The Calming Situation of Political Message
Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 6, 2009
Stuart Hughes of BBC News has an intriguing piece on a British poster from WWII that was never used until recently:
* * *
The simple five-word message is the very model of British restraint and stiff upper lip. Keep calm and carry on.
In 1939, with war against Germany looming, the Government designed three posters to steady the public’s resolve and maintain morale. These featured the crown of King George VI set against a bold red background, and three distinctive slogans – “Freedom is in Peril”, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory”, and “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
Two-and-a-half million copies of “Keep Calm” were printed, to be distributed in the event of a national catastrophe, but remained in storage throughout the war.
The message was all but forgotten until 2000, when a copy was discovered in a box of books bought at auction by Stuart Manley, a bookseller from Northumberland.
* * *
The poster was just one of hundreds produced by the Ministry of Information during the war to influence public opinion.
“The poster was a major medium in a way that it isn’t now,” says Professor Jim Aulich, an expert in propaganda art at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“It wasn’t competing with television. It was one of the main ways of reaching people, through billboards and on public transport.”
* * *
To some, the world in 2009 seems as uncertain as it was in 1939, even if modern-day anxieties focus on redundancy and recession rather than bombs and the Blitz. Perhaps this is why the message still seems so relevant.
Of course, it might be difficult for the current government to come up with a poster with quite the same appeal during this time of economic stress. Context is everything, says social psychologist Dr Lesley Prince.
“If the government is in tune with you, you will listen. If you think the government is working on your behalf, you will listen.”
This was indisputably the case during WWII, but is less clear-cut even in the most troubled period of peacetime.
And a message of such powerful simplicity might not be so forthcoming these days. Today’s government posters attempt to convince the public of an unappreciated danger and get them to modify their behaviour. The “Keep Calm” poster is merely an injunction to think another way and continue acting as you have always acted.
* * *
To read the rest of the article, click here.