Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Honoring the Spirit of Iron Eyes Cody

As is common practice, while awaiting the start of the Class A race this past weekend at the New York State Cross Country Championship in Elma, New York, myself and a few coaches walked parts of the course. While doing so, one coach , between talking points, finished drinking the remainder of a plastic bottle of water he had purchased. Upon drawing the final swig, he walked ahead of our small group of four, looked around and flipped his bottle into a small area of long grass just to the side of the path.

I happened to see this and quickly prompted the coach to "pick up your litter, there's cans and bins all over the place!" There were indeed trash and recyclable receptacles throughout the course and in the tent village where teams had set up shop for the day. This brief interaction prompted a short discussion during which one of my colleagues asked, "Do you remember that old commercial with the Indian who had the tear running down his cheek?" I did.

Despite a concerted effort on the part of communities, schools, and businesses to promote recycling, my friend still thought little of simply dropping his garbage on the ground. Of course, this doesn't make him "bad" or "evil," but it is indicative of a level of short-sightedness. Nationally, we may all be negligent in this regard.  I distinctly recall as a child in the Seventies, watching two television characters in particular do their darnedest to teach children (and adults) about the importance of recycling: Iron Eyes Cody and Woodsy Owl.

Star of the ad at the top of the post, Iron Eyes Cody was most famous for his "crying Indian" role in the "Keep America Beautiful" Public Service Announcement (PSA) in the early 1970s. It was an ecology commercial in which Cody, playing a Native American, sheds a tear after some trash is thrown from a speeding car and lands at his feet. The announcer, William Conrad, of Bullwinkle and Cannon fame, memorably declares: "People start pollution; people can stop it."

While Iron Eyes was a serious, powerful combination of image and message, I have always been  partial to United States Forest Service mascot, and spokes-bird, Woodsy Owl. Another environmental icon, he first came on the scene in 1970 for the first Earth Day in order to raise awareness in children and families for protecting the environment. Having been through a number of updates and hip redesigns, 40+ years later, Woodsy's messages of common sense conservation still lingers in my memory: "Give a hoot, don't pollute."

When my friend did pick up his bottle, and together we found an appropriate blue bin to drop it into, it was good to feel in some way the ghosts of those old PSAs past were pleased by the tiny difference this act (among many more) have made.

No comments: