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Crying Indian

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People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It.

"Somewhere, an Indian is crying."

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

     Western Animation 
  • Parodied on The Simpsons after Homer's stint as Sanitation Commissioner fails miserably. After bankrupting the Sanitation Department with things like concierge garbagemen, fancy uniforms for them (complete with epaulettes), and shiny new garbage trucks, and the garbagemen threatening a strike, Homer offers a deal with nearby towns (like Shelbyville) to dump their trash in Springfield. This works for a while, until the combination of Springfield's trash and everyone else's trash ends up spewing out of sewers and sinkholes, and turns the town into a landfill. The "solution" to this problem is to jack up all the buildings in town and move them a few miles away. A Native American sees the trash left behind and sheds a tear. His companion warns him not to turn around, but he does anyway, and screams in horror.
  • In the Futurama episode "Where the Buggalo Roam", which takes place on Mars, there is a scene where Zapp throws an empty Slurm can on the ground and one of the Martians (who are portrayed as stereotypical Native Americans) sheds a tear. Leela sees this and notes "they have so much respect for the land", but it's immediately subverted when the Martian picks up the can and says sadly: "Cynthia used to drink Slurm."