Before devolving into publicity stunts or WWE-style embarrassments, the idea of two men duking it out in a duel used to be romantic. Violence, danger, and honor (not to mention: men in tights. Hot.) make an enticing mélange — one that harkens back to nobler times when gentlemen would risk getting their faces f-cking shot off to preserve their dignity. And it happened more than you’d think: up until the 19th century, dueling was a rite of passage for the upper crust, including lawyers, politicians and like, Alex Hamilton. In other words, you weren’t considered a man until you had tried to kill a few dudes.
Obviously, unnecessary bloodshed nowadays seems gauche, but prickled feathers and perceived slights are just as abundant as ever. These days, though, challenges to combat appear more to come out more from the notion of “ego” rather than “honor.” And even worse, most of these modern battles seem relegated to the virtual sphere. For example, last month I noticed that an anonymous netizen going under the Twitter handle @ChrsBrwnChllnge had been badgering the R&B star to an “UFC rules MMA match.” While I applaud him (while puzzling over his aversion to vowels) for taking the jackass girlfriend-beater to task, and note that this face-off would easily make the best episode of MTV Celebrity Deathmatch to date, I can’t help but notice that said challenger is more interested in securing interviews with websites like Deadspin than following through on his battle lan.
Nevertheless, you never know when you’ll find yourself at the receiving end of a challenge. In which case, I’ve mined the annals of history to procure these three lessons learned from the dumbass mistakes of others.
Year, Location: 1860s, Prussia
Combatants: Otto Von Bismarck vs. the scientist Dr. Virchow
The Situation: Bismarck challenged Virchow over some spicy words used in the parliament halls. As mandated by custom, the doctor got to choose their sparring weaponry. He went with two sausages that the men would take bites of. One of them would be infected with ringworms.
Winner: Dr. Virchow, since unsurprisingly, Otto squeamishly backed out.
Lesson: Diffuse tense situations by out-grossing your opponent with Fear Factor-like challenges of gastronomic roulette (Also: you get to choose your own weapon if challenged to a duel, so get creative).
Year, Location: 1864s, Nevada
Combatants: Mark Twain vs. James Laird
The Situation: The sharp-tongued satirist embroiled himself in a shoot-out after publishing insults against the editor of a rival paper. But since he couldn’t aim a gun to save his life, Twain gloomily wrote out his will. At the very last moment before his opponent arrived, however, Twain’s guileful second was struck with inspiration. He grabbed a bird that happened to be roosting nearby, shot it, and then credited Twain’s savant marksmanship.
Winner: Sam Clemens, thanks to the last-minute intimidation ploy.
Lesson: A few visual props and a good henchman work wonders. Remember — duels are more about the appearance of prowess and power than the actual things. Shoulder pads don’t count.
Year, Location: 2007, West Virginia
Combatants: Steven Simpson vs. Dana Martin
The Situation: Martin had been helping a friend move into her apartment using his ATV when a neighbor, Simpson, confronted him about the noise. The men went home to grab their guns and returned to duke it out in curbside gun fight.
Winner: No one. Martin died from a fatal torso wound, and Simpson was charged with “murder by duel.” Yep, that’s an actual felony.
Lesson: Seeing that guns make more of a din than a backing-up truck, a pistol fight might not have made the most sense here. If you’re going to lose your life in the name of gallantry, make sure the comment people make about your deed isn’t, “Well, that’s ironic.”