Tar and Feathers
In Wild West
and other American Frontier settings, a common form of mob justice short of actually lynching a wrongdoer (or suspected one) is to cover him with tar and feathers, parade him through town riding a rail, and run him out of town. May be found in other settings as well, and the sticky substance may not always be tar. Tarring and feathering seems to be the epitome of American folk justice (well, if we exclude lynching, that is). The belief that it is extremely dangerous seems to be an overeaction to the belief it was purely comic, there seems to be no corroboration on the use of boiling tar for this purpose (frankly, pouring boiling tar over a person's body is moving into lynching territory). The essential aspect of the punishment was to use the filthiest feathers possible.
Often played for comedic effect, but the reality was that this was hardly a mild punishment; being run out of town without your belongings was harsh in itself, and the physical damage inflicted by the tar varied wildly, ranging from being a mild irritant requiring hours of scrubbing to clean off your skin if it's relatively cool (pine tar becomes a spreadable liquid at about 77° F) to causing life-threatening burns if the tar is near boiling. In addition, they tended to suffer fairly severe injuries from being forced to straddle the rail
Note: The rail in question would be a splintery wooden fence
rail, not a steel track section as shown in the page illustration. Even an angry mob would be hard-pressed to lift someone on one of those.
- Happens to the title character (a Snake Oil Salesman) in Little Big Man.
- In the 1972 John Waters film Pink Flamingos, Connie and Raymond Marbles, are tarred and feathered as retribution for a series of misdeeds against the film's protagonist, Babs Johnson.
- Broken Lizard's film, Beerfest, includes a scene in which Cloris Leachman's character and her son are tarred and feathered in turn of the century Germany.
- In the 1988 film Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Elvira is tarred and feathered in a spoof of the movie Flashdance.
- Joseph Smith is tarred and feathered in the 2005 film Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. Truth in Television for several early Latter-Day Saints, including Joseph Smith.
- An idealistic School Marm is nearly tarred and feathered in the 1938 movie Child Bride.
- Tarring and feathering is a fate suffered by one of the actresses in the Snuff Film in the 2005 motion picture Snuff-Movie.
- The full phrase is "tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail," as seen in the picture; the latter half, at least, happens in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
- Glue and feathers on Joe Pesci in Home Alone 1.
- In The Naked Gun 2, the modern variant happens to Dr. Meinheimer, who is covered with spilled oil and foam packing peanuts.
- In the remake of The Parent Trap, the last event in the Escalating War between the twins involves doing this with chocolate syrup.
- Played dead straight in Lawless, where we see just how horrible a thing it would be. Hot tar is no fun.
- In Revenge of the Nerds, nerds Lewis Skolnick and Gilbert Lowe are tarred and feathered by the Alpha Betas in response to their attempt to seek admittance to the fraternity.
- Possibly the Ur-Example in fiction is Edgar Allan Poe's story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.
- Happens in Huckleberry Finn. The Duke and King push their luck one too many times, and even Huck feels a bit sorry when he sees them paraded out fully be-feathered.
- The main character witnesses this being done to a few Tories in Johnny Tremain.
- "What Happened To Charles," one of James Thurber's Fables For Our Time, has the duck Eva, who eavesdrops on every conversation she hears but never gets anything quite right, tarred and UN-feathered after, having mistaken "shod" (having shoes put on one's feet) for "shot" (having a ranged projectile physically fired into one) and spread the (false!) word that the horse Charles has been killed, he turns up very much alive and wearing new horseshoes.
- Jimmy Carter's 2003 novel Hornet's Nest describes the tarring and feathering of a Tory by members of the Sons of Liberty. The man suffered severe burns on both feet as the tar filled his boots and had toes amputated as a result.
- In the Discworld novel Going Postal, con-artist Moist Von Lipwig displays a unsurprising familiarity with this trope, although it doesn't actually happen to him (this time.)
- In Sarah Bishop by Scott O'Dell, set during the Revolutionary War, a young girl's father dies after being tarred and feathered for remaining loyal to King George.
