July 27, 2014

Why All the “Keep Calm” Posters are Making Me Lose My Cool.

keep calm & carry on

Am I the only person who’s starting to think we’ve way overdone it on the “Keep Calm and…” posters?

The original “Keep Calm and Carry On” campaign was initiated at the beginning of the Second World War in England as a way of keeping things positive for the public. Rather than to crush morale with bad news or worrisome thoughts of the future, war propaganda by the Ministry of Information looked toward building a reassuring “business as usual” attitude to keep the public’s nerves steady, buoy up spirits and maintain a united, collective war effort.

So the phrase really only works when all the words are maintained: Keep Calm and Carry On: Keep a steady head. Breathe. Don’t panic. Life goes on.

But today, the phrasing of these posters are being re-appropriated for things that have nothing at all to do with keeping calm or carrying on. Sadly, what we imagine might’ve been a strong, glorious campaign to boost public morale has been reduced to merely tacky advertisements for terribly menial things.

A quick google brings up these variations on the theme:

Keep calm and go shopping
Keep calm and party on
Keep calm and eat a cupcake / chocolate / cookies / bacon
Keep calm and Gangnam style
Keep calm and play video games
Keep calm and buy anything that isn’t nails  (what does this even mean?)

So I get it—it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, a play on words. Except of course, it isn’t really. There’s nothing particularly clever nor original about taking something out of context and just tacking your own words to the end of it. By this stage, it’s hardly even eye-catching when just about everyone else is using the same trick. (I think it rather a travesty, even, of the genius that went into creating the original posters in the first place!)

But see, while the unoriginality itself is getting pretty tiresome, pretty boring, pretty downright exasperating, I think we’re missing a larger point here: that singular, important point about, well, being calm.

Yes, let’s keep calm. Let’s remember to breathe. Let’s aim to be mindful in everything we do. 

But, apart from the advice in the original campaign to “carry on” there’s no real calmness in any of these new-fangled versions. For just as we take a breath to get calm, they tell us to launch straight back into (yet) another distraction: eat something! make something! do something! play something! be something/someone/somewhere!

(And anyway, isn’t it all a little redundant? The words “carry on” already mean you will go do whatever it is you’re going to do anyway, without needing a poster to tell you to “go shopping” or “eat a cupcake.”)

So here’s my suggestion. A whole new revolutionary take on this annoyingly over-baked meme, one to put an end to all of them (well, I can hope).

How about this:

Keep Calm.

That’s it.

Just be calm. Get calm, keep calm, stay calm. Rest right there.

Don’t need to do anything, see anything, go any place else. No need for flurrying about to do that next thing; to try this new product; to distract the next hour with an activity you’ll quickly forget. Let’s get old school and go back to what has evidently already worked for decades:

Keeping calm. Carrying on.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: John Cooper/Flickr Creative Commons

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