McHenry County Is Now Resealable
Since I learned of the McHenry County Board’s yearning for a new county seal four months ago, the redesign of this emblem has been the topic of eight Heck of a Guy post posts (prior to today’s entry):
- Sealed With A Dis
- The Great Seal Of McHenry County Not Great Enough
- McHenry County Eye Candy
- McHenry County Seal Makeover Makes The News
- Baseball, Hot Dogs, Community College, and County Seals
- The Passive-Aggressive State of Illinois Seal
- How To Create An Official Seal – Part 1: The Mechanics
- How To Create An Official Seal – Part 2: Credentials
After researching and writing these posts, I can confidently summarize the state of the art in the field of county seals thusly:
County seals, with a few exceptions, fall into one of two categories: drab, dull blotches of ink or meretricious collections of garishly colored, randomly chosen dingbats. Regardless of their classification, county seals are almost universally unrecognized by citizens who do not use the seal in their daily work. In many cases, this sub-rosa existence is the seal’s strong point. Of those few seals that are well known, most have attained notoriety because they have been the target of an actual or threatened lawsuit (typically because they displayed a cross) or are unintentionally funny, accidentally provocative, or just incredibly, irrevocably ugly.
Put another way, …
and the mutual respect between county government and its citizens
in the same way that the prints on the walls of the Super 8 Motel
convey artistic sublimity, the grandeur of the human soul,
and the ineluctable nexus between the veridical world and
the metaphysical concept of beauty1
By my own, admittedly subjective standards, perhaps 5% of the more than 300 county seals I’ve seen meet the criteria for “attractive.” Samples from this group are depicted below.
Were it not for the many county seals of Maryland that feature a coat of arms, a fortuitous combination of colorful emblems with symbolic significance and an impressive connotation of power and authority, the number of seals in my “attractive” category would be severely depleted. Others might legitimately argue, however, that these heraldic devices are at best archaic and perhaps even anti-democratic. And, while I like the bright, stylized graphics found in seals such as that of Palm Beach, others may find this mode too cartoonish and undignified for a county seal.
The Arlington County, Virginia seal may be my aesthetic favorite; it’s notable, therefore, that I found it in a 10 May 2007 Washington Post article entitled Arlington Settles on County Seal -Standard Adopted After Much Debate. It’s an instructive tale that I’ve excerpted here:
Harvey Wilcox was eating lunch at the Pentagon when he took out a pencil, drew his idea on a napkin and sent it in. County officials liked it so much that they chose it not only as the winner of the flag contest — to be flown on a background of a “pale cheery yellow” — but as the official county seal.
That’s when the problems began. “People would change it – take away the words, put in their department name. They’d add pictures to it,” said Diana Sun, who spent months researching the history of the seal for the county and came up with the proposed standard. “It just wasn’t right.”
… Furor over the seal had died down by the time Sun arrived in 2003 as the county’s director of communications and began working to standardize the seal.
Until the logo.
When the county adopted a snazzy, modern take on Arlington House’s columns a few years ago as a marketing tool, some Arlingtonians were upset that the logo was replacing the serene seal.
… Zimmerman, now board chairman, described the reaction over the logo as “somewhere between a kerfuffle and a controversy.” “It raised some passions. I was surprised by the number of people who talked to me about it … .”
…So, as part of adopting the standards for the seal, Arlington County officials are drafting a protocol for when the seal should be used — on all official board documents, for example — and when the logo can be used.
For all these years, our seal has lain there tattered and defiled,” said Mary Curtius, a spokeswoman for the county. “People have ripped it asunder. It was a mess. A horrible mess.”
And an emotional one.
Given that (1) the current McHenry County Seal falls, by any reasonable standard,2 somewhere in the vast midrange of the normal distribution bell curves of attractiveness, memorability, appropriateness, and symbolic meaningfulness and (2) revising the seal, as the lesson of Arlington County, Virginia teaches us, would put us at risk of a kerfuffle or even a controversy,3 the wise course of action is clear: We don’t need no stinkin’ new seal.
Yep, that would be the wise choice – to focus on what is needed and eschew the temptation to expend time and resources on re-doing the decorations. If one likens the central functions of county government to a decent dress shirt then the County Seal would be the cuff links.4 Surely, the Board’s energies should be on fashioning a higher quality shirt than on replacing perfectly adequate cuff links with a new fancy-schmancy set we don’t need.5
But, heck, I don’t need MP3s of 40 cover versions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, the spiffy watch that I use so infrequently that I had to buy a new batteries the last two times I wore it, or a bag of Honeycrisp apples every week they are in season. These items fall in the category of enjoyable nonessentials (AKA discretionary purchases), the cost of which I find easy enough to justify by the pleasure they provide me.6
And it requires only a moment’s reflection to realize that the redesign of a seal is probably one of the more benign results of a County Board’s whim. Indeed, one could argue that such projects could serve a protective purpose, diverting legislative power from notions with more significant consequences.
So, in the matter of the McHenry County Seal, the Heck of a Guy blog has shifted from principled opposition, manifested in ridicule, to the less onerous task of damage control, also manifested in ridicule.
The New McHenry County Seal
With limiting negative consequences as the primary goal, my Quest for the Holy Seal has been downgraded into into finding the solution for the new County Seal that will cause the fewest complaints.
