Keep Calm and Carry On. The propaganda poster turned unwanted Christmas gift now encompasses the spirit of Brexit backlash. The National Interest Online, CBC, Fox Business, Express UK, News.com.au and Stuff have all used the poster headline to sum up Britain’s resolve as it leaves the EU. One can only imagine there is a warehouse working overtime in Britain to pump out more Carry On merchandise to boost morale.
Already steeped in irony, the Keep Calm and Carry On poster was unpopular during the war it was made for and had very limited public display. In an interview with WNYC the author of Ministry of Nostalgia: Consuming Austerity, Owen Hatherly, said the World War II poster only got noticed when the big recession of our lifetime hit. Originally produced by Britain’s Ministry of Information, the poster had another kind of ‘hit’ in mind.
A rare original
The poster was re-discovered in a second hand bookshop in 2000, prompting the reproduction of the now ubiquitous slogan. Hatherly suggests that the nostalgic quip possessed the right resistance to adversity needed to relieve the guilt of post-recession consumers that were still spending. As the British come to terms with their new state some retail therapy will likely be in order.
When there is an upset in the marketplace, it’s not all doom and gloom. Savvy businesses make the most of new conditions. In 2011, the savvy Keep Calm and Carry On Limited, luckily based in the UK, registered the kitsch trademark (Stuart Manly, the man who originally discovered it, put the poster up in his bookstore window and then sold a few copies to admiring fans, didn't really benefit, however). They are responsible for KeepCalmandCarryOn.com customers printing their own Keep Calm mantra on a range of products. Mugs, iPhone cases or cushions, you name it.
Although those who originally produced the poster in war time Britain saw the bold type as too patronising to plaster on the London streets, or bomb shelters, the mantra now revels in more modern problems.
The two other posters brainstormed in 1939 included ‘Freedom is in Peril, Defend It With All Your Might’ and ‘Your Courage, Your Fortitude, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory’. At least these aren’t printed on t-shirts or morphing into mega-memes.