Not Past It - The "Crying Indian" Ad

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Whether it’s 1971 and Dina gilja Whitaker is about 12 years old.

She’s doing what kids do watching TV and on comes a PSA, a memorable.

One one that would stick in her brain for decades.


It starred an American Indian.

So the commercial opens with this native guy and he’s clearly native because he’s wearing buckskins and it’s Fringe and he’s paddling a canoe.

For native people like me looking at thats like, wow, you know, I recognize that that’s like, you know, he’s like a hero figure.


It’s a calm picturesque scene.

The man’s got two braids hanging down by his ears.

A feather tucked into one.

He looks stoic but soon the ad takes a turn and then we start seeing litter in the water and the camera backs up.


And we see there’s all this smoke spewing in the air is really dirty and we see that he’s This area is highly industrial an old newspaper floats, past smokestacks belch.

Dirty are his silhouette shines through a sheet of smog.


He soon reaches a rocky Shore and he pulls his canoe onto land.

And then, that’s when the narrator says, some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty.

That was once this country and some people don’t.


And there’s all these cars driving by and and all of a sudden you see somebody throws out a bag of trash and it lands right on top of his moccasined feet.

The camera cuts to his face slowly running down his cheek, a single tear.


This is the moment that really Sears itself into the American imaginary, the crying Indian, the sky this Indian, with this tear running down his cheek, the commercial became known as The Crying Indian, add the message.


You created this trash.

You can pick it up.

Start pollution.

Who can stop it?

Dina says the message felt powerful because of who it was coming from seeing it was inspirational.


You know, I’m going to kind of embarrassed even to say that because of what I know about him.

Now, actually there was a lot about this ad that wasn’t what it seemed.

From gimlet media.


This is not past it a show about the stories.

We can’t quite leave behind every episode.

We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.

I’m Simone plannin on Earth Day, April 22nd, nineteen seventy one fifty one years ago this week, the crying Indian commercial debuted on televisions Across America.


It’s Duck in the country’s Consciousness, but there were surprising forces behind the ad.


We dig into the powerful players who shaped how we think about environmental action to this day.

We’re talking trash and trash talking.


So stick around that’s coming up.


The crying Indian PSA struck a chord with many Americans.

I mean, I wasn’t even alive when it came out and I’m familiar with it.

But I know the crying Indian from its parodies a reference baked into the culture.

It’s come up and shows like The Simpsons Married with Children.


South Park, Mystery Science, Theater 3000.

I swiped these from that Indian while he was crying about the garbage.

It was on Friends Chandler.

What are you doing?

There is a trash can right there.

Well, I thought if I littered that crying Indian might come by and save us.


I mean, could it be any more ubiquitous the ad aired at a time when the nation was waking up to environmental Devastation and it’s threat to our way of life in the 60s.

Several stories of major pollution took over headlines Americans, had read about the pesticide DDT poisoning Wildlife.


They witnessed California beaches blackened by a massive oil, spill Americans had read about an Ohio River Catching Fire.


Times because of Industrial, Waste concern was growing and people took action.

The play in this outcry heard across the land.


Today was for somebody to do something before.

It’s too late, an estimated 20 million people participated in the first Earth Day, in 1970, with protesters from New York to LA, the most talked-about offense in the nation remains pollution.


And today earlier that spring students at the University of Michigan, put a car on trial for pollution.

When they found it guilty and then they started smashing the car to Pieces.

It was a kangaroo court.

The defendant didn’t have a chance, you’re looking at what may become a new wave of student protests.


A wave, that is bound to gain, support from less alienated circles in our society.

At the same protest students also demonstrated against single-use cans.

While the newscaster on the scene, reported the story students tossed bags of cans at his feet.


The pile of trash got so tall, the totally hit him from view case anybody missed.

The point of the story and the whole demonstration.

It is simply this that if we’re not all careful someday, we’re going to be in it all the way up to trash litter.


It was piling up.

It was becoming a big problem.

A non-profit came forward with a solution.

They called themselves.

Keep America.


Their mission was to.


Well, keep America beautiful for them.

That meant teaching people to take care of their own trash and ridding the nation of the growing eyesore.

That was the litter problem and they got their message out with an ad.

The one you heard at the top of the show, The One starring that crying Indian.


Some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty.

That was once this country.

He had debuted on the one-year anniversary of Earth Day.

In 1970 one.

That was very much moved by it and being moved by the idea that I wanted to be on the correct side of that argument.


Bob Thompson is a TV and pop culture professor at Syracuse University and he remembers seeing the PSA when he was about 12 years old.

