Bullfighting in a Hostile Age

By Kitty Wittwer

Bullfighting should never have lasted this long.  But somehow it has.  It has been around for a very long time, defying political correctness, outlasting the kings and popes who tried to prohibit it, and surviving a three year civil war that temporarily brought it to a halt.  In 2011, the people of Spain – or at least, some of the people in the Northeastern part of Spain – spoke, and the ancient ritual of the Fiesta Brava was legally banned in the region of Catalunia.  The ban went into effect Jan1, 2012.  For now, it is contained in Catalonia, but there is a hope that it will one day include Spain in its entirety, although that is not a likely scenario.

They are strong and standard arguments for the legitimacy of Spain’s national fiesta, based on the artistic, historic, cultural and even educational merits of the spectacle.  Those opposed, never seem to grasp what the fiesta is really about, but, instead, cling to the belief that bullfights are about the torture of animals.  There is never a clear winner to these arguments.  To be sure, the torture of animals is barbaric and archaic, but that is not the point of the bullfight.  It is not a sport or a competition.  It is not about cruelty or torture.

Yes, animals are killed, but killing and torture are two different things.  Bulls are bred to be killed, but they are never meant to be tortured.  The people who stand firm on the cruelty argument have usually never see a corrida, and are missing the point, or, at least, the full picture.  To say that bullfighters are animal torturers is like saying that Michaelangleo was a ceiling painter.

The toro bravo, or fighting bull, is a wild beast, not capable of domestication, nor is it an endangered species.  It is raised on large ranches in open country, and protected, fed, and cared for by experienced ranch hands.  In fact, what is preserving the breed is the bullfight itself.  Without the fiesta, there would be no need to cultivate and propagate this animal on the 500 or so bull ranches throughout Spain.  It takes significant manpower to run these ranches, and that means jobs.

Of the many reasons to support the bullfight, one is purely practical, the economic one.  The fiesta brava employs armies of people.  At a time when the unemployment rate in Spain is, by some accounts, as much as 25% it is perhaps unwise to tamper with the livelihoods of those people who depend directly or indirectly on the bullfight for their daily bread.

No matador enters the bullring alone.  He is accompanied by his cuadrilla (a team of 5 men), and supported by an infrastructure composed of empresarios and managers, sword makers and sword handlers, vendors and ticket takers, printers, photographers, poster artists, butchers, veterinarians, bull breeders, critics, TV crews and on and on, not to mention all those tourists in cities like Pamplona who have to eat, sleep and drink somewhere.

The fiesta is a multi-million euro enterprise, whose economic effects touch aficionados and non-aficionados alike.  Fernando and Lucrecia, owners of the Jamon Real, a popular taurine bar / restaurant, one block from the bullring, in Seville don’t like bullfights, and never go; yet they are horrified by the possibility of a nationwide ban, because so much of their business depends on the bullfight.

Given the routine violence of the times we live in, bullfighting seems quite tame by contrast.  What shows up on the news and in movies is far harsher and more brutal than anything I’ve ever seen in a bullring.  Bullfighting is not for everyone to be sure.  And if that’s how you feel, don’t go.

And here’s a curious footnote to the ban:  In the lead up to what was to be the very last corrida held in Barcelona’s Plaza Monumental, scalpers were charging monumental prices, and the box office was overrun with requests for tickets, even though this barbaric practice had lost its support in Catalonia.  On September 25, 2011, in the Catalan capitol, the final corrida ever to be presented in its last existing bull-ring (the city had once boasted three), took place in a jam packed arena.  The plaza was sold out.

Photo courtesy of ConorsayBoom.

COMMENTS

  • Thank you so much Kitty for this wonderful and insightful article. If it weren’t for John Fulton and Judy Cotter, I wouldn’t have understood bullfighting in its full artistic form. When I lived in Seville, I learned about the historical and cultural contexts that are so deeply embedded in this tradition. It is magical and tragic.

