Keep Calm and Please Stop With The Stupid Shirts

March 25, 2014 / by / 27 Comments

A couple years ago, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” design took the world of uncreative idiots and rec-league softball teams by storm. Since then, it seems like you can’t go anywhere without seeing a t-shirt making the British war slogan “their own.” But when it comes down to it, the Keep Calm meme is the absolute worst, and here’s why.

For more than two hundred years, the British Empire was an untouched hegemonic global power. Sometime in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, the rise of a parliamentary government, and the kickback of colonial repression, Great Britain began slipping from that hegemony, and in 1940, the unthinkable happened: London was bombed by Nazi Germany. The nation’s gradual fall from grace had culminated in a world war brought to a city that was once the center of the world. The “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters were distributed shortly before the bombing began, in attempts to keep morale high. The poster captures a tender historical moment, as the British government encouraged its citizens to find strength in the country’s historical greatness (embodied in the Tudor crown, which still serves as a symbol of monarchical power) to get them through what may still be the biggest hardship the nation has ever faced.

How do people today pay their respects to this meaningful snapshot of 1940s Britain? They copy the idea, but make it mindlessly stupid. They make designs like “Keep Calm and Hate Apple,” with a Microsoft logo instead of a crown, failing to acknowledge if you feel so passionately about a piece of goddamn software that you feel compelled to buy a shirt about it, you are in no way calm.

They make designs like “Keep Spending and Carry On Shopping,” which, in addition to being a remarkably weak imitation of the original, advertises to everyone you see that you love spending money so much that you spent money on a shirt about spending money. Everyone can see the shirt you’re wearing. Are you not ashamed of yourself?

They make designs like “Stay Alive and Avoid Zombies,” which not only fails to maintain even a tangential similarity to the original design, but also is a shirt about zombies. Why the fuck would anyone wear a shirt about avoiding zombies? Zombies aren’t real. The only zombie reference in pop culture that’s even peripherally acceptable is Walking Dead, and this design doesn’t make any specific allusion to Walking Dead.

In an especially extreme case, a hospital facing cuts in funding once made a “Don’t Keep Calm Get Angry and Save Lewisham A&E” campaign, which is so poorly thought out that it makes me viscerally nauseous.

Are you not yet convinced that we should stop doing shitty remakes of the Keep Calm poster? Well, maybe an example a bit closer to home would sink in. Would you buy a t-shirt with a picture of Rosie the Riveter on it, but instead of saying, “We can do it!” she’s saying, “Yankees can win it!” or “We can kill zombies!” No, you wouldn’t. You would hate that.

But even if you could care less about preserving the integrity of a historical instance, it’s impossible to argue that the imitations of the “Keep Calm” design are a gruesome affront to human creativity. You can’t just put a line from your favorite show on a t-shirt after “Keep Calm and” and think it’s clever. You can’t just put a fairly abstract verb on a t-shirt after “Keep Calm and” and think it’s clever. And you most certainly can’t just put this on a t-shirt and take a picture of that guy wearing it.

So for the love of all that is interesting and not patently obnoxious, get more creative with your t-shirt designs. Stop tainting cool moments in history and making t-shirts that fail to follow a single rule of imitation. And if you absolutely must have a Keep Calm t-shirt, at least get this one.