Seven years or so since it first appeared it seems ‘that bloody sign’ is still with us. Some time around 2009, soon after the banking crisis, a stark poster featuring the words ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ set in a Gill Sans-ish typeface, topped by the Royal crest, began to appear here and there.
The poster’s revival, which was first published in 1939 by the Ministry of Information to stiffen resolve in the event of a Nazi invasion, was intended as a gentle visual gag, a semi-ironic invocation of the wartime ‘Blitz Spirit’ in response to troubled economic times. But as the severity of the recession became clear, the joke spread, everywhere. A year or so later the ‘Keep Calm’ design and related wartime iconography was a gift shop staple, adorning mugs, stationery, tea towels – the list is exhaustive – and had helped kick-start a full blown revival of the early modernist aesthetic of the 1930s and 40s.
Owen Hatherley’s The Ministry of Nostalgia is a witty, exasperated and ferociously well-read exploration of the ‘Austerity Nostalgia’ phenomenon and its politicisation, with parties of both the left and right drawing upon competing mythologies of wartime Britain to support their respective positions towards today’s austerity.