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April 3, 2012 7:39 AM   Subscribe

The story behind the iconic poster Keep Calm and Carry On rediscovered in 1991 at Barter Books, has been covered here before, but not in this lovely short video. And not with the new iPhone app.
posted by Miko (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
keep calm and carry on to new creative endeavors, please
posted by rebent at 7:44 AM on April 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Keep-Calm-o-matic
posted by three blind mice at 7:47 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, that bookstore looks awesome. What a fantastic space!
posted by the painkiller at 7:55 AM on April 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyone point me towards what the links in the 'before' FP post were referencing? Other posters of the same ilk? Those links are all dead I think.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:00 AM on April 3, 2012


I am still always amazed at the Internet's fervor in taking something that is pretty neat, and beating it to death. And then beating its corpse. And then selling posters of it.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:04 AM on April 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


I realised the other day that, since the poster was intended to be issued after the Nazi invasion, what it actually means is "submit gladly to the fascists". Which is why it is so current today, I suppose.
posted by Grangousier at 8:06 AM on April 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


I find the wonderful thing about the poster is that is invokes a sense of nostalgia for something nobody ever saw. Not that such a thing is impossible, but it tells us a lot about nostalgia.

Oblig.

posted by Jehan at 8:16 AM on April 3, 2012


Grangousier: "I realised the other day that, since the poster was intended to be issued after the Nazi invasion, what it actually means is "submit gladly to the fascists". Which is why it is so current today, I suppose."

After a few clicks around the 'net, I really agree with you on this. How interesting!
posted by rebent at 8:17 AM on April 3, 2012


The poster was third in a series of three. The previous two posters from the series, "Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might" (400,000 printed) and "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory" (800,000 printed) and were issued and used across the country for motivational purposes, as the Ministry of Information assumed that the events of the first weeks of the war would demoralise the population.[6] Planning for the posters started in April 1939; by June designs were prepared, and by August 1939, they were on their way to the printers, to be placed up within 24 hours of the outbreak of war.
The "submit to the Nazis" message not only doesn't make much sense (unless you believe the UK gov't was secretly FOR the Nazis) but also doesn't match the other posters. Also, "carry on" can also mean "carry on fighting".
posted by DU at 8:32 AM on April 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I am still always amazed at the Internet's fervor in taking something that is pretty neat, and beating it to death. And then beating its corpse. And then selling posters of it.

I'm going to put your post on a t-shirt. Want to buy one?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:34 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Comme ├ža.
posted by Grangousier at 8:36 AM on April 3, 2012


My favorite version, which is now on the lock screen of my phone, is one I snagged from a harm-reduction friend on facebook: Keep Calm and Carry Naloxone.
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on April 3, 2012


timeless
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:38 AM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


what it actually means is "submit gladly to the fascists"

A real stretch. Regardless of an occupation by the Nazis, the British resistance would naturally continue as it continued in every other Nazi-occupied country, and the message would have been intended to communicate that (a) there was a resistance and (b) this was its motto - not to run screaming in circles and give up, but to keep a cool head and continue your work. Flailing and opposing an occupier is bound to get you killed, and drawing attention to your participation in a resistance engangers everyone involved. it's good advice and I'm sure, had it been needed, would have been found reassuring in its very clear double message.
posted by Miko at 8:43 AM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Funny, my take on its 21st century popularity is the exact opposite of "submit gladly to the fascists."

Submitting gladly to fascists is exactly what people do when they panic in response to an act of terror. Which, if you remember, was sort of endemic in the first decade of this century.
posted by condour75 at 8:46 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I hadn't seen such great images of the bookstore before and it looks like a place well worth a visit.

For those of you who have tired of the posters, I certainly understand, and invite you to read the many other fine posts on topics which you have presumably never encountered before, such as Star Wars, "Is rock'n'roll dead?," and US politics.
posted by Miko at 8:51 AM on April 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


I wish more squee! omigod! bloggers who discovered the poster would take the message to heart.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:02 AM on April 3, 2012


We have this in our upstairs hallway. It actually helps me when I am stressed out, as silly as that sounds.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:04 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


After a few clicks around the 'net, I really agree with you on this. How interesting!
Yeah, that seems really unrealistic given they were designed and printed in 1939, and Churchill was out there saying "We'll fight them in the sea... we'll fight them in the hills..." and so on. The British government was clearly planning on staging a guerrilla style insurgency if they were taken over.

Anyway, this promotional app seems kind of tacky. You can make an poster like that in a few minutes in photoshop, there area already webapps to let you do it for free (on any device)
posted by delmoi at 9:07 AM on April 3, 2012


timeless

Heh, I also made a flag and move on parody of this :P
posted by delmoi at 9:10 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Umm, how do I sign up to live in Alnwick?)
posted by Mooseli at 9:10 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's definitely a commercial for the bookstore, but since I like bookstores I'm in favor of them coming up with ways to draw attention. Since they are the more recent source of the poster's being out there at all, I like that they will benefit from the app rather than another appropriator.
posted by Miko at 9:31 AM on April 3, 2012


My motto.
posted by owtytrof at 9:40 AM on April 3, 2012


For those of you who have tired of the posters, I certainly understand, and invite you to read the many other fine posts on topics which you have presumably never encountered before, such as Star Wars, "Is rock'n'roll dead?," and US politics.

