The Crying Indian
The Crying Indian
In 1971, the antilitter organization Keep America Beautiful, along with the Advertising Council, launched a campaign featuring the Crying Indian. Played by Iron Eyes, an actor in native garb, the Crying Indian sheds a tear in response to litter and pollution. This chapter views the television commercial and other public service announcements in the broader contexts of popular perceptions of indigenous peoples, debates over disposable packaging, and the question of responsibility. By designing the commercial around the imagined experience of a native person, Keep America Beautiful (KAB) incorporated the counterculture’s embrace of Indianness as a marker of oppositional identity. Yet KAB, composed of leading beverage and packaging corporations, sought to interiorize the environmentalist critique of progress, to make individual viewers feel guilty and responsible for the degraded environment. Deflecting the question of responsibility away from corporations and placing it entirely in the realm of individual action, the commercial castigated spectators for their environmental sins but concealed the role of industry in polluting the landscape. While the Crying Indian became an environmental icon, many environmentalists critiqued the campaign and clashed with KAB over its opposition to bottle bills.
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