The story of Keep Calm and Carry On is largely one of the 21st century, rather than of the Second World War, when it was produced. Owen Hatherley uses the poster as a hook as he investigates the ‘nostalgia’ we have for 1940s, and use it to legitimise contemporary austerity. Hatherley refers to the use of this sense by the government as NOT heritage, but, quoting Raphael Samuel, as stealing ‘from the past at random’, as we deal with economic crisis and a technologically changing world, we look to nostalgia for a sense of who we are, and how we can manage in the present.
The claim is made that the image has ‘finally entered the pantheon of truly global design “icons”‘, with a logo that’s as recognisable as Coca-Cola and Apple, as various iterations and subversions of it can be spotted around the globe. Hatherley recognises that understanding the original story of Keep Calm and Carry On (as per my 2004 thesis, and 1997 undergraduate thesis) is key:
and references me here:
There’s plenty to chew on in this book, which in many ways is pretty easy to read. After the first chapter, it largely moves on from the story of Keep Calm and Carry On, and onto other aspects of government ‘paternalism’ and ‘surveillance’, considering futurism, gentrification, fiction and architecture, bouncing between the present, and those nostalgic items that we hark back to, to cope with living in the contemporary age.
Purchase the book (Amazon)
He does not engage with the history of Second World War propaganda in itself, which is a shame; he gestures towards Rebecca Lewis’s work in his footnotes, but her research, along with the work of propaganda historians such as Jo Fox, would have contextualised the poster both in terms of theory and against a body of work surveying reception of these materials at the time.
There are a lot of reviews for this book, which has recently gone into paperback, including: