Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
If you try to scroll through the thousands of submissions to the panel charged with selecting the design for a new Minnesota state flag, you may eventually find yourself thinking about what you'd like to have for dinner, or whether the dog is overdue for a walk. That is, you will no longer be thinking in any useful way about the relative merits of the designs. There are too many.
You may, however, be filled with sympathy for the public servants who agreed to serve on the State Emblems Redesign Commission. They deserve our gratitude for taking on the task and our forbearance as they get closer to the final decision. The panel has narrowed the field to six finalists and is now accepting public comments on those six. Members of the commission must make their final decision by Jan. 1.
Could any job be more thankless? In our age of web-based short-form criticism on every subject imaginable, with its premium on vitriol and casual insults, taking a stand on an aesthetic question is a certain path to public ridicule. And this is no ordinary aesthetic question. Members of the commission are charged with selecting a flag that will represent all Minnesotans — ideally, a flag that Minnesotans can rally around in a spirit of unity. It is a solemn responsibility, made the more difficult by the fact that you can't please everybody.
It may even be possible to please nobody. Some of the original submissions were obviously not intended to be taken seriously. The person who submitted a photo of their dog, for example, probably would agree that another design would be more appropriate.
At least the dog stood out from the crowd. Most of the proposed designs were variations on a very few common themes. The North Star, according to a Star Tribune story, figured in 1,785 of the entries. Loons were another popular feature, as were water, pine trees and snowflakes.
As we considered the entries, we began to perceive a kind of consensus. The images were so consistent that they seemed to suggest a common perspective among many of the people who submitted designs. That, in itself, was encouraging — an indication that the search for a new flag was a worthwhile community-building exercise, aside from the eventual outcome.
Some design elements spoke to quirky attempts at humor. One submission gave center stage to a hot dish. Loons were portrayed with eyes that emitted laser beams. A couple of entries suggested that Minnesota aspired to be a Communist state.
Several submissions borrowed the cross motif used on flags of Scandinavian countries. One such entry placed a many-pointed star at the intersection of a cross rendered in red, white and blue, giving the impression that Norway had merged with Nationalist China.
Every one of the six finalists includes a star, but none is the five-pointed star found on the U.S. flag. Several are reminiscent of the stars stitched into quilts. Perhaps that is so they can do double duty as snowflakes.
Members of the public should certainly take advantage of the opportunity to offer their comments to the commission. But they should also prepare themselves for a decision they wouldn't have made if the choice had been left to them.
It's possible that we will wind up with a flag that few Minnesotans love, at least at first. We hope people will have enough respect for the commission and its process to be patient, listen to the voices of those who support the choice, and try to find common ground.