How long has bullfighting got?

Bullfight, Las Fallas, Valencia

It’s San Isidro here in Madrid this week, Spain’s premiere bullfighting fiesta, with daily corridas seeing exorbitant wages paid to big-money matadors: “José Tomás recently negotiated a deal worth €450,000 a bullfight during San Isidro – a figure that caused outrage among aficionados as part of it was paid by Madrid city council.”

This according to a must-read article in the Guardian, that also outlines the following interesting facts: “…only half of the country’s 1,268 bull breeders made a profit last year. […] Of the 351 members of the Union of Bullfighting Breeders, the second biggest industry body in Spain, only 50 escaped going into the red last year […] A Gallup poll carried out in 2006 found that 72% of Spaniards had no interest at all in watching bullfights. In 1987, a similar poll found that only 46% were not interested in la corrida.”

So, the Spanish are getting less interested in bullfighting, council’s are subsidising fights, and bull breeders are in debt. Perhaps none of this should be surprising in an age where Playstations and the quasi-Hollywood appeal of ‘La Liga’ (the professional football league) are far more glamorous to younger generations, who probably see bullfighting as an activity better suited to their cigar-toting grandpas.

But, as the Guardian also points out, “… As a whole, the industry records an average annual turnover of about €2.5bn. It employs 200,000 people, from matadors to farm hands.” Those are big numbers, and clearly the industry isn’t going to give up without… a fight.

I’ve been to two bullfights, one in my first month in Spain, nearly ten years ago, and again a few years later in Valencia during Las Fallas. I found the spectacle both fascinating (this is just a historical hair’s breadth away from Roman gladiatorial events), and abhorrent: a magnificent animal enters the ring and, with the odds stacked overwhelmingly against it, is horrible tortured and mutilated to death.

As an outside observer, the horror left a far stronger impression than the culture, and whether Spain likes it or not, in today’s global opinion network, the outside observer has increasing influence. What I’m trying to say is: on the world stage, Bullfighting makes Spain look bad.

And in this animal-loving and rights-respecting day and age, it is harder to swallow the age-old aficionados‘ excuses like, “this is art”, or the ethically suspect “these bulls wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the corrida” – lots of other animals have been ignored into extinction by humans, and I’m not convinced we are doing fighting bulls a favour by breeding them up for a torturous demise.

So how long can it last? 200,000 people’s jobs are on the line, so it’s not going to disappear overnight. I suspect the spectacle will slowly fade away, becoming increasingly shunned by the Spanish intellectual classes who will continue to distance themselves from the gore, remaining instead a marginalised hobby for those with enough cash to breed fighting bulls without need for profits, and councils rich enough to subsidise the event for important bull-related fiestas.

How long do you give bullfighting?

69 Replies to “How long has bullfighting got?”

  1. @ John Ross – “It is only an example of how people are much more cruel to animals in other contexts than they are in the bullring. ” – I’m not sure that this is held up by the evidence. The point is that for little more than the spectator’s titillation, creatures are tortured until they cough up blood and die. I’m not sure that the same torture takes place in slaughterhouses; indeed, the death is usually much swifter, for economic reasons.

    As to the onus being on the opponents rather than the proponents, I’m not with you there either. What is the defence that is most frequently offered for the corrida? That it is a sport. But can a sport with a certain outcome (the death of one of the protagonists) really be called a sport? Perhaps a proponent would use the ‘art/culture’ argument. But while the corrida is stylized in a crudely balletic sense, it would be difficult to describe it as ballet. Does bullfighting enrich our understanding of the world, our community or ourselves? Does Really give much more to Spanish culture than endless discussions of matadors’ girlfriends on daytime TV?

    I think that the supporters of bullfighting do have to state their case because we’ve already gone over the arguments against it.

    As to the ‘it’s a better life than being grown for beef’ argument, that’s not related to the debate. Straw man!

  2. @Tom – I think John Ross as taking the life of the bull as a whole, rather than the last half hour. The animal probably does suffer less in a slaughter house, but perhaps it has suffered more during its entire life so that it can be efficiently offered up on a plate, for economic reasons.

    Also, the corrida is not regarded as a sport – and most do enjoy it as an art form – they have a right to their opinion.

