Column: Olé – Bullfighting

©cc by-sa Nacho Facello

Columnist A. Miller-Draper on bullfighting.


For those of us existing outside of it, the Iberian world seems entire unto itself. In other words, they don’t really need the rest of us. They’re quite happy with what they’ve got. A bit like the Chinese world too, I suppose, who seem more than content with their own civilisation, making occasional forays into other cultures yet never entirely, emerging from their own cocoon. But I digress, we’re talking about the Spanish experience, after all. And one of the things that marks the Spanish out is the bullfight.

©cc by-nc-nd Nathan Rupert
©cc by-nc-nd Nathan Rupert

I would hesitate to tell the Spanish what to do

If suddenly bullfighting was to be banned or disappear, I am sure the Spanish and their cousins throughout the Latin world of central and southern America, and their half-brothers on the Iberian Peninsula, the Portuguese, would not lose much sleep. We are all so rapidly being globalised. Within a generation or two we are all going to be gobbledygook imitations of each other, except perhaps the Chinese. Some of us, more than others, seek to hold on to their own individual cultural characteristics, be it dress style, language, religion, marital custom, entertainment or whatever. And perhaps that attachment is primarily sentimental, as well as economic – the poorest remain purest, so to speak.

Bullfighting may well be an integral part of the Spanish character. I really wouldn’t know. But I would hesitate to tell the Spanish what to do, or wag my finger at them. Really, it’s their business. I do know that the Catalans, occupying the northeast corner of Spain, around Barcelona, have banned bullfighting. Yet I suspect that has more to do with their aversion for all things madrileno. They do consider themselves separate from the rest of Spain, in their hearts, if not in fact.

In my book I am quite happy for the bullfighting to continue in Spain and the rest of the Iberian world. Market forces will probably hasten its demise more than anything else. The bullring in Madrid is a most handsome, enormous building. But it no longer pulls in the punters – a full house is a rarity. There still is though a dedicated, fanatical following. The corrida is still a way of life.

The bullring in Madrid
The bullring in Madrid ©cc by-sa 3.0 Luis Garcia

In my book, too, since the human is putting himself at risk, at least the odds facing the bull are a little better than when being sent to the abattoir. Although, I gather, that’s just where that unfortunate animal did end up, after killing the 29 year old matador, Victor Barrio, in early July, the first human death in the bullring for 30 years. Yet, we haven’t mentioned the horses. Quite a few of them can meet a sticky end, when ridden close to an enraged bull by the spear sticking picadors.

So, yes, it’s gruesome, it’s grisly, I don’t think I’d be queueing up for the show, but it’s Spain’s business – for now anyway, until or unless Brussels rules otherwise!

I have a similar attitude to fox hunting in Britain. Why should the city dwellers, metropolitan man, wave a finger at their country cousins who so love chasing a fox about the countryside on horseback. After all, the humans are putting themselves at risk every time they jump a ditch or a fence or a wall. The fox is running every which way, desperate to avoid the baying hounds, the humans on horseback are honour-bound to follow. And many a death and a serious injury result from the inevitable falls. It does slightly even things out, even if the fox very rarely avoids the hounds.

Fox hunting in Maryland, USA
Fox hunting ©cc by-nd Beau Considine

I should emphasise I love animals. I gave up eating meat forty years ago, because of my love of animals. Instead of wagging fingers at fox hunting and bullfighting why doesn’t modern man do something about our quite unnecessary addiction to meat consumption that so blights our planet?

Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to defend bullfighting and fox hunting, I am not too fussed. What I do object to is the shooting of utterly defenceless birds out of the sky. I find pheasant and grouse shooting a disgusting activity. The birds invariably only wounded, brought back in the soft mouths of labradors or spaniels to the gamekeeper, who will only then summarily dispatch them. It is estimated King Edward VII killed up to a million pheasants. Even though I am a committed royalist, I blanche at that slaughter.

If I was a militant buddhist, I might declare bull-fighting a non-starter, but I’m not. I hum and hah, and hedge my bets. Leave it to the Spanish. It’s their custom, their culture – let them decide.

Cover image ©cc by-sa Nacho Facello
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