I didn’t want to be the person in that car.

Throwing this garbage out onto this gentleman.


I wanted to be associated with the canoe and the trees and the silence and the identity imagery.

The ad worked on Bob, even at that young age.

He said he felt he could personally On the responsibility of curbing pollution, the ad got him and many other Americans to pick up their trash.


This I suppose is the good news about this ad.

It really was effective in one little slice.

It really made me and my brother want to quit throwing stuff on the ground.

So I guess on the very basic level of a public service announcement, trying to get people to stop.


Littering, I think this was probably a very very effective ad the ads reach was massive, the Ad Council helped make the commercial and tracked, its progress people around the country called in requesting information on how they could reduce pollution within the first four months of the commercials Premiere.


Keep America, beautiful sent out more than 100 thousand brochures to eager collars years later.

At age, a leading advertising magazine.

In named it, one of the top 100 ads of the 20th century.

So did it work?


Well, it’s impossible to say what the ad alone influenced.

It was part of larger anti-littering campaigns run by keep America beautiful.

And those campaigns coincided with several states and cities cracking down on litter.

Another big thing that helped shift the sentiment around single-use cans.


The rise of recycling.

Now, you could have your Coke and recycle it too.

But before you go singing, the Praises of this campaign, let’s talk about that crying Indian.

For the same reasons that image was iconic.

It was also problematic.


Let’s unpack, remember Dina gilja Whitaker from the top of the show.

When she first saw the ad she was inspired by the actor who played the American Indian.

She’s a cynics to descendant of the Colville confederated tribes.


Now, she’s a lecturer of American Indian studies.

Dee’s at Cal State San Marcos and has an entirely different take on the crying.


We were all kind of duped by this guy.

She says that the ad used a Trope that shows up a lot in media.


It’s called The Vanishing Indian.

This is an Indian who is not a modern Indian.

This is a guys like he stepped out of the 19th century into the 20th century.

She says, the native man in the ad looks like he’s visiting from back in time.


With his friends to Buckskin, jacket and moccasined feet.

He’s wearing clothing from a bygone era.

He’s a stereotype.

He was also symbolic.

Dina says that this character of the American Indian man was effective because it made people feel guilty guilty enough.


They would move to action.

She says the character tapped into the historic.

Shame, many Americans felt for the genocide of indigenous peoples.

As this population decline happens, American start feeling safe.


And so they have the ability to start kind of feeling this moral, twinge of regret for The Disappearance of Indians.

Then there’s this other problem, the actor, a guy who called himself iron Eyes.



He had made a career in Hollywood playing American Indian characters.

We all believe that he was truly a native person.

Well, he wasn’t in 1996, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported, that his real name was a sporadic or tea, and he was White born to Italian parents, but he denied it and then there was that tear that iconic single drop down the cheek even that wasn’t real apparently iron eyes.


Couldn’t produce the goods on set.

So they used a fake tear made out of Glycerin.


So is everyone counting along?

We’ve got the whack as hell stereotype.

We’ve got this guy accused of being American Indian, Rachel dolezal.


We’ve got the props Department.

Faking award-winning tears, truly a cornucopia of fakery, but here’s the real kicker, the group, that was behind the ad.

Keep America, beautiful.

Were backed by some major industry players after the break.


We reveal the powerful forces behind the PS a curtain.


Welcome back.

There’s no time to waste.

Let’s dumpster.

Dive back in.

Don’t worry.

I don’t mean literally.


Sorry, I’m done.

I’m done.

Moving on.

So you heard about the staying power of the crying Indian ad.


And the less than honest depiction of.

Well, basically everything in it, but let me tell you, the thing that really got me.

Thing, that made me go damn where the folks behind the ad.


I should have seen it coming, but I really didn’t.

Go with me on a little tangent for a second, you know, the movie Miss Congeniality.

I promise, this is related.

If you don’t.

It’s basically about this cop who has to go undercover as a beauty pageant contestant to suss out who’s behind this bomb threat and the whole time, the pageant director is just seething at the fact that this cop is butchering up her pageant and undermining the spirit of Miss United States and blah, blah, blah, come to find out.


She was the one planning to bomb.

The pageant the whole time, the pageant director, in my opinion, one of the greatest villain reveals, but it comes nowhere.

Close to when I found out, who was behind the crying Indian, add, remember how the ad was made by a nonprofit called?


Keep America beautiful.

Well, with a name like that, you’d think they’d be some kind of tree-hugging earth-loving do-gooders.

