note to self: Eat Greens, Defend Freedom

About two years ago, online, I came across a brilliant reproduction World War II poster sold by a gallery in London. It was silkscreened (pale blue) and I thought I'd made the most fabulous and quirky find. When it arrived friends were immediately impressed and my framer he said he'd never seen something as simple and cool. It said "Keep Calm and Carry On." Not too long after I saw one in a shop downtown, and then in Domino magazine, and... the rest is history.

I still like the poster. It's an oddly comforting voice of reason, it's beautifully spare, and it retains its permanently disquieting provenance: it was created for use in the event that the Germans occupied London. This now-famous poster, produced anonymously within the British Ministry of Information, was never in wide distribution. Some of these others, above, had print runs of up to a million and were plastered all over Britain.

Having experienced (however fleetingly and at arm's length) the apocalyptic frenzy and blind dread of 9/11, I'm barely able to comprehend what London/England went through—for years. Blackouts, nightly bombing raids, destruction of portions of the City, sleeping in subway stations, sending children out of the city, rationing... The stalwart cheeriness of a poster like "And still the railways carry on!" amazes and irritates me. "The city's being reduced to rubble and Panzer tanks will be rolling down the block next week and the government thinks it best to spend money, time and effort on patronizing ephemera!?" is probably what I would have said at the time. Now, though, I'm drawn to the we're-all-in-this-together no-bullshit tone, the chanelling of Churchillian steadfastness.

I sometimes think a series of civic-oriented posters wouldn't be a bad idea today...can we get any anti-high fructose corn syrup campaigns going?


Penelope said...

I never really thought to look at WWII posters with a how dare the government patronise us!' eye before (as I usually do) but I suppose that's down to the fact that I was raised with that 'Churchillian steadfastness' as you so marvelously put it!

I wrote a post along these lines myself recently- my Grandmother lived in London at the time of the Blitz, she was a warden in the ARP, but sadly she passed on before I was old enough to be interested in her stories.

It is impossible to imagine what it was like- death, paranoia and fear, constantly being terrified with air raid warnings...yet through it all there does seem to be that Stiff Upper Lip I was raised on. We're in a 'war' now but you'd never know it.

I have a Keep Calm and Carry On shoulder bag- every time I see it I think of my Nan, and that people have been though worse than whatever my problem is at that time. I think it's the ultimate self-help!

angvou said...

Thanks for your comments. I agree-- I really think that Keep Calm came at the right time -- it's definitely struck a nerve with so many.

The "how dare the government patronise us" came up spontaneously as I was writing. I think because after the 60s the voice of Gov't was no longer perceived as benign and paternal. Looking through these posters required me to put myself in a different decade's mind set.

I found a collection of American posters I'm posting next. Their messages surprised me...


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