dimanche 20 janvier 2008

Tarring and feathering.



Last month I've read two books by Mark Twain (Huckleberry and Life on the Mississippi) in which he twice refers to a form of punishment well known to Europeans through the famous cartoon character Lucky Luke. But what is less known is that there's nothing specifically American in this practice since it has been imported from England where it had been in use at least since the Middle Ages.

All the same, there doesn't seem to have been that many cases of tarring and feathering as compared to another English import: the lynching, which, incidentally was far more serious since it was a death sentence.

Both practices were never official punishments of the US but spontaneous acts of revenge emanating from the mob. Which also helps to remind that since the early years of the colonists, the American population was made up of peasants, not exactly known for their level of sophistication, as opposed to people from the cities (which is also very relative given the times). It also is a reminder of the hardship it had been to develop and install a reliable system of laws and regular jurisdictions in the US.

Hence probably, the emphasis that is given to said rule of the law in America as the ultimate symbol of a regular State. This is also probably the reason why this theme is so prevalent in so many films and serials made in the USA. To an extent that is always surprising to non-Americans.

21 commentaires:

Mustang a dit…

Lynching is an expression used to describe the unlawful execution of a citizen. Lynch mobs were the result of anarchy, and often the result of racial hatred or vigilante justice. I’m not an expert in this, but I see little difference between lynching people, and splitting their bodies into pieces by tying them to horses pointed in opposite directions. I understand many Frenchmen were hacked to death by machete wielding Haitian slaves in the early 1800s. It could not have been a very good day to be white — but it reminds me that human beings have been creative when it comes to behaving badly.

Death by hanging is capital punishment under the jurisdiction of lawfully empowered courts. Most states replaced hanging by electrocution in the 1920s; some retained firing squads until the 1970s. Most states today use lethal injection to carry out capital punishments, but not all states have a death penalty for capital crimes.

There is an on-going discussion in the United States with respect to the propriety of capital punishment. The arguments range from the length of time people await execution on “death row,” to the inhumanity associated with ordering the execution of a human being. I’m not sure how humane it is to keep a human being locked up in a cage for his or her entire life, but then it is also true that the families of murder victims are also victims. Depending on state law, murder may not warrant capital punishment — it all depends on the existence of “special circumstances.” Executing people for being ugly on a cloudy day is a rare event, however.

Some people claim that the most civilized method of executing a murderer is by marching him up to a device constructed to decapitate him. The first such device was used in Ireland in 1307, but popular in France as the Guillotine between 1788 and 1981. The last public execution in France occurred in 1939 — some sources say that it was a heck of a party, and the reason public executions were subsequently banned. I have often wondered if public executions here would serve as a better deterrent to capital crimes than the death penalty itself.

Anonyme a dit…

hello Mustang,

"I see little difference between lynching people, and splitting their bodies into pieces by tying them to horses pointed in opposite directions."
True enough, the "wheel" or other body dismantling devices with or without horses have been applied up to the Revolution here too. The fact is that this kind of nicety lasted another 150 yrs in the US; as for spending a few decades in a death row as practiced even nowadays, this is not the kind of thing i'd like to experiment, and i'm not sure this long agony is a relief for the families of murder victims.

Should executions being public or not? The last occurence in France has amply showed that this scene was closer to collective pornography than to a warning to criminals.
Why not consider first of all that death penalty has no effect on the crime rates?
"Ainsi, aux États-Unis en 2004, le taux d'homicides moyen dans les États ayant recours à la peine de mort était de 5,71 pour 100000 habitants, tandis que dans les États abolitionnistes ce taux était seulement de 4,02 pour 100000 habitants." (Amnesty, june 2006).

The problem with the US mores is that people have left behind the Wild West customs but they have kept the spirit... and the weaponry.

Etchdi

LASunsett a dit…

Flocon,

I was pretty much with you until you made this statement:

//Which also helps to remind that since the early years of the colonists, the American population was made up of peasants, not exactly known for their level of sophistication, as opposed to people from the cities (which is also very relative given the times).//

Peasants of any era, any country, whether in the city or in rural areas, all lack a certain level of sophistication. Today, you would be hard-pressed to convince me that just because one lives in the city, he/she is more sophisticated than those that live in rural areas.