I think the idea behind that promotional piece was To make you think that this was produced by.

I don’t know some environmental hippies or something like that.


This is Bartel more.

He’s an environmental historian at Ohio State University.

He says, it didn’t take much digging to figure out that hippies were not behind the ad.

I had learned that this was pretty much put out by industry by the beverage canning and Brewing industry.


To deflect accusations that producers were to blame for this growing throw away.

Container waste problem.

That’s right.

Keep America, beautiful was and still is backed by big beverage and bottling companies.


It is what we call a classic AstroTurf organization, AstroTurf being, you know, looks like grass roots, but its fake, it’s corporately financed.

It’s not coming from the bottom up.

It’s coming from the top down.

Today keep America beautiful is supported by Coca-Cola.


Pepsi Co dr.

Pepper Nestle.

The list goes on BART thinks.

It’s quite the sleight of hand.

He wanted to know more about how these big beverage companies shaped public opinion.

So he picked up the phone and reached out to a lobbying organization.


Then called the national soft drink Association, like caught a bunch of people and and finally somebody said, hey your history like there’s a bunch of documents down.

As maybe you’d like to check it out.

And so I went and got to go to the belly of the Beast.

So to speak to see like the lobbying arm of the beverage industry that Beast was on K Street and Washington, d.c.



Remember there was a little elevator, you took down to the basement and there was just like trade journals from the soft drink industry, going back to like 1900.

I mean, it was like as a historian.

You’re just like Jaw.

Drop your like, whoa.

Bart came across tons of documents and one from the late 60s, was particularly revealing, it had to do with what was on the cans.


Those recognizable labels that Pepsi Blue that Dr. Pepper maroon and works great.

When your product is on a store shelf, not so great.

When it’s litter on the side of the road.

There’s this great document where I think it was a representative Coca-Cola, but it’s somebody in the soft drink.


Street, who said it’s our name on the can they was such a liability for this for this industry, for for the canning industry, for the beverage industry.

But specifically for these big beverage Brands because their name was on the pollution, it was literally calling out from the roadside.


Like, Hey, we’re the ones that are to blame here starting in the late 60s.

There were lots of attempts at Federal legislation, including legislation.

That would have barred One Way bottles.

Bart says, he found that beverage companies were keeping track of these types of bills.


And he found documents showing employees discussing how to shut this legislation down.

They did not want to see these systems put in place.

They didn’t want to have any government intervention, and again, that you can think of this as from their perspective.

They wanted to be able to set the price their products.


Sell it.

The way they wanted to have these throw away containers and in some ways externalized, the pollution cost of dealing with this waste.

I’m telling you, this has nothing on the Miss Congeniality villain reveal.

We asked keep America beautiful about their big beverage Roots, its Representatives didn’t respond.


There’s a backstory to this bottle.

Waste Bart says, it begins in the early 1900’s back then, soda beer milk.

It mostly came in glass when you are done drinking your beverage of choice.

You’d either leave the bottle for the Milkman to pick up or you would return your bottle to a store.


Bart says, these bottles got reused a lot.

But you go back to the early 1900s and look at some of these return rates.

I mean bottles were doing 30 40 50 60. 60 trips from company to Consumer return refill.


Re and joy Bart says that began to change during prohibition.

When many breweries and saloons were shuttered, by the time booze became legal again in 1933.

Pretty much the only beer business is left, were the big ones.


And so you had the big players like Pabst Schlitz and others who wants prohibition is Winding down now, have this kind of open market.

Big breweries saw an opportunity to expand.

Bart says, they were, especially interested in bringing beers out of bars and into people’s homes, but it cost money to buy glass bottles and ship them to retailers all around the country and then ship them back to their factories to be refilled.


Enter the tin can canned beer came on the market in 1935 and was really cheap to make.

Beverage companies were psyched, no more bottles to ship.

All around, just Beverages and cans.

Making a one-way trip to Consumers switching over was brilliant for business.


They didn’t have to clean the bottles.

They didn’t have to reclaim the bottles.

There’s a lot of cost Savings in that regard.

In the decades that followed many soft.


Companies made the Same move, they stopped collecting and refilling bottles instead.

Most of them went one, way Bart says, that was a problem for consumers.


They had all these cans and bottles to deal with it.

All amounted to lots of garbage.

These things were just everywhere, because there was no deposit system.

There was no incentive to bring it back.

So they’re ending up in national parks and rivers and streams.

So the scale as a historian, looking back at this of the problem was just so big that I think it was on.


Bodies mind in 1953.

