Back home in the States, I had, of course, heard about bullfighting, but I’d never really realized how big and popular it still is in modern day Spain. Bullfighting is a traditional spectacle that is still practiced in Spain, Portugal, Southern France, and many Latin American countries. One of the first things I saw in my first city in Spain, Valencia, was the bullring and I have since seen them in basically every city I have visited here. Bullfighting is a centuries-old tradition, but is also a big business. Each year about 24,000 bulls are killed in front of a live audience of more than thirty million people.
As an animal lover, it will not surprise you that I am not thrilled about bull fighting. But, as a journalist, I have to tell you that I can’t tell you about it firsthand, because I did not (and could not) go to a fight. Just seeing the postcards on the racks with photos of a bull with banderillas (brightly colored sticks with harpoon points) stuck in his back and blood drenching his fur made me cringe and look away. Now, that being said, I do realize that just because something is different in other countries does not make it wrong. In America thousands of animals suffer every year (especially at our factory farms), and I certainly don’t like this either. But I did learn some more about it…
The fighting bulls are bred specifically for this industry. Supposedly they live a pampered and cushy life before their ‘date with destiny’ in the ring and I’m told that if bullfighting were to become outlawed entirely—there would be no money and therefore no ‘nice’ life for these beasts.
To many, especially in Andalucia, the home of bullfighting, it is a deep cultural ritual—some see it as a form of art—the way ‘man and bull’ perform together. But there is no question to me that the actual fight (no matter how sweet the bull’s life was pre-bull ring) is gruesome and cruel. Oftentimes just before a fight, a bull’s horns may be illegally shaved. This affects his balance, but is also a very sensitive and painful thing for the animal. During the fight, men on blindfolded horses drive lances into the bull’s back and neck muscles. The bull’s ability to lift its head is impaired due to severe loss of blood. Then come the banderilleros on foot, who proceed to stab banderillas into the bull’s back to further increase the pain. There are only so many master matadors at the top of their game so also oftentimes it is not a clean kill and the animal is repeatedly stabbed until its bloody, painful demise.
There is some opposition to this barbaric sport, but not much here in Spain. Just recently the city of Barcelona outlawed bullfighting, but this maybe more due to the spectacle’s connection to Fascist Spain and former dictator Franco than the bull fighting itself. A 2002 Gallup poll found that nearly 70% of Spaniards express “no interest” in bullfighting while the remaining 30% express “some” or “a lot” of interest. The poll also found significant generational variety, with over 50% of those 65 and older expressing interest, compared with less than a quarter of those 25–34 years of age. Apparently many of the spectators at bullfights are curious tourists who often leave before it’s over after being overwhelmed by the savage cruelty of it all.
Today’s matadors of Spain are as famous as today’s popstars. One of the most legendary toreros is Manolete, killed by a bull in 1947. Adrien Brody plays him (alongside Penélope Cruz as his lover) in the upcoming movie “Manolete.” Of course, I don’t care really if the matador dies in the ring… because he made the conscious choice to be there. But believe me, no one asked the bull what he wanted.