue. Atomic Books is noted for also being devoted to all things quirky. However, unlike the backward looking nostalgia of the Hon-osphere, Atomic Books tries to stay cutting edge and avant-garde. Not that it doesn't carry it's share of retro-merchandise, but their product selection has an edginess that goes beyond glittery cat-eye glasses.
Not being a native of the area, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to react to this institutionalized celebration of a very narrow slice of time and culture in Baltimore history. It's like when I travel to foreign countries and the tour always includes a night of traditional dancers in native costumes. And then after the show the performers change back into jeans and tee-shirts and go listen to pop-music at a nightclub. They are just giving the tourists a look at how they expect things to be rather than how they really are.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: When does pop-culture promotion cross over into patronizing exploitation?