  • Thank you for your reply! Ooooo-le! Un abrazo!

  • Just want to say your article is as surprising. The clarity on your submit is simply nice and that i can think you’re an expert on this subject. Well together with your permission let me to seize your feed to keep up to date with coming near near post. Thank you a million and please keep up the enjoyable work.

  • I whole-heartedly support your position. Thank you for a well stated and reasonable defense of this honorable Spanish tradition.

  • Dear Kitty,

    I’m afraid that your arguments are a bit ingenuous. Let’s read your article:

    —> “Bullfighting should never have lasted this long. But somehow it has.”

    Your first paragraph sounds like, “if it lasted is must be good.” So, this argument should be valid as well for war, pedophilia, murder, etc.

    —> “Those opposed, never seem to grasp what the fiesta is really about… To be sure, the torture of animals is barbaric and archaic, but that is not the point of the bullfight. It is not a sport or a competition. It is not about cruelty or torture… The people who stand firm on the cruelty argument have usually never see a corrida”

    Let’s hear Alvaro Munera, an ex-bullfighter: “Once I killed a pregnant heifer and saw how the fetus was extracted from her womb. The scene was so terrible that I puked and started to cry. I wanted to quit right there but my manager gave me a pat on my back and said I shouldn’t worry, that I was going to be an important bullfighting figure and scenes like that were a normal thing to see in this profession. I’m sorry to say that I missed that first opportunity to stop. I was 14 and didn’t have enough common sense. Some time later, in an indoor fight, I had to stick my sword in five or six times to kill a bull. The poor animal, his entrails pouring out, still refused to die. He struggled with all his strength until the last breath. This caused a very strong impression on me, and yet again I decided it wasn’t the life for me. But my travel to Spain was already arranged, so I crossed the Atlantic. Then came the third chance, the definitive one. It was like God thought, “If this guy doesn’t want to listen to reason, he’ll have to learn the hard way.” And of course I learned.

    —> “what is preserving the breed is the bullfight itself. Without the fiesta, there would be no need to cultivate and propagate this animal”

    Yes, let’s breed and preserve animals with the only purpose of killing them for fun. They must be so thankful.

    —> “It takes significant manpower to run these ranches, and that means jobs.” … “The fiesta brava employs armies of people. At a time when the unemployment rate in Spain is, by some accounts, as much as 25% it is perhaps unwise to tamper with the livelihoods of those people who depend directly or indirectly on the bullfight for their daily bread.”

    Yeah, like white slavery, illegal hunting, child pornography. Those activities mean a lot of jobs in poor countries, let’s keep them.

    —> “The plaza was sold out.”

    If a lot of people do it, it must be good.

    I think you need better concepts to defend an undeniable cruel activity, that fortunately lasts only in a couple of countries.
    I’m a Spanish citizen and I’m not proud of this tradition.

    ————

    “I believe that bullfighting eventually will disappear if it doesn’t remove its elements of torture and death. There’s a generational shift in values, and most well-educated young people are against cruel traditions.”

    Alvaro Munera, ex-bullfighter.

    • You don’t understand what it takes to keep cattle. These are not pets, and most animals this violent can not be raised for the fun of it. It isn’t a dog…. don’t you think without a means of supporting the breed financialy these ranchers would be forced to sell out and move?

  • Claire voutsinas June 7, 2012 At 1:16 am

    There are no animal welfare laws in Spain.
    Animals welfare is not a priority in spain,so bullfighting seems to fit in with a culture that has little regard for animals.
    China is happy to skin animals alive for their fur,some Asian people are happy to torture dogs before killing to make the flesh more tender.
    All barbaric acts of cruelty.
    Spain being a catholic country ,makes me scratch my head in amazement as to how this fits in with the teachings of Jesus.

  • Claire voutsinas June 7, 2012 At 1:19 am

    So kitty,tell me ,what does go on in The ring.,if it’s not what we see on television.

  • Please Post Your Comments & Reviews

    Your email address will not be published.

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.