    I agree that there is a case against bullfighting. However I also think that you have to be a vegetarian or at least extremely careful about the origins of the animal products you consume before you can make that case, otherwise I think it is hypocritical.

  3. The idea that the bullfight is a sport comes from misinterpretation by English speakers and a misleading translation. There is nothing in any Spanish term related with bull “fighting” to suggest that it could be considered a sport. Not “corrida de toros,” not “toreador,” not “la lidia,” not “tauromáquia.” Bullfighting is absolutely not a sport. There is nothing competitive about it. The bull is not supposed to have a chance of winning.

    Instead, the bullfight is a ritual, a representation, the bull being dominated, progressively brought down, by the man. It happens to end in the death of the animal. In the Spanish version, it must end in the death of the bull, if it doesn’t, there is no sense to the whole thing. You may, if you wish, find the idea of a ritual killing as a spectacle just as unpleasant as if it were a sport, but it is quite impossible that you have ever heard a defender of the bullfight using it’s sporting side as an argument. It hasn’t got a sporting side.

    I had to look up “straw man” to find out what I was being accused of. Fortunately Wikipedia (of course, how did we live without it?) told me that “A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.” I am not misrepresenting any opinion, I am presenting my own. I do find it relevant that it is a better life than being grown for beef, and it will take more persuasion than a false accusation of debating trickery to change that.

    As you say, you have already gone over the arguments against bullfighting, but that wasn’t the issue, though I’m sure it was the reaction Ben was hoping to provoke. The question posed was “How long did we give bullfighting?” And my answer, which may be wrong, of course, but is, at least, an informed answer, is “A long time, yet.”

  4. Hi Ben, this is my first time to your site, and I like what I’ve seen. Your question of how long bullfighting’s got is indeed an interesting one…here on Grand Canary, we have no bullfighting rings, and the whole culture of bullfighting resides mainly in “Hola” and “OK” (the magazines). I have never been to a fight, and can’t say that I would go…I don’t think I could take it. The actual “dancing” that the matador does is beautiful…if only they didn’t have to stab and kill the animal. Of course, that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? lol

  5. Hi Canarygirl, interesting that there is no bullfighting on the island. Lots of nice food on your site by the way!

  6. I live in Gran Canaria too, though I was born and raised in mainland Spain. The Canary Island is the only region in Spain in which bullfighting has never been part of its culture. In fact, bullfighting is banned in the Canaries (and it isn’t in any other region of Spain). Here, there is not any bit of popular support for the ‘Fiesta’.

    It has said before that bullfights were not big in Catalonia. Definately, bullfighting seems bigger in Valencia, Madrid, Castilla, Basque Country, Navarra, Andalucia, Extremadura… and even in places like Nimes, Arles, Breziers (in France). But still it has its own fair share of support in Barcelona.

    Living legent José Tomás (arguably the best matador of today, who represents the purity, exquisite style and technique, bravery and disdain for his own life) made a glorious comeback last year after a five year retirement, which caused the biggest of the expectations in the world of ‘tauromaquia’ and and he chose the ring of Barcelona to do so. Of course all tickets were sold in few minutes in Barcelona.

    As for defining ‘bullfighting’, it is certainly not a sport nor a competition. In Spain nobody refers to it as a ‘deporte’ or as a ‘competición’. It is called ‘La Fiesta’, or ‘La Feria’ (=a series of daily ‘corridas’ usually one week long -San Isidro Feria in Madrid is 3 weeks long- that take place once a year -twice at the most in some big bull cities-) ‘los toros’, and the whole of everything that surrounds it, ‘la tauromaquia’.

  7. John – don’t place too much trust in Wikipedia! The definition they provide is one from syllogistic logic which is a little more precise than the normal usage (which basically consists of setting up a false argument which could easily be defeated, thus calling into question the opposing position). But that’s irrelevant. As to whether or not something is art, this is generally decided not by the creator but by informed observers and critics, who understand the conventions of what ‘art’ is.

    As to your answer to the question, I too had already come to that conclusion. I was merely disagreeing with everything else you said.