Vermont was the first state to do something about all this one way bottle, waste cows were mistakenly chomping and stepping on discarded, broken, glass, citizens, complained and lawmakers took action.


The state legislature band One Way beer bottles.

The slaw was eventually allowed to expire, but lawmakers and other states would go on to propose similar moves when Vermont took Even though bottling and beverage companies did too.


They rallied together and formed keep America beautiful.

According to Mother Jones, keep America, beautiful spread fast soon.

After forming.

They had anti-litter campaign is underway in 32 states.

Its solution wasn’t about fewer cans.


It was about mobilizing people to pick up their trash.

Key to this message was personal responsibility.

That idea was Central to a memorable campaign.

Keep America beautiful debuted in the early 60s, a decade before the crying Indian.



It starred a little girl who scolded people for littering.

It happens in the best of places.

In the best of families.

You forgot every litter bit hurts.



Susan, that little girl was named Susan spotless.

She dressed all in white and she picked up trash dropped by her parents telling them not to do.

So as Susan spotless says, keep America.

Beautiful, make it a family project.


Don’t be a leader, but cause every little bitter.

Susan spotless eventually came to feel a little dated.

So when the 1970s rolled around keep America beautiful, when searching for a new campaign, to keep up with The Changing Times in 1971.


They debuted the crying Indian, the figure that would come to epitomize our personal responsibility for our trash.

It’s easy to see how we’ve internalized this message to this day.

We’re told to bring our own grocery bags to the store to eat less meat to buy electric cars and stop Flying so much and it’s made me realize that.


The personal responsibility narrative is hugely advantageous to corporations putting responsibility on the individual and deflecting it from the industry.

Take this new spot from Coca-Cola.

It starts off with stock footage of And bottles, then there’s a shot of a loan Coke can being picked up off the grass and gently tossed into a recycling bin.


Packaging has become an integral part of modern living and yet has led to major environmental challenges.

The Coca-Cola Company set.

An ambitious goal to do their part to help curb.

This Global problem through their world without waste initiative, Coca-Cola, aims to collect and recycle, a bottle or can for everyone at cells by T.


Sounds promising, right, but if you look a little closer Coke isn’t nixing.

Single-use packaging.


It’s investing in recycling and notice how in this equation, you’re still the one responsible for disposing of this trash.


We asked Coca-Cola Representatives about this.

They didn’t respond.

Listen, these personal choices are important.

I know it’s not perfect.

But I’m going to keep recycling.

Keep avoiding plastic when I can do my little meatless Mondays, but the focus around individuals leaves out big business business that continues to produce and produce and produce with little responsibility, for where their junk ends up.


At leaves out the wide-ranging, systemic changes governments could make to deal with all this Packaging.

I wonder what if we as Americans believed in our Collective responsibility and our power to make change together, not just individually.


The change, might not be so easy, but neither is canoeing down a river full of trash.


Not past it as a Spotify, original produced by gimlet and zsp media.

This episode was produced by Sarah Craig.

Next week, some dispatches from Ukraine, the both six weeks ago.

I left over all my work.


So I left all the job and volunteered to become a soldier in the territorial Defence forces.

The rest of our team, our associate producers Rimowa, Philip and Julie Carly.

Laura Newcombe is our production assistant.

The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing, by any Gilbertson Andrea, be Scott and Zach Stewart Ponte fact-checking, by Jane, Ackerman sound design and mixing by Hans Dale.


She original music by Sachs kicks, Ave.

Willie Green, Jay bless and Bobby Lord.

Our theme song is Tocco, Liana by cocoa with music supervision by Liz Fulton technical Direction by Zach Schmidt.

It show art by Elysee Harvin and Talia Rahman, the executive producer at CSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte.


The executive producer from gimlet is Abbie.


If you want to read more about bart, elmore’s work on big bottlers, check out his book citizen Coke the making of Coca-Cola.

Capitalism special.

Thanks to finish Dunaway Bruce Goldman Ginger strand, Michelle.


Ruhija, Kody Patten, Matthew Shields, Katie feather, and to Lydia Pole, Green, Dan Behar Jen.


John and Leigh wiedemann list Styles and Joshua Bianchi followed not past it.

Now to listen for free exclusively on Spotify.

Click the little bell next to the follow button to get notifications for new episodes.


You can follow me on Twitter at Simone.


Thanks for hanging.

We’ll see you next week if we could see that fictional character.

Again, he wouldn’t be crying.

A single tear, he’d be down on the ground in a fetal position.

Crying his eyes out.