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They really did that then?

October 16, 2012

Remember the Indian with one lone tear, weeping because of the litter we produced (well, and the smog and all the rest of it)? His name was Iron Eyes Cody, and he was featured in an iconic commercial that ran as part of the Keep America Beautiful ad campaign in the early 1970s. When I was a kid, I remember being socialized that litter is bad. There wasn’t as much socialization about as about cigarettes being bad, but it was there.

Today, if I see someone throw a cigarette but out of their car, it’s irritating. It’s not that hard to take ashtray out and dump it in the garbage. So, as I was watching (yes, he’s going to say it again) Mad Men, I was kind of stunned by a scene where the Draper family took their brand new Coup de Ville out for a picnic. The scene speaks for itself.

The setting is idyllic, park with rolling hills and enormous shade trees–two things we don’t get much of here in Florida. And the scene is nice, too. Mom and Dad relaxing around a picnic lunch the way we used to when I was a kid. Then Dad gets up and throws the beer can into the woods–or just on the field someplace, and Mom picks up the picnic blanket and leaves all the trash.

I watched the scene amazed. Although there aren’t garbage cans to dispense the trash, that doesn’t mean you get to leave it. If my kids had done that, I’d have said, “What do you think, the picnic fairies will come and pick up your crap?”

So I posted on Facebook, “Did people used to do this?”

If people didn’t used to do this, there wouldn’t be a need for the Keep America Beautiful campaign, which actually started in 1953. Ironically–and Mad Men is rich in this kind of irony–the campaign worked mostly through ads. The first campaign ran in the early 60s–“Every Litter Bit Hurts.” Get it? Other campaigns ran, including the iconic Iron Eyes Cody campaign in 1971. Guys like Don Draper got a lot of business because of efforts like this.

If I were writing a scene from the 50s or 60s, I’d never think to include this kind of detail because I wouldn’t have thought of it. That’s one of the problems with writing things you don’t know–you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s one of the reasons that journals or memoirs–even with the most minor of details, are of great value.

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