Keep Calm Poster Sparks Chaos

“Keep Calm and Carry On!” was initially used in a motivational poster created by the Ministry of Information and produced by the British government in 1939. It was used as a tool to prepare citizens for the Second World War, to keep spirits high, and to remind people not to panic. Business as usual, keep a stiff upper lip, and carry on as normal were all proclaimed to keep the morale of the British public high as predictions of air attacks circulated the news.

keep-calm-and-don-t-get-an-eating-disorderDespite 2.45 million copies of the poster being printed, it was never widely circulated. Public officials decided to keep the printed flyers in cold storage until a time when it was really needed and would have the greatest impact, something of a trump card to be played when the nation was at its lowest point. When the Paper Salvage recycling campaign started in 1940, the majority of these posters were pulped. Most people never even saw the flyer until the year 2000, when a copy was discovered by Stuart Manley, owner of Barter Books in Northumberland.

Nowadays, the “Keep Calm” motto has been turned into a humorous slogan that is used worldwide. This is a sad use of the slogan because the vast majority of people using it have no idea about its original meaning or purpose. In 2011, the slogan was trademarked in the EU by a UK company, Keep Calm and Carry On Ltd, who were denied permission to own the trademark in the UK. There remains a disagreement over the ownership of these rights, as it has been used in a variety of circumstances long before the EU granted community trade mark status.

T-shirts, mugs, posters, and bumper-stickers are a few of the “Keep Calm and …” items that are commonly seen, and usually provide readers with a smirk or a chuckle. The slogans are produced in good humor, or at least they are for the most part. In the past couple of weeks, one particular use of the “Keep Calm” slogan has, ironically, caused quite a stir.

“Keep Calm and Don’t Get An Eating Disorder” may have been produced in good humor by Keep-Calm-O-Matic, a poster generating site, but the poster has certainly not been taken as humorous by eating disorder groups. In fact, there has been a large social media disruption, as eating disorder sufferers, survivors, and supporters have requested that the flyer be removed.

One such group, International Eating Disorder Action (IEDA), began a twitter campaign to demonstrate their disgust at the poster which they argue makes a mockery of a very serious and deadly disease. “Eating disorders have a ten percent mortality rate” tweets one activist in an attempt to highlight the seriousness of such illnesses.edited snip

IEDA has had a number of recent victories in highlighting the importance of proper respect for eating disorder sufferers through the use of social media sites, such as Twitter. Their efforts have brought a large amount of publicly, shaming retail companies that use eating disorders for marketing purposes, such as Cafe Press’s “nothing tastes so good as skinny” t-shirt. When IEDA launched a #notbuyingit Twitter campaign at Cafe Press, the result was a public apology from the company and the removal of the shirt from production lines. The group consists mainly of parents who have had a loved one suffer an eating disorder, and recovered sufferers who believe that public education around eating disorders is essential.

Aidan Fitzpatrick, from the Keep Calm Network, communicated with Bindlesnitch in response to the criticism that Keep-Calm-O-Matic received regarding the poster. Fitzpatrick explained that the posters and flyers generated by users of the tool do not in any way represent the views of the Keep Calm Network. The company does take steps to remove items that are offensive, but after review they decided that this poster was not created with any malicious intent. For this reason, the Keep Clam Network is reluctant to remove it from the site.

In fact, Fitzpatrick says that the site has a built-in report function so that offensive or illegal content can be reported by users immediately. The Keep Calm Network believes that there is no reason to remove this poster because it is not offensive. Eating disorder action groups disagree. One IEDA group member tweeted: “How about ‘Keep Calm and Don’t Get Cancer!’ Is that next?”  The backlash against the poster seems to beg the question of where to draw the line  with respect to what is offensive frippery when it comes certain diseases or disorders.

What this controversial poster really demonstrates is the stark distinction between the attitude that society holds towards mental versus physical disorders. “Keep Calm and Don’t Get Cancer” would undoubtedly be considered offensive by most people. What this boils down to is the underlying misconception held by many that mental disorders can be avoided whereas physical disorders cannot. Despite evidence that mental illnesses such as eating disorders are fundamentally biologically based, many still believe that they are the fault of the sufferers themselves in some way.  It is as if the poster is really saying that all people have to do so that they do not develop an eating disorder is to “Keep Calm.”

IEDA member Jennifer Ouellette gave BindleSnitch the following statement to explain the exasperation the group has felt in response to the poster:

“Parents have to fight even to get their children diagnosed, because even doctors don’t understand that these are not diseases of choice and vanity, but deadly brain-based, biological illnesses. The pervasive mocking of anorexia and bulimia in the media and in marketing contributes, in a real way, to the fact eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses, with a mortality rate that surpasses some cancers.”

Ouellette’s point really underlines how public attitude towards mental disorders lies at the foundation of such disputes. While many people still believe that illnesses like eating disorders are caused by those who suffer from them, support and funding for treatment is stunted. Eating disorders will received an estimated $31 million in research funding for the year 2014, pitiful in comparison to the $339 million that tobacco related diseases will receive. It is the belief of IEDA that until these illnesses cease to be considered funny or self-inflicted, funding will continue to be minimal and lives will continue to be lost. A poster mocking the disease may seem harmless enough, but it is a symptom of a much bigger problem which is indicative of how mental disorders are being regarded by society.

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