Give me any city in the world and I will show you peasants that are uneducated and not prone to read, watch, or attend events that are considered sophisticated.

Mustang a dit…

I think you correctly note that a lengthy stay on “death row” is an appalling experience, but not quite as traumatic as having a loved one murdered. I think you are wrong about statistics, however. Whether or not capital punishment is a deterrent to crime, there remains one incontrovertible truth: an executed prisoner is unable to murder anyone else.

I’m not sure that US mores are a problem at all — for us, anyway. After all, the “pioneering spirit” led us to send men to the moon. As for the so-called “wild west,” the frontier behavior projected by filmmakers and romance novelists is greatly exaggerated. Our weapons — well, I might observe that when only the government has firearms, the people are never truly free. When Montana passed a law requiring all homeowners to have a firearm inside the house, burglary dropped to near “zero.” Even police officials may not enter a residence in any state without first obtaining a warrant to do so — and if they attempt it, they do so at their own risk. This sounds to me like a perfect symmetry between the rights of the people to be secure in the homes, and the responsibility of a government to behave lawfully.

Anonyme a dit…

Mustang, statistics aren't mine, vengeance does not equal justice, "an eye for an eye" goes for primitive societies and a murderer sentenced for life has no more chances to commit further crimes than a dead.

I have nothing against "pioneering spirit". This is even what i like best in the US mores. But the country has been built upon salvagery, no doubt - and no blame, we weren't there.

The fact that "the frontier behavior projected by filmmakers and romance novelists is greatly exaggerated" is not innocent: how come such a success would have been met if the public implicitly didn't expect that approach?

About the warrants, we have that here too. So much for a good privacy...

Etchdi

Flocon a dit…

LA,

You seem to have undertood the paragraph you refer to as an unfair deprecatory suggestion regarding the population of the US.
It wasn't meant to be so.

Isn't it a historical fact that immigrants arriving from Ireland, Sweden, Poland, Ukraine etc. weren't exactly the upper crust of the societies they were fleing?

Did "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses"
refer to immigrants from Italian or Russian cities or peasants and unemployed countrymen?

"Peasants of any era, any country, whether in the city or in rural areas, all lack a certain level of sophistication."`Well, yes, we agree. The same holds true in Europe too. I don't see your point here?

"Give me any city in the world and I will show you peasants that are uneducated and not prone to read, watch, or attend events that are considered sophisticated."

There's nothing I can do with a statement that seems so broad.

If I've unserstood correctly what you suggest, there are uneducated people ready to attend sophisticated events. Well, yes again, but what can I do with exceptions? If a boorish one once or twice in his life is able to read, watch or attend some event deemed sophisticated, he's still boorish. Maybe slightly les than the one who never does but nonetheless, it is not his regular life style. If it was, he no longer would be uneducated.

LASunsett a dit…

Hi Etchdi,

//The fact that "the frontier behavior projected by filmmakers and romance novelists is greatly exaggerated" is not innocent: how come such a success would have been met if the public implicitly didn't expect that approach?//

One thing you must consider is, the goal of Hollywood isn't to inform or educate. It is to entertain.

With this objective in mind, it's easy to see why the some exaggeration is necessary even in stories that are supposed reflect true stories. Often we see the disclaimer, "based on a true story". When we see this, it's a pretty safe bet something has been embellished or left out to make the storyline more interesting.

Even paintings and other forms of communicative art throughout the course of history were guilty of this kind of thing.

Flocon a dit…

Mustang,

The guillotine was introduced in France from Italy and was first used on April the 25th 1792, during the Revolution, not 1788.

The theme of the post is the long and difficult way America had to undergo from the near state of anarchy you mentionned to that of a regular State with rule of law.

