Crying Indian

"Somewhere, an Indian is crying."
People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It.

In 1971, the Keep America Beautiful organization aired a famous TV commercial of a Native American shedding a Single Tear at the sight of litter being dropped on the road (in a follow-up ad, the Indian rides with a big smile through towns where people are cleaning up).

It's known as the "Crying Indian" ad, although it is called "People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It". At the time this was quite a powerful ad. Not subtle, but hey, Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped!

But these days, with the overuse of the Magical Native American trope (not to mention that the actor portraying him was Italian-American), this ad has become a Stock Parody. Thus while some still believe in the message, it's hard to resist a good joke from it.

For obvious reasons, this is exclusively an American trope, as the original ads were never used outside the States.

You can find videos online of course.


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  • The live-action film version of Dudley Doright references the weird career of Iron Eyes Cody, the Sicilian-American "Indian" who appeared in the commercial. In the movie, there is an entire "rarely-studied tribe of South Brooklyn Indians, the Canarsie Kumquats". They are quite obviously Italian-Americans pretending to be a Canadian First Nations tribe.
  • Inverted in Kingpin, where a group of Native Americans drove by Ishmael and threw garbage at Ishmael's feet.
  • In the 2008 Knight Rider movie, KITT shows this picture when Mike throws some trash on his floorboard.
  • In Wayne's World 2, Jim Morrison's Naked Indian Friend sheds tears on seeing the scattered trash left over from Waynestock. He cheers up, though, when he sees Wayne and Garth picking up the mess.

    Live Action Television 
  • In one Friends episode, the characters are stranded at a rest stop. Chandler throws his empty pack of cigarettes on the ground. When scolded, he replies, "I thought maybe if I littered, that crying Indian might come along and save us."
  • From MST3K's infamous take on Mitchell, there is a scene where Mitchell dumps what seems to be two ashtrays worth of cigarette butts on the ground.
    Crow: Somewhere, an Indian is crying.
    • MST3K also referenced it during the film Werewolf. An Indian contracts lycanthropy, and the early symptoms make him look like he's sobbing more than anything else:
      Crow: [sobs] There's just so much litter on the highway!
  • The ad was mocked on the recycling episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. Penn pointed out that the ad was a terrible form of ethnic stereotyping and compared it to making a commercial encouraging people to save their money that showed a Jew shedding a single tear.
  • Mocked in Married... with Children. Al wants nothing to do with a Keep Chicago Green movement until he realizes that he's been put in a car pool with some beautiful young girls. Now he wants to make sure that keeps up, so he makes Keep Chicago Green commercials. At the end of one, he takes a fake tear out of his pocket and sticks it on his cheek.

  • Parodied by VH-1 during an ad for a 1970's tribute week several years ago, with the Indian played by Jimmie Walker.
  • The opening lyrics to the Eels song "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues":
    "The smokestack spitting black soot into the sooty sky / The load on the road brings a tear to the Indian's eye"

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Dave Chappelle recounts the story of his meeting with an American Indian man. Dave then proceeded to invoke this trope in order to prove he was who he said he was.
    "Are you an Indian?" "Yes. Yes, I am Indian." But I still didn't believe him. I had to test him to be sure, this is fucked up, but I had a gum wrapper in my pocket. So, I balled that shit up, and threw it on the floor. ...And a Single Tear came out his eye, I said, "Oh, shit!"

    Video Games 
  • In World of Warcraft, there's a taunka (imagine an anthropomorphic bison) in a village in the Borean Tundra named Iron Eyes. His quest text includes describing a "single tear" running down his face. The quest he gives? Cleaning up the debris gnomes have left scattered around the geyser fields.
  • In Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People Episode 3: Baddest of the Bands, Strong Bad gets to shed a single tear at the sight of a pond full of dead fish. (Of course, this being Strong Bad, he's the perpetrator of the incident.)
  • Telltale Games have done this before, in Sam & Max: Freelance Police:
    Pedro: Hey! You can't throw garbage into the time vortex!
    Max: Yeah, Sam! Somewhere a time-travelling Native American is crying.
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth uses it as a Profanity Filter in the Australian release where censorship had them replace several scenes with a text window describing the offensive material in graphic etail next to a picture of a crying koala.

