“Keep Calm and Carry On”–that seemingly flip statement takes on a much deeper meaning when placed in its original context: Britain girding itself for a second world war against Germany. Printed by the British government as a propaganda poster, the slogan was supposed to be posted only during air raids. Since similar posters failed to boost morale, “Keep Calm” remained mothballed until 2.5 million copies of it turned up in a secondhand bookstore in Alnwick, England.
“Keep Calm” is included in a free app as one of 30 designs selected from the ‘ collection of 20,000 posters. (Go here to read our story about IWM’s rebranding campaign.) With sophisticated, bold design and clear messages, the graphics served an important function of buoying spirits during a time of trial and sacrifice. Of course, they also encouraged citizens to sacrifice more, either by conserving resources or joining military service. One of the most provocative (and chauvinistic) examples features off-duty officers gathered around a blonde femme fatale with a canary-swallowing smirk. The tagline: “Keep mum, she’s not so dumb. Careless talk costs lives.” Oh, but keep calm: There are plenty of other posters that will stir up innocent nostalgia.