Anonyme a dit…

Mustang, you say "One thing you must consider is, the goal of Hollywood isn't to inform or educate. It is to entertain."

Certainly, but then ask why it entertains so successfully and so endlessly. The bang bang and the boom boom are still the essence of the game. Remember the Alamo (the film) and so many and films so obsessive with weapons. And consider the recurrence: we've had WW II films, Cold war films, Vietnam war films, Gulf war I films, Gulf war II are in the making, and we still have Western movies. All this amounts to about half of the films on display. This fascination for the boom boom is fascinating.

You're right to some extent to point on paintings or other traditional media who embellished this and edulcorated that. Historical, mythical, religious themes have had their heydays, but the last i can recall is "Guernica". These pieces are no big deal by now, compared to the force of the American pressure to have their wild west pioneers' tastes thankfully shared with the rest of the world.

Etchdi

Mustang a dit…

Flocon, you are correct to observe that newly arrived immigrants had a difficult time in the United States, and this is true for a number of reasons that have more to do with human nature than economic opportunity. I always found it interesting, for example, that the people who discriminated most against Irish-Catholic immigrants after 1870 were the Irish Protestants who arrived during an earlier swell. James Webb published an exceptional book called “Born Fighting.” It goes a long way to explain Americans, even if it concentrates on the Scots-Irish-English immigrant.

In NYC, entire neighborhoods gravitated toward a certain ethnic identity, and of course the first people to take advantage of the Pole, or Italian, or Greek were the neighborhood bosses who sought to empower themselves at the expense of new arrivals. Neighborhood bosses gave rise to the infamous political machines through our post-World War II period. There as a time when labor unions were the only hope for a fair deal for the average worker, but then, unions became corrupt.

Even today, the stark reality of immigrating to the US is that success isn’t immediate. The sweat and toil of first generation parents provided opportunities for their children, who as second generation Americans also had to bust their tails to improve their lot. By the time the third generation comes along, assimilation is nearly complete, most people can be regarded as successful, and almost everyone agrees that while “opportunities exist,” they must be fully exploited in order to achieve “wealth.”

One thing is certain, however. No American regards him or herself as a peasant. They may be “blue collar” workers engaged in the crafts and trades, or they may have mechanical skills, or a good sense of business (up until the arrival of Wal-Mart), but in their own minds they were never peasants. Whether it is simply a matter of fantasy or a sense of pride, almost everyone here associates with the economic middle class. Thus, if one were to ask, “Excuse me, but could you direct me to the peasant section of New York,” the inquisitor would discover an immediate appreciation for a policeman.

Mustang a dit…

Etchdi

I have never “enjoyed” a war film; some are difficult to sit through. Most depictions are pure Hollywood fluff — they put forth the producer’s view more than rely on historic fact. “Gettysburg” and “We Were Soldiers” are two noteworthy films, and while there is “boom,” both films tell the story of war for what it is: horror. And selfless courage. And men exposed to life’s extreme, taking care of each other. But no one who watches either film can possibly conclude that war is “cool.”

Police dramas are mostly crap. My good friend who served with the LAPD assures me that the life of a police officer is a continuum of months of utter boredom, interspersed by seconds of absolute terror. Again, there are films that depict what it takes to “protect and serve,” but the fact is that few police officers ever shoot their weapons at another human being.

The truth of the “wild west” is probably closer to “The Unforgiven” than it ever was “Young Guns.” A few people did pursue the life of a so-called gunslinger, but most didn’t live very long — and there seems to be a lesson in there somewhere.

Today’s Hollywood producer uses all of his or her skills to provide exciting entertainment to morons. They do a good job with “boom,” and projecting actors who are “shot” and then within a few moments are “back on duty.” Real life isn’t like that. And of course, there is one “sense” that is missing from films with even the best “special effects,” and that would be the smell of blood, of burning flesh, and of death. If Americans (or anyone else) is enthralled with movies projecting violence, it is because film producers have completely fabricated what life was really like during . . . whenever.

