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Tar and Feathers
aka: Tarred And Feathered
A Professional Gambler gets his comeuppance. *

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.


Examples:

Comic Books
  • Lucky Luke
    • Happens regularly to Card Sharps and gamblers who push their luck too far, and sometimes, in the more lawless frontier towns, to local law enforcement.
    Sign on the page picture: Stranger, if you put down more than four aces on the table, you risk being put down too.
    • A recurring gambler receives this comment: "Scat! I didn't recognize you without the feathers!"
  • In Jack Black And His Dog Silver in one issue of Viz, a paleontologist is tarred and feathered for believing in evolution.
  • Scrooge McDuck does this to Flintheart Glomgold in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck (Well, with molasses instead of tar, but close enough.)
  • In Knights of the Dinner Table, the Knights pirate characters (except for Sara's) are tarred and feathered by their mutinous crew in the strip "Justice on the High Seas".

Film
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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 Dauphin 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 Tremaine.
  • "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.
  • 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.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.

Music
  • The avant-garde electronic music artist Fad Gadget often performed on stage while tarred and feathered. He was photographed in tar and feathers for the cover of his album Gag.
  • "Tarred and Feathered", by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets.
  • Mentioned in Rufus Rex's "Ingenious Forms of Torture".
  • The chorus of Big Audio Dynamite's "Medicine Show" went:
    It was really vile weather when we got tarred and feathered
    You could hear the six-guns sound as they chased us out of town

Newspaper Comics
  • 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.

Professional Wrestling
  • This was a common stipulation match in the South back in the territory days. The "tar" was just chocolate syrup.

Theatre
  • In The Music Man the anvil salesman refers to tar and feathers, but since this is 1912 one wonders if he was simply being facetious.
    Salesman: Your hair (pulls hat off, revealing bald head) never grows back!
    • Some productions of the musical also feature Mayor Shin suggesting this be one possible punishment for Harold Hill after he is exposed.

Video Games
  • 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.

Web Animation
  • Parodied in Homestar Runner — in the Sbemial "your edge", Strong Bad recalls himself and The Cheat only feathering Strong Sad.
    The Cheat: (Makes exclamatory noises.)
    Strong Bad: You said it, The Cheat! Tar is prohibitively expensive!

Webcomics

Web Original

Western Animation
  • The Simpsons
    • In "Treehouse of Horror XVIII," one of Marge Simpson's sisters appears to have been tarred and feathered from a Halloween prank.
    • In "Bart of Darkness," Bart gets Grandpa Simpson tarred and feathered.
      Marge: Remember how you got Grandpa tarred and feathered?
      Bart: Sure. That was twenty minutes ago.
      Grandpa: Gonna be in the tub for a while.
  • In Liberty's Kids, the main character James watches as an innocent man is tarred and feathered by a mob and joins in their mocking. This lasts until he is later informed how dangerous the act can be and meets the man being treated for it, near-death.
  • One Looney Tunes short has Wile E. Coyote build a tar-and-feather machine to use it on the Road Runner ("How to Tar and Feather a Road Runner"). The Road Runner zooms by just as the barrels are about to spew out their tools. The barrels end up on the Coyote, with predictable results. In closing, the Road Runner shows up holding a sign:
    Road runners already have feathers.
  • The Classic Disney Short Three Little Wolves features a "wolf pacifier" Rube Goldberg Device that inflicts various punishments on the Big Bad Wolf, concluding with him being tar, feathered and shot out of a cannon.
  • A Running Gag in Cow and Chicken was that since Chicken already had feathers, he would be punished by getting tarred and un-feathered.
  • In the TaleSpin episode "The Sound and the Furry", the subject comes up, but, lacking tar or feathers, engine grease and spoons are used instead.
  • In the Pinky and the Brain episode "Robin Brain", the Brain and Pinky get tarred and feathered after suggesting that peasantry try washing with soap and hot water.
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, villainess Yzma suffers this (although it's honey rather than tar), and then gets whacked with sticks by a group of children who think she's a pinata.
  • In an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, Buster Bunny states in a school paper interview that he believes students who cheat on tests should be tarred, feathered, and kicked out of school. Interviewer Montana Max immediately follows up the question by framing Buster for cheating.
  • One episode of The Fairly Oddparents had Mr. Crocker trying to set up a Zany Scheme involving a giant magnet dragging Timmy into a pair of roller skates and sped through this, with the added elements of sticking a glove on his head and throwing him into a nearby Dimmsdale Fried Chicken restaurant. It backfires when he walks out wearing a metal video camera headset.
  • Happens to Mary in the Sym-Bionic Titan episode "The Ballad of Scary Mary", although it was probably a substance like molasses rather than tar.
  • Mordecai and Rigby are victims of this in the Regular Show episode "Prankless", as part of an Escalating War of pranks against a rival park.

Real Life
  • 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 - agitating 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.

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alternative title(s): Tarred And Feathered
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