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People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It.

"Somewhere, an Indian is crying."
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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.

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You can find videos online of course.


Examples:

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    Advertising 

    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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
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    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."
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.

    Music 
  • 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"

    Western Animation 
  • 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."
  • 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: Whatever you do, don't turn around.
    [the camera pans over to the landfill in Springfield's previous location, the first Native American screams]
    Native American: Told you.
  • 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.

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