Brow Beat

Saturday Night Live Host Sandra Oh Speaks Out Against the Barbaric Scourge of 18th Century Pistol Duels

Melissa Villaseñor and Sandra Oh in period outfits, standing in an English garden looking anguished.
It was in the reign of George II that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled. NBC

In his 1720 treatise The History and Examination of Duels, Shewing Their Heinous Nature and the Necessity of Suppressing Them, John Cockburn persuasively argued that the practice of dueling was impractical, immoral, and unjust, not least because a duel could have horrible consequences for people who weren’t involved in the duel or the offense that provoked it. Cockburn had harsh words for anyone who insisted on dueling regardless of what it might do to the people who depended on them:

But further, the cruel Effects of Duels reach beyond the Perſons who fight them and are engaged in them ; they also affect a great many others, even all their Friends, Relations, Neighbors and Servants, who depended on them and ſubſiſted by them ; they prove often the Ruin of Families, and are the Occaſion of Parents, Wives, Children and others, leading a melancholy and miſerable Life. Now what Provocation can juſtify ſo great Cruelty ? He who requires this Satisfaction is moſt inhuman ; and though he be a man by outward Shape, yet by his inward Nature, he is more a-kin to a Lyon or Tyger.

To illustrate this point, here is an extremely high-production-value Saturday Night Live sketch from nearly 300 years later, in which a duel between Pete Davidson and Beck Bennett goes very badly for this week’s host, Sandra Oh:

If Cockburn could see into the future and watch the cast and crew of Saturday Night Live hard at work broadcasting his anti-dueling message to the entire United States of America, he’d have a lot of questions, primarily about the American Revolution, the invention of television, and Kenan Thompson’s accent. But once that was all sorted out, he’d probably be proud to see his ideas so vividly illustrated. But will this Saturday Night Live sketch be enough to finally end the scourge of the barbaric code duello? If it isn’t, we should all demand satisfaction from Lorne Michaels.