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 overreaction 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 25° C / 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. And worst of all, tar can completely envelop pores to the point that the skin can't breathe.
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.
- In a Rocky and Bullwinkle-themed Taco Bell commercial, Boris and Natasha invite all of Frostbite Falls to watch the 12th annual grass-growing so they can sell them McBoris Burgers. After Rocky and Bullwinkle manage to awaken the town from their boredom with the crunch of a Taco Bell taco, a huge muscular guy punishes Boris and Natasha by covering them in tar and feathers.
- In a commercial for Wilkins Coffee, Wilkins says that people who don't drink Wilkins Coffee should be tarred and feathered, and asks Wontkins if he agrees. Wontkins, who is covered in tar and feathers, appears and says, "Wrong!".
- Bone: After his Mystery Cow scam was exposed near the end of "The Great Cow Race" arc, Phoney Bone was tied to a stake and pelted with eggs by his outraged suckers. It's strongly implied that they would have done much, much worse if Lucius and Gran'ma Ben hadn't agreed to pay Phoney's debts.
- Lucky Luke:
Sign on the page picture: Stranger, if you put down more than four aces on the table, you risk being put down too.
- 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.
- A recurring gambler receives this comment: "Scat! I didn't recognize you without the feathers!"
- One story had a Cattle Baron's mooks repeatedly fail to intimidate farmers into leaving, coming back tarred and feathered every time. To the point where one of them doesn't even want to get cleaned up anymore since it's just going to happen again.
- 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".
- 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.
- In one Bloom County strip, Meadow Party candidate Opus is out canvassing the neighborhood about the "upcoming" presidential election, and gets a dose of this treatment.
- Seen in the infamous Jack Acid Society story arc in Pogo, which satirized Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare of the 1950s. The Society is a "bird watchers" group on the look out for migratory birds (read: Communist subversives), and when it's unable to find any, they accuse other characters of being them. Simple J. Malarkey, the strip's version of McCarthy, takes things too far by suggesting that they tar and feather their victims as "proof" that they are birds, and plans to start with his co-conspirators, who turn the tables on him.
- In Second Time Love this happens to Rita Skeeter after she writes one too many libelous stories about Harry.
- In Changing Fate's Plans Fred and George set up a ward at Grimmauld Place which vanishes Daphne's clothes and the house's magic tars and feathers them in retaliation.
- In It Gets Worse, a Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events causes supervillain Lung to be tarred, feathered, lifted off the ground by a giant balloon, blown up, and then dropped into a sinkhole full of wet cement when he attacks a chicken festival that a parahuman with the power of causing unlikely events that chain together to comically neutralize any threat to her or anyone she likes is attending.
- In Little Big Man, while the protagonist is apprenticed to a classic Snake Oil Salesman, their "elixir" makes some people sick. The angry townsfolk put tar and feathers on them and ride them around the campfire on rails before kicking them out.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Seven Ways from Sundown, the townsfolk of Beeker's Crossing decided to tar and feather Seven when he rides into town (on some extremely spurious logic), but are dissuaded when Seven draws his rifle.
- Snuff Movie: After having her hair shaved off, and her face tattooed, Angie is tarred and feathered as the final stage of her humiliation.
- Possibly the Ur-Example in fiction is Edgar Allan Poe's story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. It's administered to the staff of an insane asylum after the inmates take over.
- 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.
- Played seriously in Victoria, where this is meted out to an activist judge who uses his powers to protect the gangbangers and drug dealers who prey on the protagonists' friends and family. The man is apparently not badly injured, but certainly does not enjoy the experience.
- All the more serious, because they use hot modern road tar. Similar in concept if not execution, thirteen federal agents are later forcibly stripped, their butts painted red, and run out of New England in a boxcar.
- In the Carnivàle 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 fictionalized 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. See the Real Life section for the possibly apocryphal real basis of the scene.
- 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.
- American Horror Story Freakshow: Vince is tarred and feathered by the freaks in retaliation for his mutilating his daughter Penny. He comes out of it horribly burned and permanently scarred.