LASunsett a dit…

Etchdi,

//Mustang, you say "One thing you must consider is, the goal of Hollywood isn't to inform or educate. It is to entertain."//

Actually, it was I who said that. Although Mustang and I agree 90% of the time, the other 10%, I am dead wrong. ;)

Flocon a dit…

Mustang,

"No American regards him or herself as a peasant"


There must be some misunderstanding here due to my appalling English skills...

I didn't want to convey the idea that modern Americans are peasants, of course they're not.

I was referring to the immigration flows from the XVIIth to the XIXth.
Besides, prior to the industrial revolution, every country was made up essentially of peasants.
It is a well known fact that between GB an France, the later remained a country of peasants far, far longer than the other.

Anonyme a dit…

LAS, sorry for the name swapping with Mustang. Must be the closeness of both your opinions, as you say, which misleaded me.
And both are interesting to read.

Etchdi

LASunsett a dit…

Etchdi,

//LAS, sorry for the name swapping with Mustang. Must be the closeness of both your opinions, as you say, which misleaded me.
And both are interesting to read.//


Not a problem, at all.

And let me add, I too enjoy reading your views and discussing things with you. And even though I sometimes disagree with you, you (many times) raise good points to be considered in the course of the discussion. But more than that, you always show respect to those people that you disagree with, and I do appreciate that.

Thank you.

Anajo/Anijo/JoAnn a dit…

Mustang said, "Today’s Hollywood producer uses all of his or her skills to provide exciting entertainment to morons. They do a good job with “boom,” and projecting actors who are “shot” and then within a few moments are “back on duty.” Real life isn’t like that. And of course, there is one “sense” that is missing from films with even the best “special effects,” and that would be the smell of blood, of burning flesh, and of death. If Americans (or anyone else) is enthralled with movies projecting violence, it is because film producers have completely fabricated what life was really like during . . . whenever."

Unfortunately, all of these "boom" films reflect the American predilection for being more willing than our European friends across the ocean to resort to war as a way to solve problems.

I also believe that since the wars have occurred on foreign soil, most Americans have not experienced first hand the ravages of war.

Those who did experience first hand the ravages are from military families who believe in a strong military and in the effectiveness of war. One only need to look to Iraq to notice that those who are from a military background believe that the Iraq War was the right thing to do. Their only complaint is that it was poorly executed.

Also, even though some of those in the military have experienced first hand the ravages of war, they have not experienced these ravages on their own native soil here in the U.S.

Anajo/Anijo/JoAnn a dit…

Oh, and in quoting Mustang, I meant to add that although these films do not reflect reality, they do influence the mentality of the general public and they have a way of making Americans used to the idea of war and resulting in a certain respect for the military and a respect for war as a way to resolve problems.

Anonyme a dit…

Hello JoAnn!
This is what i meant, to sum it up: the Americans should understand that the Wild West is over by now, and that the rest of the world is neither another frontier nor a video game ;-)
Etchdi

Anajo/Anijo/JoAnn a dit…

Hi Etchdi!

Yes, I understood that was what you meant. ;)

The media influences people more than they know.

One of the advantages of being an American, for me, is that there are so many people around the world analyzing us. :) And all of this analysis helps me to understand myself and my country and the surrounding culture. Although some of the more subtle aspects of culture which is so varied from state to state remain something not so much understood by Europeans.

For example, you would agree perhaps that the culture of Paris is quite different from the culture of say, Provence. Now, multiply that by 50...

Anonyme a dit…

I try and multiply the figure by 50, but the big picture remains. You could not imagine how much what we see and hear from (i could have say about, but i insist on from) the US is uniform in its themes.

Etchdi

Anajo/Anijo/JoAnn a dit…

I try and multiply the figure by 50, but the big picture remains

True, the big picture does yet remain.

You could not imagine how much what we see and hear from (i could have say about, but i insist on from) the US is uniform in its themes.

Yes, Etchdi, I know. I understand. I know how the movies and television programs and so much of media is widespread and understood by so many people around the world. And yet the subtleties which are not seen still remain in the realm of the unknown.