TAYLOR: The bottom line here is that there is a consensus among townspeople who are in agreement that Stars Hollow was a better place before Jess got here.
LUKE: So this half of the room gets the tar, and the other half gets the feathers?
TAYLOR: Well, there hasn’t been any talk of tar and feathers. Although …
Tarring and feathering is a form of public torture and punishment handed out as unofficial justice, used in feudal England and colonial America, as well as the early American frontier, as a form of mob or vigilante vengeance. The last known example was in 2007 in Northern Ireland, against someone accused of drug-dealing.
The victim would be stripped naked or stripped to the waist, painted with hot tar, and then rolled in feathers (there were usually other punishments thrown in, such as whipping or scalping). The skin would be burned by the tar, and scraping it off later led to the skin being torn off, so it was extremely painful as well as humiliating. “Tarring and feathering” is now used as a term to denote severe public criticism.
Luke is saying the town meeting is on a par with the brutal mob justice associated with the Wild West, in agreement with Lorelai’s earlier comment. It is actually quite horrifying, because they seem to be saying Jess should be run out of town, even though he’s a high school kid who’s only guilty of petty theft and a few mild pranks.
It’s also baffling, because Jess isn’t exactly a stranger – he’s Luke’s nephew, Liz’s son, and the grandson of the respected William Danes. The town should be prepared to take him in as one of their own, and the fact that they won’t is a deeply troubling sign. Maybe there’s a good reason why Liz took off.