- 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
- The Adventures of Superman: In "The Clan of the Fiery Cross", the Clan attempts to tar and feather a child.
- 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 feature Mayor Shinn suggesting this be one possible punishment for Harold Hill after he is exposed.
- The anvil salesman refers to tar and feathers, but since this is 1912 one wonders if he was simply being facetious.
- 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 Kingdom Rush: Vengeance where you play as Vez'nan's Dark Army, the final level has King Denas' mortar troops firing barrels at your dark army's towers. These cover your towers in burning tar and feathers making them unable to perform any action for a long while, and it costs gold to remove the stuff early.
- In the Oglaf strip "Prince Rodgar" (NSFW), this happens to a shapeshifter.
- Tales of the Questor: Rahan sets up a prank that involves tar and feathers, aimed at his nemesis Quentyn. Then Squidge gets involved by scaring the crap out of Rahan and his cronies, resulting in them being tarred and feathered instead.
- In one Protectors of the Plot Continuum mission into Pirates of the Caribbean, the Agents tarred and feathered three of the four Modern Sues and two Stus and left them, claiming to be pirates, to the mercies of the townspeople. One of the Modern Sues accidentally set another on fire shortly thereafter.
- 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 the final segment of "Treehouse of Horror XXIV" parodying Freaks, the circus freaks chop Homer's limbs off and tar and feather him. The credits show that he later gained fame as the "world's strongest duck."
- In "At Long Last Leave," Homer is tarred and feathered as the family is driven out of town. Just Homer, of course.
- A very serious, notable Truth in Television example occurs in the historical fiction series, Liberty's Kids, in which the main character watches as an innocent man getting this treatment from the mob, and joins in their mocking. He later, however, is informed how dangerous the act is when he meets the man being treated for it...near death. While his final fate is left unclear, this is a show in which characters were often Killed Off for Real, so it doesn't look good.
- 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 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.
- In another episode, Timmy gets tarred and feathered by Vicky.
- 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.
- Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines: The Vulture Squadron's first attempt to stop the pigeon in "Home Sweet Homing Pigeon" consists on this. Klunk drops the tar and Zilly and Muttley drop the feathers. They miss the target and Dastardly and his plane are hit instead.
- The Looney Tunes short "Guided Muscle" 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.
- In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Traitor", Gumball and Darwin try to do this substituting the tar with maple syrup.
- In the Rocko's Modern Life episode, "Keeping Up with the Bigheads", while attempting to re-tar his driveway, Rocko accidentally squirts Mr. Bighead with tar thanks to Heffer standing on the hose and stepping off. Then an army of featherless chickens target Mr. Bighead with a plane and drop a load of feathers on him.
- In real situations, the subject was forcibly stripped fully or half 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.
- Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was beaten, tarred, feathered and left for dead at one point. He survived, but his infant son — who was not tarred and feathered but had been forced from his house by the mob — ended up dying from exposure to the elements.
- Bill Bryson writes of an unfortunate customs agent who was twice tarred and feathered during the Boston Tea Party of 1773. This is generally viewed in retrospect as crossing the line by the protestors, as they essentially tortured a man, twice, who was just doing his job.
- Prior to the twentieth century, most instances of tarring and feathering occurred either in feudal-era Europe or during a few historical post-white-settlement eras in America. In feudal Europe, it was a horrific and often fatal form of torture because the tar/resin was boiled. It wasn't a particularly nice thing to happen in America but was usually less deliberately horrific and much less deadly, because it usually involved the use of (low melting point) pine tar which hadn't been heated as much. In America, the point of tarring and feathering (as opposed to lynching) was public humiliation, not murder.
- In 1874, the Speaker of the Manitoba Legislature was tarred and feathered over a controversial decision.
- The IRA would do this on occasion, mostly during the Troubles. The last known instance was to a suspected drug dealer, in 2007.
- In August 2017, protestors tarred and feathered a monument to Jefferson Davis in Arizona as a response to the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.