‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ Set in sans-serif lettering with a royal crown above it, this Second World War slogan, or variations on the theme, now regularly appears on tea towels, mugs and fridge magnets. Its ubiquity has provoked Owen Hatherley into writing The Ministry of Nostalgia, half modern history and half angry rant. He believes that ‘our past is being resold in order to defend the indefensible’ and that this involves ‘the creation of a false history: a rewriting of the austerity of the 1940s and 1950s … This period has been recast to explain and offer consolation for the violence of neoliberalism, an ideology dedicated to the privatisation of our common wealth.’ In other words, the unnecessary, ideology-driven austerity of today is being camouflaged with nostalgia.
As Hatherley helpfully demonstrates, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ never appeared on official wartime propaganda posters. The slogan was rejected in favour of two other patronising patriotic exhortations, but, some sixty years on, a test print eventually came the way of an Alnwick second-hand bookseller who saw its marketing potential.