Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Keep Calm and Carry On
by Sarah Shaber
This may be the greatest motivational poster of all time. Ironically, “Keep Calm and Carry On” was never seen in its day because it was designed for the worst possible scenario—a successful invasion of Great Britain by Germany during World War II.
In 1939 the British Ministry of Information commissioned three propaganda posters to be pasted up all over the walls of England once war with the Nazis broke out. They were meant to reassure and motivate the British people during a time of fear and hardship you and I can hardly comprehend. Two of the three posters were displayed everywhere; “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory” and “Freedom is In Peril.”
“Keep Calm and Carry On” was never needed, thank goodness. No one knows the name of its designer, and it was forgotten until the year 2000, when a copy was found in Barter Books, a used bookstore in Almwick, Northumberland. The bookshop owners, Stuart and Mary Manley, reprinted it and quickly sold over 40,000 copies. It’s become a symbol of resolve in Britain, quickly adopted during our age of terrorism and recession. The poster’s been spotted at 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, and the U.S. Embassy in Belgium. I’ve got one hanging on my office wall.
So what is it about this image that’s so appealing? Well, the hot red color is striking, the crown of George VI reminds us of the strength of our system of government, and the words are stoically and reassuringly British. Those attributes alone don’t seem to explain its impact.
I have a couple of thoughts about the popularity of the “Keep Calm” poster. It reminds us that times could be worse, much, much worse! So our 401Ks have dropped a bit. At least we’re not watching the horizon for the Luftwaffe!
And surely we can postpone buying that flat-screen television for a while longer. Thousands of our fellow citizens have lost their jobs, but our governments know more about the economics of recession these days, and aggressive steps are being taken to recover prosperity. So far no one has suggested rationing meat and milk! And in my entire life I have never heard an air raid siren that sent me rushing to my basement to spend the night.
Our 24-hour news cycle depends on dire predictions of the future, I call it “awfulizing,” assuming the worst case scenario is inevitable. Most of the time these predictions peter out into nothing. What is that old saying? If you see ten troubles coming down the road, nine of them will run off into the ditch before they arrive, and you don’t know which one will reach you. So 90% of the energy you spend worrying is wasted, better used for baking bread or walking the dog or reading a good book.
Speaking of books, we’ve been hearing a lot of dire predictions about the book business recently. Kindles, the demise of newspaper book sections, corporate bean counters ruining perfectly good publishing houses, independent bookstores closing, thousands of self-published and unedited books flooding the market, used bookstores siphoning off royalties, all seen as threatening the very existence of books as we know them. I’m not saying this isn’t scary, really scary, for writers trying to get a good book published and pay the rent at the same time.
We honestly don’t know what’s ahead for our beloved book industry. Who knows, the Kindle may bring us millions of new readers and publishers might give up on ghostwritten celebrity books that don’t earn out.
What we can be sure of is that readers will keep reading and writers will continue writing.
What else is there to do, except keep calm and carry on?
Note: The “Keep Calm” poster is in the public domain. If you want one for yourself, the place to go is http://www.keepcalmandcarryon.com.