Being critical of the poster's current cultural standing is fair comment. Indeed, it's an interesting story how people have latched onto this poster in a way no other war propaganda (or really any poster at all) has had the same attention, barring possibly 'Your country needs you'. I can bring to mind as a young child seeing this poster on the living room wall, and other 'careless talk costs lives' posters seemed to be relatively well known. This one seemed to be especially popular, and I can well imagine in the 80s and 90s lots of older people liked them because they were a memory from their younger days.

I don't ever even recall seeing copies of the other two posters in the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' series before that poster itself became famous. I'm sure lots of older people saw those two during the war, but their very absence from popular culture suggests they didn't really have a great impact. And then, this damned poster turned up. Nobody had ever seen it before, and those who could even remember the war had by then become a older minority of the population. It was taken up by younger people. Why? Like the film said, it bespeaks something about an earlier time that people seem to value: a reserved stoicism.

That's great, as a value, but nobody can remember the poster, and younger people can't even remember an England which even looked like that. Anybody under forty has the experience of a hugely different country than the one which went through the war. A recent fuel panic and last year's summer riots well illustrate how the country is now a different place. But there seems to be a strong longing for the past, or at least what we imagine it to be. Nostalgia in England is like a cargo cult where WWII posters, Remembrance Day celebrations, citing the 'Blitz Spirit' and the Queen's Jubilee street parties and whatnot make us look like the past, but without the society which underlay it.

The Keep Calm and Carry On poster might have many interesting meanings outside of our country, but inside it's a sad reminder of a culture which is no longer healthy, but thrashing around looking for meaning as things fall apart.
posted by Jehan at 9:43 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Umm, how do I sign up to live in Alnwick?)

Easy, just go the the town's limits, they ask you to pronounce the name of the town, and if you get it right you're in.
posted by Jehan at 9:45 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


> people have latched onto this poster in a way no other war propaganda (or really any poster at all) has had the same attention

We Can Do It!
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:17 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Timeless", my arse.

Living as I do in London, every SINGLE card and gift shop, not to mention grocery stores, clothing stores, bookstores, travel stores and really anything with a cash register are falling over themselves to market variations on this crap.

Summary: This is SO six months ago :)
posted by LondonYank at 10:21 AM on April 3, 2012


We Can Do It!

Good point. I forgot that one.
posted by Jehan at 10:38 AM on April 3, 2012


This is SO six months ago :)

Oh, it's six years ago, at least, if you care about that kind of thing.
posted by Miko at 10:57 AM on April 3, 2012


what it actually means is "submit gladly to the fascists"

It's a clever idea, but I don't think this is what the makers of the posters had in mind.

One of the major problems that British planners faced, when confronted by the threat of invasion, was the danger of mass panic. My google-fu is failing me, at the moment, but I've certainly read many examples of government literature in which the people were exhorted to stay off the roads (meaning don't form mass columns of refugees) so that the strategic mobility of British forces would not be impaired. This fitted in with pre-war notions about the vulnerability of civilian populations to panic when faced with air assault, and the belief that the mass-breaking of population morale had lead to the collapse of French forces in 1871 and German forces in 1918. The Brits desperately wanted to avoid the mass desertions, road and rail chaos and supply line disruption that this would have entailed.

So 'keep calm and carry on' represents a really interesting early example of government messaging. It was a simple, clear idea, which was carried through to all levels of British public relations during the early war years, even though the poster itself wasn't ever issued. Even today, our main impression of the British war effort is dominated by the myth-image of the 'blitz spirit', and the idea that London shop-keepers kept up 'business as usual' in the face of enemy assault. It's an idea which British people continue to find deeply attractive, and one of the reasons this poster gained such wide currency, is it's appeal to that rather noble image of 'Britishness'.
posted by Dreadnought at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can bring to mind as a young child seeing this poster on the living room wall, and other 'careless talk costs lives' posters seemed to be relatively well known. This one seemed to be especially popular, and I can well imagine in the 80s and 90s lots of older people liked them because they were a memory from their younger days.
It might seem odd that it would be so important for the everyday person to keep quiet, but one of the big secrets that Brittan was keeping were the location of the V-1. The Germans needed to know where the rockets were hitting in order to adjust their guidance systems, and they only had a single spy that we know of telling them. Except they only had one spy who was getting them any data, and that guy was a double agent. If the Germans had any more spies in London, and if people gossiped about where the attacks landed the Germans would hear about it and 1) realize their spy was a double agent and 2) be able to calibrate the attacks.
posted by delmoi at 3:22 PM on April 3, 2012


The British government was clearly planning on staging a guerrilla style insurgency if they were taken over.
An interesting figure involved in those plans was Tom Wintringham, an avowed communist who'd fought in Spain. He helped organise plans for resistance and the forerunner of what was to become the Home Guard, but qualms about his background meant he got sidelined in the end.
posted by Abiezer at 3:42 PM on April 3, 2012


As a child, I always thought there was a link between "Loose lips sink ships" and having a stiff upper lip. Seemed common sense at the time.
posted by arcticseal at 4:18 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, most people cashing in on this meme just copy the design without caring that a lot of the elegance of the original poster is in the slogan: the crisp rhythm and alliteration, the directness of the message. There are so many poor attempts to wedge any and every 5 word slogan into this poster form, and they're being made by the same people who write limericks that never quite scan.
posted by logopetria at 8:13 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or, in short...
posted by logopetria at 8:17 AM on April 4, 2012



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Heh.
posted by delmoi at 2:06 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


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