I've officially had to leave the blue and white behind in favor of the green, blue and white. Noting political, the state just said it was finally time for my car to get a new license plate. Personally, I liked the blue and white landscape better, but that design was a big improvement over the two-tone standard plates that came before it, so it's hard not to like it.
Of course, there were plenty of people out there who in fact didn't like any of the options the Iowa Department of Transportation offered the public last year. Now, public criticism is a necessary part of the design process, and while I didn't like the solid blocks of color so well, I thought blaming the designer and calling for her to loose her job at the DOT — because that’s how we deal with our problems nowadays — was unmerited.
Rather, in the case of Iowa’s license plate problem, I think the wheel of style is partly to blame. The wheel of style is what's got young people wearing flannel again. It’s what has hipsters waxing their mustaches, and it’s what had parents laughing to themselves when bell-bottoms were hitting the shelves again under the guise of flared jeans. Society’s pendulum of style has begun to swing back again, and we were unprepared for the change, as it crept onto the bumpers of our cars.
Like I said, I remember license plates in Iowa being white letters and numbers on a blue background. That’s all it was. Then, in the mid-90s, the state issued a new design, which has remained largely unchanged until the new plates of today. We’ve all become accustomed to the relatively accurate rendering of the grey farm scene set against a white and blue background. The unsaturated tones of our current plates provide high contrast for the letters and numbers law enforcement needs to read. But that plate was a product of a time just before television's Regis Philbin became a game show host and made monochromatic wardrobe choices fashionable. In short, a plate with colors ranging from steel gray to sky blue was easy to swallow. Plus, the hand-designed farm scene showed they put some effort into it.
But, now it’s 2017. You can buy soda in glass bottles again, Throwback Thursday is a common social media subject and we’ve migrated closer to the analogous color schemes (that is your reds next to your oranges next to your yellows and so on) of the decades past. Frankly, I feel that’s why the DOT’s most popular design choice, called "City and Country Reboot," topped its online poll (full disclosure, I voted for City and Country Reboot). Its acceptably retro. It would easily fit on the pages of a textbook that said humans would have colonies on the moon by 1992. However, the cutout silhouettes are hard for some to swallow after having the more detailed farm scene for so many years, and the change seems like a step back in some ways.
But there's something else to consider.
We're all so very focused on that farmhouse and the silos and the fence row. We're so focused that some of us, myself included, didn't notice at first the lumps within the blue upper portion of the plate weren't clouds. They were city buildings — the Des Moines skyline it seems. I know of no farm land nestled so close to down town Des Moines as to give such a view, but that's not the point. The point is our state is both things. "City and Country" indeed.
In fact, we are many things. We are city and county, but we are also liberal and conservative. We are natives and transplants. We are lower, middle and upper class. Just like an initial glance at the familiar license plate, we tend to focus on what we see first — what's in front of us the most. If farm houses are the most familiar to you, that's where you likely focus. If you recognize the profile of the city skyline, that's likely where you'll focus. But neither is truly the whole of who we are within the state. It's more complicated than that, and it's difficult for even those who have lived their whole lives in the Hawkeye state to remain conscious of that fact.
So, even though, I don't particularly like the new design (but I still think it was the best of the three options) I'm glad the city and country aspects are on the same level. Neither one in the foreground, neither one in the background. And while the style of the design may harken back to the aesthetics of previous decades, the state will continue to move forward. The wind turbine between the two settings on the plate may be more on the agricultural side for now, but I wonder if the wind industry won't be a bridge of sorts between the business and industry of the city and the production and elemental nature of the country in ways we can't yet imagine.
Perhaps the next plate to be released by the DOT won't even distinguish city from country.