May 24, 2013
Inching Away From Bullfighting and Its Macho B.S.
Posted on Aug 26, 2010
By T.L. Caswell
When the regional parliament of Catalonia voted last month to ban bullfighting, the howls of protest across Spain resounded louder than the collective death cries of the thousands of bulls killed in the nation’s rings each year. The economic loss will be intolerable! An important national tradition will be undermined! Catalonia acted out of spite against the rest of Spain, not to save the half-ton brutes that provide so much fun for so many!
It seems a lot of folks just cannot believe that any good Spaniard should have to go without regularly seeing a sword plunged into the racing heart of a blood-smeared bovine.
Among those outraged by the decision was the Catalonian poet Pere Gimferrer, who proclaimed it “the worst attack on culture since our transition to democracy.”
Matador Serafín Marín struggled unsuccessfully to hold back tears as he slammed what he termed a product of dictatorship. He went on to defend bullfighting by saying: “It is not a cruel show. It is a show that creates art. …”
There’s nothing unusual about people complaining against change in cultural institutions, even when those fixtures are worthy of condemnation; our familiar devils, however ugly they may be, occupy a comfortable corner of the psyche. In exorcizing a practice with deep roots in Spain, Catalonia is taking a historic step against a barbarism that is long past its day. Last month’s vote sends word to the rest of the country and to every other place where bulls are killed in the ring: That rapping, rapping at your chamber door is the 21st century wanting to come in. You are clinging to a savage throwback that sees merit in tormenting animals, that finds virtue in a toxic mix of blood lust and male preening.
The ballot was taken after the legislature of the autonomous region received two petitions—one from the World Society for the Protection of Animals bearing 140,000 signatures gathered in 120 nations and one from an anti-bullfight group named Prou! (Catalan for enough) that carried the names of 180,000 Catalonians.
Among the prominent foreigners pushing for the ban was British comedian Ricky Gervais, who spoke out in the press and on the website of the world association that submitted signatures: “Sometimes the worst kind of cruelty is done in the name of entertainment. It sickens me to know that people still pay money to see an animal tortured to death. Cultural heritage is no excuse for inflicting such pain on a frightened and confused animal.”
The type of bullfighting being addressed by Gervais, and by this article, is the lethal Spanish variety, practiced mainly in Spain and some Latin American countries including Mexico. Across the world there are many styles of bullfighting, some of which spare the bull’s life, but none will win any bouquets from animal-rights backers. All bullfighting is abusive, and even in some of the “bloodless” events the bull can’t catch a break: Although it isn’t killed by the matador in the ring, it’s delivered to a butcher outside who carves it into steaks.
Whatever laws Catalonia might have concerning bullfighting, this region, one of 17 so-called autonomous communities throughout Spain, makes up just a small part of the country. A bit larger than Maryland, it constitutes only about 6 percent of the Spanish landmass. But Catalonia is heavily populated, with 7.5 million of Spain’s 46 million people, and, never a shy violet, sees itself as a nation within a nation, a cultural bellwether and a wealthy, sophisticated land with a fiery love of independence. Historically, its relationship with Spain’s national government has been tense, and passionate differences persist.
Late in June the Spanish constitutional court issued an important ruling limiting the region’s potential for autonomy, causing perhaps a million protesters to gather last month in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Many non-Catalonians see July’s parliamentary action as a show of anger and nationalist ambition rather than a move to protect animals, and they accuse the region of being disingenuous in creating a false international display. They also point out that Catalonia has not prohibited bull runs, in which the animals, although not stabbed, are sometimes roped, taunted, harassed and otherwise abused. In the spectacle known as bou embolat—denounced by opponents of cruelty to animals—wax balls and on occasion fireworks are attached to the horns and then ignited. Click here for a video, but be forewarned that if you are sensitive to misuse of animals you might not like what you see. As a crowd applauds, flames and then fountains of sparks shoot from the tips of a bull’s horns as the agitated beast races about.
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