Monday, June 16, 2008

A Taste of Hon-ey

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?


cathouse teri said...


I think it's probably inevitable. Especially when you're using a waitress term as your foundation for the thing. I mean really... how about, "Kiss my grits!" If we started a festival originating with that phrase, it wouldn't be long for it to become trashy.

The waitress/hairdresser community has long been called upon to epitomize the trashy people of the town. A silly stereotype, but one we've had much fun with.

First of all, it conjures up images of caricature type people. And since I love Dolly, I happen to have a great affinity for that type of person. Dolly did this on purpose. She knew a woman in town who was called "the wrong kind of woman" and she wanted to grow up to be JUST LIKE HER.

I think everyone should have fun with it. Whatever it evolves to be. As long as it isn't doing harm.

Elizabeth said...

I thought the picture was a bunch of men in drag. I had to click on it and make it bigger to see that it's actually women. Right?

yellojkt said...

Those are women deliberately making themselves less attractive. While there were a few guys in drag, most guys dressing up were wearing bermuda shorts, white shirts, and black socks.

Anonymous said...

Actually, you know, the business you mention where people put on folklore shows for tourists and then change into modern dress can be a lot less misleading than you think. Here in Germany, you get that sort of thing, but if you get away from the tourist centers you can find those traditions and mode of dress still flourishing. Bavaria in general is an excellent case in point. Many people do still dress in traditional clothes (not necessarily lederhosen) for special occasions or even business.

And they do the dances and stuff when nobody else is watching. Story: My wife's uncle lived in a Bavarian village for many years and had come to be friends with most of the locals. We were there for his 85th birthday a few years ago, big family reunion/weekend. At midnight on his birthday, a group of locals came into the backyard dressed to the nines in traditional garb. They led us out front to the street where they proceeded to do a number of those dances where they slap their shoes and bang benches on the ground, all to accordion music. I mentioned this was after midnight, right? The neighbors all stuck their heads out of their windows or came outside, not to complain about the noise, but to enjoy the show.

So, yeah, some of these groups may change into something else when they're done, at least in the places where they do this for tourists, but they also still do it for themselves when the tourists aren't around.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

LOL everyone looks like they came from a special showing of Hairspray! Tee Hee! that's greatness :)

Unknown said...

WOw you really have no idea what you are talking about ... I am responding to another comment you wrote on another site where you said HonFest does not give a break to non-profits...that is right they give them the space for FREE! As for local beer they pulled out because they did not make enough money EITHER!
This years winner is 76 and has worked her entire life, she is kind and happy, the two qualities that still exist in true Bawlmer Hons with or without a beehive.

yellojkt said...

You have me confused with somebody else. I've never made any statements about non-profits at Hon-Fest. I have said that it is a promotional vehicle for Cafe Hon.

Anonymous said...

Crossing that line is kind of like art vs. pornography: you can't necessarily define it, but you know it when you see it.

I think that as the "real" Hons die off and are replaced in their entirety by their ersatz counterparts, that's where the transformation is complete. No longer do you have people doing it out of memory for their neighbor/friend/relative who dressed and behaved that way. You wind up with people who are dressing based on what the popular image of that person is, and the original image gets watered down.

It reminds me of a comment I once read, by someone who works at Graceland. When asked about all the Elvis impersonators, he noted that "they don't look so much like Elvis as they do each other." And that, for me, is the other side of the line.