April 19, 2015
Inching Away From Bullfighting and Its Macho B.S.
Posted on Aug 26, 2010
By T.L. Caswell
The website does not mention that the “heavily padded horses” have been used only since 1930. Before then, unpadded horses were ridden in the rings and they usually were disemboweled by the bulls, resulting in a greater death count among equines than among bovines. At the time the padding requirement was introduced, there were outcries that the reform would detract from the spectacle and lead to the demise of bullfighting, but there proved to be still enough blood flowing to hold spectators’ attention over the years.
Square, Site wide
Some of that blood has issued at times from the creature on blunt end of the estoque, the killing sword. Fewer than five dozen matadors have been killed in Spanish-style bullfighting over the last three centuries, but injuries to bullfighters are common. In May, Julio Aparicio, one of Spain’s most famous matadors, was the victim of a grotesque goring, depicted in widely distributed photographs. (Sorry, no hyperlink here; Google it if you are up for the sight of a horn tip protruding from the flesh of an impaled man.)
In 2007, a then 14-year-old bullfighter almost died in a ring; undeterred, he went on to slay six bulls on a single February day this year. In June, a 22-year-old Mexican matador, deciding he was no glutton for punishment after being gored the previous month, ran from a Mexico City ring. “I didn’t have the ability, I didn’t have the balls, this is not my thing,” he said after he escaped from the bull. His candor did not prevent him from being arrested and fined for breach of contract. The management did not take kindly to the yellow streak exhibited at its afternoon “art” show.
The corrida-equals-art formulation—a common theme in bullfighting literature—appears at the conclusion of the “Bull Fight 101” Web page, which explains that the “bull is to the matador as a violin is to a violinist or a block of stone is to a sculptor. He is the living object that the matador uses to perform his art.” Given their druthers, bulls would probably eschew such an exalted role. Violins and blocks of stone, I’ve observed, seldom rage, froth, bellow, bleed, weaken and ultimately die with a metal shaft in their innards.
If there is anything about the Chula Vista group’s upbeat sketch of a bullfight that appeals to your artistic sensibilities, you might want to follow a hyperlink on its site that connects to the California Academy of Tauromaquia, at bullfightschool.com. The academy, which describes itself as “the nation’s first bullfight school,” says, “Classes are conducted … throughout the US and all over la planeta de toros.” The courses it touts may be just the thing for you if, to use the academy’s language, “you love adventure but find bungee jumping maybe a little bit mindless.”
For a thoughtful, literary description of a bullfight and a discussion of some of the issues surrounding the tradition, check out Alexander Fiske-Harrison’s 2008 article in Prospect magazine, “A Noble Death.” Fiske-Harrison, who has had training as a bullfighter, writes very well but he necessarily performs some fancy rationalization to avoid looking squarely at the prima facie brutality of the corrida.
Fiske-Harrison raises the interesting, and common, question of whether meat eaters are hypocrites if they oppose bullfighting, but he does not deal with the important element of motive. The imperative to fill one’s belly surely cannot rightly be equated with the wish to have an enjoyable afternoon. The person who buys a beef rump roast at a supermarket has bought dinner. The person who buys a ticket to a bullfight has bought a tawdry thrill (in my estimation), one that might include a soupçon of sexual stimulation at the sight of a slender young man wearing a tight-fitting “suit of lights,” arching his back, flaunting masculine domination, defying death and wielding a long, stiff instrument.
Those who hurl the meat eater/hypocrite accusation do have some grounds for their charge, but that does not make the arguments against bullfighting any less valid.
Currently, Spain’s leading opposition party is pushing a legislative effort to officially enshrine bullfighting as part of the national culture, and thereby overturn Catalonia’s ban. Debate on the measure will begin next month.
Last March, in anticipation of Catalonia’s action, the Madrid regional government declared the corrida a “cultural value” and an art form and armed itself with the right to press huge fines against anyone who endangered bullfighting. At the same time, Madrid President Esperanza Aguirre, a conservative, called on the United Nations’ UNESCO to protect bullfighting as a Spanish treasure.
Ah, the desperation is deepening among those who hold to the old ways. Could it be that they feel the ground falling away beneath their feet? Perhaps some have seen the poll that found 60 percent of fellow Spaniards answering “no” to the question, “Do you like bullfights?” (In the same poll a similar percentage opposed the Catalonian ban.)
T.L. Caswell was on the Los Angeles Times editing staff for more than 25 years and now edits and writes for Truthdig.
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