Anybody who was watching U.S. television in 1970 and the following few years will remember the poignancy of this video, which was called Keep America Beautiful but was better known as the Crying Indian. It was released around the time of the first Earth Day.
I do remember learning much later that the actor was not Native American: he was Italian-American Iron Eyes Cody (1904-1999). Still, I thought, the video was well-intended, and it did cause people -- at least some people -- to think about our place in the environment.
It was not until I started looking for the video for this year's Indigenous Peoples Day that I learned the insidious background of the story. Writing for the Chicago Tribune in 2017, journalist Finis Dunaway argues that the ad fooled the environmental movement by shifting attention -- and thereby responsibility for pollution away from manufacturers and toward individuals. It was, Dunaway argues, part of a greenwashing campaign that ushered in an era of disposable packaging. Half a century later, we still struggle to develop sustainable waste-management strategies that actually existed prior to this ad.
Writing for The Columbian (Vancouver, WA) in April of this year, journalist Greg Jayne offers a different perspective, insisting that the ad had a positive influence on a generation of young people.