“Keep Calm and Carry On.” You’ve seen it on bags and napkins and journals in every bookstore or gift shop. It’s everywhere. The motivational tagline that seems to have become the unthinking motto of the last few years. I say unthinking because it’s just that: the statement of the decade is almost undoubtedly accompanied by a full lack of thought – completely un-motivational in its banality and now as satirized as the middle-school-maturity phrase, ‘YOLO.’
But as kitsch as it sounds and looks now, is it innocuous? In the wake of worldwide financial crisis, terrorism, and governmental failures that make it difficult to understand the actual source of the issues – during a time when small groups of single-target activists gather on Twitter to raise half-hearted environmental awareness or lobby for some sort of reform – is this phrase just a bad tick among Western cliches, or is it something more harmful?
“Carry on” is a very weary idea at best, and, I think, apathetic. As simple as the mantra is, it holds a sickening sort of truth. We are calm, aren’t we? Desensitized, actually. The majority of Americans are hooked up 24/7 to the Internet; dramatic world events are pumped daily into our heads…We are very calm, and it looks to me a little like resignation.
A brief history: According to Wikipedia, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan was originally a motivational poster designed in England during WWII. “The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities.” Perhaps the sense of impending destruction is almost as strongly felt now, if a little more illusive for some. But was the slogan that reads more like an ad campaign ever really soothing or effective?
My focus here is, at best, a microcosm of the full situation that causes this pervasive mentality among young Americans today. My point is not to be cynical, to add to the melodrama. My point is to suggest a change in mentality, if that’s possible.
If the root of the problem in the American psyche is really resignation, than our best weapons are extreme empathy and rediculous hope. Rather than a brain-dead calm, we need to work toward something a little more human and dramatic. Don’t be calm if it’s deafening stoicism. Don’t carry on if it prompts you to walk past an opportunity to be vulnerable or shocked or caring or indignant.
I believe most straight thinking people understand the issue in our list of tip-of-the-tongue phrases, but I don’t think our dim realizations usually make us act differently. Maybe that’s because “Keep Calm and Carry On” is so solidly build into the American mind that it’s part of who we are and how we cope.
Apathy leads nowhere. Let’s look for other options.