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Bullfighting: Spanish Art or Barbaric Murder?

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What Hemingway said of bullfighting:

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.”

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Plaza de Toros de Pamplona. The Bullfighting arena in Pamplona Spain. Capacity 19,720. Photo Alex Mak

Although bullfighting as sport dates back to ancient Greece, the matador we know today with his cape & sword began in the early 1700’s in Spain, and to many it is a part of Spanish national pride and a true art form.  To outsiders and to many in modern Spain, it is a barbaric, grotesque, and murderous practice.  In many parts of Spain the bullfight as a spectacle is under attack.  In Catalonia in the north eastern part of Spain (Barcelona) bullfighting has been flat out banned since 2011.  In the Basque country of northern Spain, the practice was initially banned and then recently reinstated under much protest.  Meanwhile in major cities like Madrid and Valencia mayors are pulling all public funds from bullfighting, so the sport is even under attack in the historic heart of Spain (Castilla).

In Pamplona, during ‘The Running of the Bulls’ festival, they have 6 bullfights every evening from July 7th to the 14th, where the 6 bulls who ran that morning with the tourists (me), get their shot at killing a real bullfighter that evening in the ring.  Of course the game is rigged against them…

Somewhere around 5pm the Spaniards and tourists alike gather in the grand bullfighting arena, which is essentially a Spanish version of the Roman Colosseum, a theater in the round, with a dirt floor, stained with centuries of blood from both man and beast.

Large sections of the colosseum are occupied by local bands, from distinct neighborhoods or organizations within the city, it’s a bit like the rival marching bands at college football game, only in Spain they let you bring in buckets of your own alcohol to share, and instead of touchdowns, you have come to celebrate death.  And boy do they cheer the death.

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photo: Alex Mak

To begin, the Bull is ritualistically stabbed in the shoulder blades by a man on horseback called a Picador

The horses are immaculately trained to stand motionless, dressed in mattress like padding while a 1000+ lbs bull is enticed into ramming it.  While the bull is harmlessly goring the mattress armor, the Picador is stabbing the bull in the shoulders with a spear, beginning the game of attrition.

If you thought bullfighting was a one on one game of life and death you may be disappointed.  It’s a team effort.  After the man with the spear begins the bloodletting, then a small team of men wearing silk tights come out and begin stabbing the bull in the shoulders as well.

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Photo: Alex Mak

The color of the cape (reddish pink) and its movement constantly distract the bull from its intended target, while a small group of brave and ruthless men work as a team to stab the bull in its spine.  This practice creates blood letting, fatigue and also makes it difficult for the bull to raise its head and horns over time.  By the time the matador arrives, his chances of him being murdered by the bull are greatly reduced.

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The showdown, the matador and the bull. photo: Alex Mak

I sat in the arena with 4 Americans from different parts of the US, (the midwest, the south, and the west coast) and we were all of us disgusted by the performance.  In fact we left after the first fight, after the first bull had been stabbed to death and dragged from the arena.  The knee jerk reaction is to condemn this behavior as barbaric, and to sympathize with the bull.  But the truth of the matter is we slaughter cows and bulls by the tens of millions each year without batting an eye or even thinking about it.  Yes, at the bullfight the bull is stabbed to death in front of a crowd, but everyday bulls and cows are stabbed to death on conveyor belts in dark factories and sent to the grocery store.  The bulls who fight are actually given one more year longer to live than your average bull that is slaughtered.  So the ‘barbarism’ of bullfighting is less about the ritualistic killing of an animal, and more about the reminder and celebration of death.  Man is the great butcher, most of us simply do not acknowledge or think about that at all…we munch our cheeseburgers in blissful ignorance or denial.

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Dragging away the corpse, raking up the blood. Photo: Alex Mak

Every year PETA makes a grand showing at the running of the bulls, this year it involved nudity and buckets of blood with writing in nearly every language: “Pamplona: A Bloodbath for Bulls”.

Peta Protest against bullfighting 2016 photo: ibtimes.com

Peta Protest against bullfighting 2016 photo: ibtimes.com

Groups like PETA don’t want the deaths or manipulation of ANY animals at the hands of humans, so the whole idea of bullfighting is really the antithesis to their beliefs.  Bullfighting is about facing death, and beating it.  It’s about taming and outsmarting the beast, it’s about machismo and pride, its about kill or be killed, it is a relic from a time far gone…But it is also a reminder of where meat comes from.  Most of us gobble down carne asada burritos, and ahi tuna salads,  and BBQ pork ribs without ever talking about the animals it came from, or who had to kill them for you to get your lunch.  The Spanish (who like Americans love eating meat) have no disillusions, they watch the bull die, and celebrate the butcher.

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managin' editor here at Broke-Ass Stuart. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

When we're not writing, editing, or publishing articles, Stuart and I are promoting the good things in SF & NYC.

If you're a writer, artist, or performer who would like to get your work seen by our audience, or if you're a cool business and would like us to introduce you to our 120k social followers in a creative and engaging way, contact me at alex@brokeassstuart.com.