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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 Public Service Announcement featuring 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 a horse with a big smile through towns where people are cleaning up).

It is popularly referred to as the "Crying Indian" ad, although its official name is "People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It". At the time this was quite a powerful ad with an Anvilicious statement.

But these days, with the overuse of the Magical Native American trope (Not to mention that Iron Eyes Cody, the actor portraying him, was actually Italian-Americannote ), the lasting image of the Crying Indian has become both a Stock Parody and, to many Native Americans, a painful reminder of the enduring stereotypes they face.

In February 2023, Keep American Beautiful officially transferred the ownership of the rights of the original "Crying Indian" ad to the National Congress of American Indians, who intend to restrict its usage and ensure that it is only used for historical context, stating that the ad has always inappropriately represented American natives.


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  • The crying Steelers fan would like you to keep Pittsburgh clean.
  • Spoofed by E-Trade in their "Invest Wisely" Super Bowl ad in 2001, after the burst of the dot-com bubble. A chimpanzee (the same chimp, in fact, that E-Trade used in their Super Bowl ad the prior year mocking their competitors' wasteful spending) rides through the wreckage of several dot-com companies that were never going to be profitable, along with the abandoned Porsche of a tech millionaire who lost it all, before shedding a Single Tear after stumbling upon the sock puppet in front of the abandoned headquarters of

    Comic Books 
  • Parodied in Justice League of America #100, where Major Disaster, a white man who happened to be possessed by the spirit of Gaia that day, weeps at the sight of pollution. His Native American companion Manitou Raven is completely unfazed, and doesn't understand why Booker is weeping over trash.
  • Used as a shout-out in Katmandu, a Furry comic about Native American-like feline alien beings, when we see Markree, the younger brother of the protagonist Liska, crying in the same way after his sister was kidnapped by Rial and Pyndan at the beginning of her story.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 TV 
  • 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."
  • Mocked in Married... with Children. Al takes part in a "Keep Chicago Green" campaign and gets the starring role in a public-service announcement where he tries to score a touchdown on a football field filled with trash and then turns to the camera with a fake tear stuck to his face. He proceeds to keep the tear in his pocket and slaps it on his face from time to time because of the fame it brings him.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:
    • From its 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 (1996). 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!
    • Also happens when the crew watch Track of the Moon Beast. The movie characters are at an archery range, and Paul pulls a bow and some arrows out of the car.
      Crow: Heh-heh, I swiped these from that Indian while he was crying about the garbage. Ha-ha!
  • 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.
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt mockingly references it when Jacqueline's Native American father mentions that in New York, "The littering here makes me cry."

  • 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"
  • Parodied by VH-1 during an ad for a 1970s tribute week several years ago, with the Indian played by Jimmie Walker.

  • Rare non-American example: the 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy episode "Recycling" mentions the ad, and makes the point that Keep America Beautiful was partly funded by the packaging industry (who were in the process of phasing out deposit schemes) and that the message was that ensuring packaging waste wasn't a problem was your responsibility, not theirs.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • FreedomToons: At the end of "Dem Debate 2: Electoral Boogaloo", Elizabeth Warren (dressed as a native chief) cries a single tear when the other candidates start fist-fighting each other on stage.

    Web Videos 
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged Movie: Super Android 13, Android 14 resembles a Native American and is voiced by images turned into audio with PhotoSounder. His line subtitled "They do not understand our struggle." is actually a picture of the "Crying Indian" from the original commercial.

    Western Animation 
  • Cartoons That Never Made It: "Heidi and the Yodelers" features a Native American snarling before shedding a tear in its theme song.
  • Parodied on The Critic. Duke wanted Jay to promote a new line of chewing tobacco, Savvy Indian (one of the fine products from his newest business acquisition, Scum Co.). Jay resisted because kids watch his show, but Duke pushed it to the point of hiring a Native American to stand behind Jay during the show and talk about the product. Jay was outraged and quit. When Duke reminded him of his contract, Jay ripped it up and walked away—causing the Native American to start crying.
  • 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."
  • In Moral Orel, Diorama Elementary's team is The Vanishing Americans, represented by one of these.
  • Parodied in the Paradise PD episode "Parent Trap". Dusty, who believes he's part Native American after taking a DNA test, takes a Thanksgiving Day parade hostage (in full traditional garb). After being arrested by Gina, a passerby tosses a cheeseburger with a single bite taken from it at his feet. A single tear rolls down Dusty's face before he blubbers out, "I could have eaten the rest of that cheeseburger."
  • 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. While trucks are hauling the town away, Homer tosses one last piece of trash out his window, which falls before a Native American, who sheds a tear. Then another steps forward.
    Native American: Do yourself a favor: don't turn around.
    [the camera pans over to the landfill in Springfield's previous location, the first Native American screams]
    Native American: I told you not to turn around.


Video Example(s):


"Don't Turn Around"

After Springfield moves their entire city, one Native American advises his friend not to look at the horror they left behind. He doesn't listen.

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