The badger game
is an extortion
scheme, often perpetrated on married men, in which the victim or "mark
" is tricked into a compromising position to make him vulnerable to blackmail
There are two competing explanations for the origin of the term badger game. One
explanation is that the term originated in the practice of badger baiting. Another says
that it derives its name from the state of Wisconsin (the Badger State), where the con
allegedly either originated or was popularized.
This con has been around since at least the early 19th century. There are several variations of the con; in the most typical form an attractive woman approaches a man, preferably a lonely, married man of some financial means from out of town, and entices him to a private place with the intent of maneuvering him into a compromising position, usually involving some sort of sexual act. Afterward an accomplice presents the victim with photographs, video, or similar evidence, and threatens to expose him unless blackmail money is paid.
The woman may also claim that the sexual encounter was non-consensual and threaten the victim with a rape charge. It can also involve such things as the threat of a sexual harassment charge which may endanger the victim's career.
In the days before photography or video, the accomplice would usually burst into the room during the act, claiming to be the woman's husband, father, older brother, etc., and demand justice. The con was particularly effective in the 19th and earlier 20th century when the social repercussions of adultery were much greater.
Variants of the con involve luring the mark with homosexual acts, underage girls, child pornography, bizarre sexual fetishes, or other activities deemed to have a particular social stigma.
Another form involves accusations of professional misconduct. In an example of this form of the con, a "sick" woman would visit a physician, describing symptoms that required her to disrobe for the examination, require the doctor to examine the genitals, or ensure similar scrutiny from the doctor. During the examination an "outraged husband" or "outraged father" would enter the room and accuse the doctor of deviant misconduct. The "sick" woman, who is of course part of the con, takes the side of her accomplice and threatens the doctor with criminal charges or a lawsuit. This form of the badger game was first widely publicized in an article in the August 25, 1930 edition of Time magazine.
The con is usually committed against married men but can also be used on married women, public figures, religious leaders, etc.
Non-sexual versions of this con also exist, particularly among ethnic or religious groups with strong social taboos; for example, enticing a Jew or Muslim to eat pork or coercing a Mormon to gamble or drink alcohol.
The badger game has been featured as a plot device in numerous books, movies and television shows.
The Badger game in popular culture
- A badger game is used in John le Carré's spy novel Smiley's People to entrap the Soviet agent Kirov, and thus ultimately to bring down the house of cards around George Smiley's bête noire, Karla.
- In James Michener's novel Centennial and the television miniseries based on it, the Wendell family makes a fortune using the badger game.
- In John Grisham's novel The Firm and the movie based on it, Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) is enticed into having an extramarital sexual encounter, then blackmailed into cooperating with his shady colleagues. In another Grisham novel The Brethren, a trio of incarcerated judges play the badger game on closeted gay men, posing as a young flirty male penpal, and threatening to out their marks once they have acquired sufficient evidence of homosexual leanings.
- In Michael Crichton's novel "Next", one character is seduced into having sex with a fifteen-year-old girl, thinking she was a young adult, the girl then mutilates herself and presses charges.
- In the BBC sitcom series Blackadder II, Edmund Blackadder, owing money to the violent Bishop of Bath and Wells, escapes by using the badger game. He hires the fastest portrait painter in England to paint a portrait (from life) of the Bishop in bed with a prostitute played by Lord Percy.
- In the movie Derailed (2005), Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston) is the bait in a badger game targeted at Charles Schine (Clive Owen), with Philippe Laroche (Vincent Cassel) serving as the intimidating blackmailer.
- In the American television show Heroes, Niki Sanders (Ali Larter) serves as bait for another character, Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar).
- A badger game was used in the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Gone".
- A 1966 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies entitled The Badger Game centers on the con being attempted against Jed Clampett.
- In the television show Rome the badger game is used to coerce the daughter of Lucius Vorenus to assist one of his competitors.
- In Act 1 of Neil Simon's play Plaza Suite Sam Nash suggests that the badger game was used as part of some sort of contractual negotiation in his telephone conversation with his secretary, Miss McCormack.
- In the British animated short film A Close Shave, Gromit while investigating sheep rustlers, is himself imprisoned as a result of being photographed in a (fabricated) compromising position.