Tarring and feathering in popular culture

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Tarring and feathering is a physical punishment, used to enforce unofficial justice or revenge. It was used in feudal Europe and its colonies in the early modern period, as well as the early American frontier, mostly as a type of mob vengeance (compare Lynch law). It is also used in modern popular culture.

A fictional depiction of this practice in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


  • Edgar Allan Poe's humorous short story, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether", features the staff of an insane asylum being tarred and feathered. A song based on the story, "(The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether" is on the Tales of Mystery and Imagination album by the Alan Parsons Project.
  • In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Dauphin and the Duke are tarred, feathered, and ridden on a rail in Pikesville after performing the Royal Nonesuch to a crowd that Jim had warned about the rapscallions.
  • "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 she mistakes "shod" (having shoes put on) for "shot" and spreads the rumor that the horse Charles has been killed (he turns up 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 suffers severe burns on both feet when the tar fills his boots, and he has toes amputated as a result.
  • Seamus Heaney's poem "Punishment" refers to the tarring and feathering of Catholic women who fraternized with British soldiers during the troubles in the 1970s . Heaney juxtaposes this with the punishment of Iron Age bog body the Windeby Girl (since revealed to be a man) who was at the time thought to have been punished for infidelity, suggesting that the punishment meted to women in Northern Ireland is very much rooted in ancient tribal traditions.
  • In Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America, the 8-year-old protagonist has a daydreaming fear of himself and his family being tarred and feathered.
  • In My Kinsman, Major Molineux, Robin, the nephew of the eponymous character, seeks him in vain throughout the story. Finally, Robin sees the Major taken by in a procession, tarred and feathered, having fallen out of the favour of his community.
  • A graphic depiction of the practice occurs in Robert McLiam Wilson's 1989 novel Ripley Bogle, where in West Belfast a woman made pregnant by a corporal of the Royal Engineers is punished.[1]
  • In Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens, Mr Chollop, an American advocate of Lynch law, and slavery, recommended both in print and speech, the 'tarring and feathering' of any unpopular person who differed from himself. He called this 'planting the standard of civilisation in the wilder gardens of 'My country' and was much esteemed for his devotion to rational Liberty. He was usually described by his friends, in the South and West, as 'a splendid sample of our na-tive raw material, sir'. He introduces himself to young Martin Chuzzlewit and Mark Tapley when Martin was taken ill as a result of falling naive victim of fraudulent land dealing of Eden, which is deceptively sold as "a thriving city" with promising business prospect but turns out to be nothing but an abandoned marsh field, for their architects and survey business, called Martin Chuzzlewit Co.


  • 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.
  • The 2010 cover EP from The Hives is called Tarred and Feathered. The band members were "tarred and feathered" for an album cover shoot in a style of a newspaper.
  • The 2005 album Gutter Phenomenon by metal band Every Time I Die contains a song punningly titled "Guitarred and Feathered".
  • The second track off the cult British Indie band Cardiacs 1987 Mini LP Big Ship was titled "Tarred and Feathered". The music video for this song was infamously played on Channel 4's The Tube, which caught out many viewers who were confused by the song's unusual nature and the band's unusual visual appeal.
  • The lead singer of rock band King Curt was tarred and feathered during their performance of the hit song "Destination Zululand" on Top Of The Pops in 1983.
  • Tar and feathering is mentioned in the chorus of the song "To Kingdom Come", from The Band's album Music from Big Pink.[citation needed]
  • In The Music Man tar and feathering is the option of punishment Mayor Shinn proposes to use against Harold Hill.

Television and film[edit]

  • On the Spanish game show El gran juego de la oca the contestant who lands on space 58 received this punishment, the contestant was tarred fully clothed and covered with feathers.
  • In the film Little Big Man, the title character (whose real name is Jack Crabbe, played by Dustin Hoffman) is shown being tarred and feathered for selling a phony medicinal elixir. When he reveals his name to the leader of the mob, it turns out that she is his long lost sister, at which point she exclaims, "I just tarred and feathered my own brother!"
  • In the 1972 John Waters film Pink Flamingos, Connie and Raymond Marbles (played by Mink Stole and David Lochary), are tarred and feathered as retribution for a series of misdeeds against the film's protagonist, Babs Johnson (Divine).
  • 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 2011 film The Wettest County in the World set in 1933, the protagonist's cousin is tarred and feathered for not cooperating with organized crime in distilling moonshine.
  • In Daniel Knauf's Carnivàle, in an episode called Lincoln Highway, Clayton "Jonesy" Jones, the crippled co-manager, is tarred and feathered almost lethally.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror XVIII", one of Marge Simpson's sisters appears to have been tarred and feathered from a Halloween prank.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Bart of Darkness", Bart gets Grandpa Simpson tarred and feathered.
  • Before The Simpsons are exiled from Springfield in the episode At Long Last Leave, Homer is tarred, feathered and paraded through town.
  • In an episode of Jackass, Ryan Dunn was tarred and feathered by Bam Margera.
  • The 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams portrayed Adams witnessing an angry Boston mob tarring and feathering tax officer John Malcolm.
  • In the television series It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia Mac and Dennis, while dressed as British nobles, are tarred and feathered by colonial Americans.
  • In the 1988 film Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark, Elvira is tarred (covered in black paint) and feathered in a spoof of the movie Flashdance.
  • In the television series 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 Australian drama Prisoner Inmate Margo Gaffney was tarred and feathered by Bea Smith and Chrissie Latham for attacking officer Meg Morris who was then an inmate in Wentworth for 72 hours after lying in court.
  • In the Disney cartoon series Tail Spin episode "The Sound and the Furry", the intention was to punish a rogue pilot by tar and feather. However, since neither tar nor feathers were available, the punishment was deemed to be "grease and spoon".
  • In the events depicted in the film 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.
  • The 2002 PBS animated series Liberty's Kids showed characters James and Sarah witnessing a British sailor being tarred and feathered by a Philadelphia mob. Sarah is shocked, but James finds the sight of it funny, thinking the sailor is only being humiliated. Later James's mentor Moses takes James to interview the sailor, only to find him in an 18th-Century doctor's care. There he finds out the mob used boiling hot tar and the sailor suffered severe skin burns, made even worse by a looming infection. Seeing the victim moaning in bed and bandaged all over, James is horrified.[citation needed]
  • The episode "Complications", the fifth episode of the second season of Deadwood, 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.
  • The season 1 episode "God of Chaos" of the AMC TV series Hell on Wheels depicts a character, The Swede, getting tarred and feathered before getting run out of town.
  • The EastEnders character Chrissie, mentions that all she needs is tar and feathers and she'd drag Kate, who was having an affair with her husband, through the streets.
  • In 2012 film Lawless a bootlegger is shown being tarred and feathered and left as a warning to others.[citation needed]
  • In American Horror Story, Season 4 Episode 8 "Blood Bath", The Lizard Girl's father is tarred and feathered in retaliation for his role in his daughter's intentional disfigurement.

Video games[edit]

  • In the video game 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 his 1982 Los Angeles Exhibition, the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibited the paintings Black Tar and Feathers, and Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers), the later a painting which scholar Richard Hoffman interprets as containing "young black heroic figures" and speaking of "a rising above the pain, suffering and degradation associated with the act of being "tarred and feathered.""[citation needed]

Metaphorical uses[edit]

The image of the tarred-and-feathered outlaw remains a metaphor for public humiliation many years after the practice became uncommon. To tar and feather someone can mean to punish or severely criticize that person.[2][3] This example comes from Dark Summer by Iris Johansen: "But you'd tar and feather me if I made the wrong decision for these guys."