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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.

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. And worst of all, tar can completely envelop pores to the point where 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 carry someone on one of those.

Examples of Tar and Feathers include:


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 particular 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 palaeontologist 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 Schoolmarm 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.

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 Carnivale 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.
  • Harpers 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 the contestant who landed on space 58 received this punishment, the contestant was tarred fully clothed and then they poured feathers on her/him.
  • 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.

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.

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.

Radio

  • In the The Adventures of Superman serial "The Clan of the Fiery Cross", this is a routine go-to threat by the Clan, where when it's prepared, they emphasize the real physical danger of the heated tar.

Theater

  • 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 terrorised the area.

Web Animation

 The Cheat: (Makes exclamatory noises.)

Strong Bad: You said it, The Cheat! Tar is prohibitively expensive!

Web Comics

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.
  • In Liberty's Kids, a very serious Truth in Television example: 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 Roadrunner. After it (predictably) tars and feathers Wile E., the Roadrunner holds up a sign that reads "Roadrunners 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 Tale Spin 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 Emperors 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 Odd Parents 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.

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 Germa occuaption 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/cconsolidation of power via a painful and humiliating punishment was the motivation

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