Do you Remember when Pollution was a Crying Shame?

By Elias Rodriguez

Talking trash is not usually my shtick. But litter is hard to miss in Gotham. Amidst a city of eight million souls one is bound to observe a litterbug or two. Anytime I see someone throwing their trash onto the sidewalk my mind dials back to some impressive imagery nestled in my childhood memories. During the era of weekday afternoon cartoons such as The Flintstones and Popeye the Sailor Man, you’d see a television commercial featuring a Native American wandering around a blighted urban landscape.

Iron Eyes Cody

The regal looking warrior mournfully observed littered pastures, billowing smoke stacks and polluted streams. I didn’t know at the time that he was Iron Eyes Cody, a noted American actor recruited for the Keep America Beautiful  public awareness ad campaign. Does anyone out there remember this commercial? 

According to the Ad Council, the spot first aired on Earth Day in 1971. That makes me wonder how old I was when these images became lodged in my psyche? Irrespective of age, one sensed that there was something wrong with the picture on the screen. With every broadcast I felt like crying along with the forlorn Indian. The close up of Iron Eyes Cody’s tear drop rolling down his face endeared him and his cause to a well of sympathy. Reducing litter in NYC is an imperative EPA has been involved with for decades. The accompanying Keep America Beautiful tagline delivered a simple but resonating message, “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” Over 40 years later what can I say, except, Amen! Do you think public attitudes about litter have changed significantly since then?

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