- In Seamus Heaney's poem Punishment, the tarring and feathering of Catholic women who fraternized with British soldiers during The Troubles in the 1970s is made reference to. Heaney juxtaposes this with the punishment of Iron Age bog body the Windeby Girl who was supposedly punished for infidelity, suggesting that the punishment meted to women in Northern Ireland is very much rooted in ancient tribal traditions.
- In the Nathaniel Hawthorne story My Kinsman Major Molineux, set right before the American Revolution, a young man newly arrived from England tries to seek out a relative (the title character) who is a person of importance in the colonial government, and a potential source of employment in the new world. When he asks around, he's eventually told by a strangely amused person that his relative will be passing by shortly. Sure enough, he seems Major Molineux passing by—being paraded through the streets, tarred and feathered, by the Sons of Liberty.
- In the Carnivāle episode named "Lincoln Highway", Clayton "Jonesy" Jones, the crippled co-manager, is almost lethally tarred and feathered.
- In an episode of Jackass, Ryan Dunn was tarred and feathered by Bam Margera.
- The 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams featured a fictional scene of Adams witnessing a British tax collector being tarred and feathered by an angry Boston mob. In this case it is shown as a frightful form of torture and there is nothing funny about it. The title character quite aptly calls it barbarism.
- Harper's Island with a guy getting tricked into having honey smeared on his back as part of a massage, then a pillow emptied on him.
- Bones, and then they all got arrested.
- Invoked in The Magnificent Seven television series, in which the group's resident gambler is found riding hurriedly out of town, a smear of tar on his face.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: "The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell"
- On the Spanish Game Show El gran juego de la oca, any contestant who landed on space 58 (la muerte, or the "Death" space) was driven back to start on a piece of morbidly decorated construction equipment by the Grim Reaper. On most episodes, the contestant was "tarred" fully clothed before being covered in goose feathers.
- In The Black Donnellys, in the episode "The Black Drop", Tommy Donnelly is tarred and feathered in retribution for trying to change a deal with Irish mob leader Derek "Dokey" Farrell.
- In the Deadwood episode "Complications", Samuel Fields, the "Nigger General", is tarred at scalding temperature on the shoulder by a lynch mob leader, before the procedure is interrupted by sheriff Seth Bullock. The tar is then painstakingly but painfully stripped off his shoulder by Calamity Jane.
- Hell on Wheels: In "God of Chaos", the Swede gets tarred and feathered before getting run out of town.
- In Green Acres, the citizens of Hooterville threaten to do this to Oliver whenever one of his plans to help the county backfire.
- In Dilbert, this happens to Dilbert after delivering bad news to a company meeting, showing that the company policy about not shooting the messenger merely forbids doing it with a gun.
- This was a common stipulation match in the South back in the territory days. The "tar" was just chocolate syrup.
- In the video game The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush Threepwood is tarred and feathered by monkey crew members of a pirate ship. He later uses this to pose as El Pollo Diablo, a giant chicken who has terrorized the area.
- In real situations, the subject was forcibly stripped naked and covered in hot tar, which if hot enough would burn badly. There was probably a beating or two along the way. After being feathered, the person would be humiliated by being carried around on a rail - not a rounded pole - the cross-section is square or rectangular, and the corners undoubtedly dug in. That's where most fiction ends. Then consider that if the person survived, the cooled tar would need to be removed - aggravating the burns and ripping out hair. Being tarred and feathered was never a good or easily-overcome thing. Everyone would remember what was done to you.
- This was common in the aftermath of war and occupation by a foreign power - in the aftermath of German occupation in 1944-45, this was not uncommon as punishment for French women who had chosen to "collaborate" on a one-to-one basis with individual German soldiers. This was also meted out as punishment in Northern Ireland by IRA terrorists, as a deterrent to girls in nationalist areas "collaborating" with British soldiers. Social control and enforcement of rules/consolidation of power via a painful and humiliating punishment was the motivation.
- Bill Bryson writes of an unfortunate customs agent who was twice tarred and feathered during the Boston Tea Party of 1773.
- In 1874, the Speaker of the Manitoba Legislature was tarred and feathered over a controversial decision.