This essay offers a new way of understanding a pivotal moment in the history of U.S. environmentalism: the time surrounding the first celebration of Earth Day in 1970. By exploring a wide array of visual images produced during this period and paying particular attention to pictures of people wearing gas masks, the comic strip character Pogo, and the figure of the Ecological Indian, the article examines the complex relationship between the mass media and multiple forms of environmentalism. These images personalized the sense of risk and responsibility by presenting all Americans as equally vulnerable to pollution and equally to blame for environmental degradation. When placed in dialogue with both mainstream and subaltern environmental movements as well as with public policy, the images reveal a paradox embedded in the environmental politics of the era: the state expanded its environmental regulatory agenda, even as the visual media repeatedly emphasized individual responsibility for the environmental crisis. This essay explains how these seemingly opposing trends actually reinforced one another and how they bequeathed a problematic legacy to U.S. environmentalism. Ultimately, the media, mainstream environmental groups, and public policy all failed to consider the links between social inequality and the disproportionate experience of risk among racialized minorities. Across these different fields, subaltern perspectives were submerged, drowned out by the repeated insistence upon universal danger and culpability. Earth Day, often described as a moment of origins for modern environmentalism, thus helped frame and validate a particular conception of the movement as a cause that promised to unite the nation but that lacked a social edge.


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pp. 67-99
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