Since some folks are put off by the painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it seems unlikely that any design offered for the McHenry Seal, given the presumed difficulty in locating a modern Michelangelo and the gap between the budgets of the McHenry County Board and Pope Julius II, especially in the funds earmarked for “Historic Masterpieces,” will prove acceptable to everyone.
Having thus ruled out traditional county seal images, I briefly considered an ambiguous design that each individual would perceive by his or her individual psychopathology and even sketched a prototype, the so-called McHenry Rorshach Inkblot Seal.
But I quickly recognized the wisdom of that old Ozarks folk saying, Internalized parental imagoes are difficult enough to stabilize intrapsychically; on a county seal, the countertransference is a bitch, and eliminated that model as candidate.
That near-miss, however, led to the obvious alternative. If unconscious transformations of ones perceptions of the seal don’t work, perhaps conscious adaptations would. And thus was born …
The McHenry County Personalized Seal
Personalized license tags have been popular for years7 and personalized postage stamps are now routinely available. Now, it’s time for the personalized county seal.
The logistics would be simple enough. McHenry County would keep its current seal as the default. Anyone who needs a county seal applied to a document, however, could, for a fee, select a design from a database or customize his or her own image (much as one chooses an image for a tattoo) that would be placed within a standardized border that would be common to all McHenry Seals.
The techniques and tools for seal design, described in How To Create An Official Seal – Part 1: The Mechanics, are already available online . Seals could be completed on the fly in a few minutes or prepared in advance.
Customers could also purchase the right to customize seals for documents other than their own. For example, a seeker of immortality who couldn’t scrape up a few million to have a library named after him, could afford a different kind of memorial. McHenry could sell seals in blocks of 100, e.g., for a fee, County Seal applications #300-399 would feature the buyer’s preferred design.
As part of the sales campaign, The County Board would pass ordinances requiring that the seal be attached to more and more documents and displayed at more public venues to increase the number of seals available for sale and make their placements more prominent and desirable.
How about a stipulation that all official forms and correspondence originating from the county’s administrative offices, the local school systems, and the governing bodies of the county’s towns and villages must display the County Seal?
Or imagine, for example, the bidding for design rights to a seal 20 yard high and 20 yards wide painted on a water tower.
I think it likely that some folks would be interested in buying advertising space on seals affixed to county and city maintenance and law enforcement vehicles.
Birthday wishes, marriage proposals, professions of eternal love, knock-knock jokes, …. , all become more impressive with the imprimatur implicit in the McHenry County Seal.
And we would have none of this wimpy “no commercial use” or anti-obscenity restrictions. Let the market deal with it. The county would, of course, tack on a surcharge for advertisements, porn, political statements, and personal attacks.
For those with larger pocketbooks, larger, more openly prestigious seals would be available. If United was willing to pay millions for naming rights to the United Center, there must be a lawyer or bail bondsman willing to fork over a few thousand for the rights to the design of the seals on the courtroom walls for the next two years.
There might even be someone willing to write a check for the seals in the County Board and Community College meeting rooms where those clandestine meetings are held.
And, after looking at that for two or three years, the Board members might well chip in to take back that space, using the opportunity to revise and reissue those World War II posters of the “Loose lips sink ships” sort.
Seal The Deal
So there you have it. Anyone unhappy with the McHenry seal can purchase a more desirable design, McHenry County could be awash in money from fees, and the McHenry County Seal(s) would certainly meet, although in a paradoxical way, the Board’s requirements of being “readily identifiable” and “unique to McHenry County,” at least until other counties steal the concept – or, if they know what’s good for them, buy a franchise.
And, for once again solving McHenry County’s seemingly unsolvable problems, what does the Heck of a Guy blog ask in return?
Well, shucks, Ma’am, twernt nuthin. The entire Heck of a Guy staff is as one in desiring only the satisfaction of a citizen serving his community – albeit in fairly spectacular fashion … and maybe that spot on the water tower.
- To be fair, replacing the images on most county seals with those from Super 8 Motel artwork would be an improvement [↩]
- The sine qua non of a “reasonable standard” is, of course, that it produces results that approximates my judgments. [↩]
- And let’s not even think about the all too real possibilities of an argumentation, conflict, discordance, quarrel, squabble, fuss, contentiousness, battle, tussle, tiff, disagreement, disputation, donnybrook, embroilment, feud, estrangement, enmity, bickering, clash, hubbub, fracas, commotion, disruption, hurly burly, to-do, or, God forbid, hoo-hah. [↩]
- Come to think of it, the current McHenry Seal might look darn nice on a set of cuff links. [↩]
- OK, the shirt metaphor runs into trouble once one begins asking “Why are we buying French cuffs when a standard cuff would obviate the need for cuff links? Or maybe we should get short sleeves. And if cuff links are the seal, what does the tie represent? … [↩]
- For the record, I also don’t need the multiple televisions, computers, and sound systems I own, the cases of Diet Coke which are the foundation of my food pyramid, or the fountain in my back yard – but most of all I don’t need any grief about such small luxuries. I find it significantly more difficult to justify writing a couple of blogs, both of which are definitely nonessentials. [↩]
- According to License plate survey: Illinois about as vain as Virginia, 13.4 percent of the plates issued by Illinois are personalized tags. Virginia and New Hampshire have higher percentages of vanity tags, 16% and 14%, respectively, but Illinois has more of these customized tags, nearly 1.3 million plates, than any other state, despite the fact that Illinois charges $78 a year for the specialty items. Virginia, on the other hand, charges only $10. [↩]