  • Bob and George. Megaman throws away a projectile, and Tomahawk Man sheds a single tear. Then Tomahawk Man goes to pick it up, and it turns out to be the one weapon he's weak against, so it kills him.
    • Interestingly enough, Word of God says the original plan was to have the camera cut back to Megaman after Tomahawk shed the tear, but not explicitly showing his defeat might've created plotholes later. (Given that the second game parody had a Robot Master return after his death wasn't shown on-camera, and fans had taken to assuming He's Just Hiding in cases where a death was not explicitly shown, this was probably a wise move.)
  • Used in an editorial cartoon by Terrence Nowicki Jr., crying at a littered Tea Party flyer with "ITS ARE COUNTRY - AN WE WANT IT BACK" on it.
  • Referred to in You Damn Kid.
  • The Non-Adventures of Wonderella: "Diamonds are WHATEVER". Wonderella defeats some villains by causing their Kill Sat to "harmlessly" fire into the ocean. She declares the day is saved. The final panel shows all the ocean creatures—killed by the laser—washing ashore. In the foreground, an Indian sheds a single tear.

    Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Critic sheds a tear when he watches Tom and Jerry singing and dancing about how they are best friends in The Movie.
  • Parodied by the WCW fansite DDT Digest - rather then star ratings, bad matches were rated in crying Indians. The later years of the federation saw a lot of crying Indians in the recap.
  • Somebody in the Harry Potter fandom compared the "Harmonians" to the Trail of Tears, so someone on Fandom Wank made an icon of the crying Indian looking at Ron/Hermione.
  • The Zero Punctuation review of Fallout 3 has a visual sting of a deer crying when he talks about the landscape being littered with gravel.
  • The Earth Day special of Marvel Super Heroes-What The?! has Black Panther shed a tear after the wind blows a candy wrapper into Zabu's face.
  • Referenced in the Cracked article 5 Celebrity Careers Launched By Ethnic Makeovers, which points out that "Iron Eyes Cody" who famously played the crying Indian wasn't even native american in the slightest.

    Western Animation 
  • Directly parodied in the 200th episode of The Simpsons, "Trash of the Titans," in which, as Springfield moves five miles away to a new location, a Duff beer can is discarded at the foot of an Indian. The Indian stares at the litter, then at the camera, and sheds a tear. Another Indian comes up from behind him and warns, "Do yourself a favor: Don't turn around." The camera pans to Springfield's former location, now covered with all the trash Homer buried underground. The first Indian screams, and the second one lectures, "I told you not to turn around."
  • The Critic: When Duke tries to make "Savvy Indian Chewing Tobacco" a sponsor, complete with an Indian on the set, Jay rips up his contract and throws the pieces at the Indian's feet, making him shed a tear.
  • Subverted in Futurama. A native Martian sheds a tear at a can of Slurm which was carelessly discarded by Zapp Branigan. Leela thinks the native Martian is crying over how wasteful Zapp is; turns out he's crying because someone he knew named Cynthia used to drink Slurm.
  • Ceviche from Chowder has done this multiple times. While these were most likely not a direct parody, it's still worth mentioning.
  • Parodied in Moral Orel with the mascot of Diorama Elementary. The mascot is called "The Vanishing American" and is a stereotypical Indian chief with a teardrop painted on his cheek.
  • In a flashback to the Arizona episode of Gargoyles, Elisa's grandfather sheds a single tear when his son (Elisa's father) leaves the tribe to go to New York.
  • King of the Hill: In "The Arrow Head", Bill cries a single tear when comparing the government taking Hank's land to the government taking the Indians' land. Right before he finishes his beer can and tosses it to the ground.
  • Parodied in a Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law episode by Apache Chief.
  • In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Isabella and the Temple of Sap", a hippie guru sheds a single tear as he relates how the maraca-nut trees the Fireside Girls are looking for were harvested to the brink of extinction.
  • Parodied in the Pepper Ann episode "Dances With Ignorance," in order to show Pepper's cluelessness about that part of her own heritage.
  • In a Pinky and the Brain episode where they try to pass themselves off as an endangered species, a propaganda ad is shown with Brain looking over the city of Pittsburgh and shedding a tear.