It has already become its own cliche: Keep Calm and Carry On. But its meaning is much deeper than the ubiquitous Facebook memes it has inspired.
Now metastasized into a slew of “Keep Calm and [Fill In Inane Meme Blather Here],” the idea originated as a World War II British public safety poster. One of three, the poster was designed to help the British populace cope with potential massive bombing and poison gas drops on major cities. Those events thankfully never happened; the poster was put into storage and long since thought gone. Only after a stack of them showed up on Antiques Roadshow in 2012 did it suddenly become meme fodder.
Commercialization of the phrase has been such that you can get everything from t-shirts to coffee cups to bottles of beer with the original phrase or one of the millions of alternative memes (“Keep Calm and Drink Tea,” “Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake,” and the Sponge Bob Square Pants-inspired “Keep Calm and Gary On”). Each new iteration makes it harder to follow its own directive to keep calm.
Despite devolving into self-parody, the original idea actually a decent sentiment. Life can be trying at times, even always for some people, but maintaining your personal calm and thinking through options offers much greater chance to successfully navigate the crisis than, for example, emulating Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, will be released in July 2017.