  8. Tom is right by saying “As to whether or not something is art, this is generally decided not by the creator but by informed observers and critics…”
    This is getting a bit technical here, but anybody who knows something about the Theory of Knowledge (TOK), knows there are several viewpoints an art critic can take:

    the romantic view of art
    the subjective view
    the objective view of art
    the Semiotic view of art
    the random view of art.
    the dialectical view of art
    etc.

    What the Spanish might call “art”, could be “torture” to others.
    Not my opinion. I have not been to a bull fight yet.

  9. @Tom,@Maria – the main point is that in Spain bullfighting is not considered a sport, nor do those who defend it consider it a sport. For example, it does not appear in the sports sections of newspapers, nor in the sports sections of news programs. Whether it is regarded as an art or not is irrelevant.

    It was Tom who made the following claim:

    “What is the defence that is most frequently offered for the corrida? That it is a sport.”

    This is an empirical statement that I believe to be false. Tom, you need to provide evidence to back up this claim, otherwise you are making a straw man of your opponents (which would also be rather hypocritical of you since that is what you accused your opponents of).

  10. ‘Art’ or not, how do the bulls feel about it? How about the pain, rage, and anguish they experience? They have no choice in the matter, and they are just being used for purposes which have got nothing to do with human survival whatsoever.

  11. Re the comments about the bull not having a chance: In a chance conversation this weekend I was told that the “Benign” dictator of Spain, Miguel Primo de Riviera, made a pronouncement that all bulls must be killed in the bullring. Apparently, in order to save money, some bulls were merely teased and used again another day. But the bulls learned the tricks of the torreadores and many fighters were injured or killed. So from that time on no bull was to be given a second chance.
    So, if it’s a given who the victor will be, it can never be called a sport. Not an art form either, but there is plenty of pagentry which might be considered entertaining. I watched it on TV over the weekend and was both fascinated and repulsed. Like watching a horror movie, which plenty of people pay to see.
    BTW: I can find no online reference to the above “pronouncement”, but the guy who mentioned it seemed to know his history well.

  12. @ Maria S,

    I have never been to a bullfight either, but I have seen very disturbing videos shot by animal rights activists. Some deductive reasoning might suffice to draw one’s own conclusion: the animals are suffering.

  13. @Edith,

    I have never been to a bullfight and don’t see myself attending one either. Something “wrong”, when kept up over so many years, just seems normal to many Spaniards.
    This is not an excuse, just an explanation on my part.
    I would not enjoy watching an animal die for the sake of entertainment or sports or art or whatever.
    This tradition must have been started by the male species….

  14. I never thought I would want go to a bullfight. In fact, when my family and friends found out I would come to Spain on vacation, they asked me if I would watch a bullfight, and my answer was a bold “of course not!”

    On my first week in Spain, I went to buy dinner at a local restaurant in Madrid, and while waiting for the food I was bewitched by the bullfight that they were showing on TV — locals cheered, yelled, talked out loud as if the bullfighter could hear them. There was intense passion on both the bullfight and the spectators around me. I felt duende!

    A week later I visited the bullring in Valencia (only the ring, sin corrida), and I felt the same. As soon as I came back to Madrid, I reserved a ticket for my first (and maybe last) bullfight, which is this Sunday. I will post an update to this post after I watch the corrida.

  15. Hola Ben! This is my first time in your blog and got “trapped” in this post! Have to see more 😀

    I’m catalan and hate bullfighting, but my husbands loves it! I’m with Canarygirl… would like to see a real “dance” or fight between the torero and the bull in even conditions; no blood, no swords.
    And yes, money is behind this “tradition”… tones of money! I don’t think corridas are in danger of extintion… the fight is inside and outside the plaza to get the tickets!!!

  16. It’s a matter of social extraction. Young people in Spain feel Bullfighting as alien to their own identity as Rodeo. Then you have a certain type of Spaniard, the one who fills up the Bullring every Friday, who are really into it and who will support it for generations to come. But I must say those are a minority, despite the fact the fill up the Bullring every friday

  17. things in spain dont progress very fast. i protest by not watching on tv, not buying bullfighting related items, etc…
    my silent protest wont turn the events in spain very quickly. but if more people do the same???

    it will still take a few more generations to change anything. the little boys in my pueblo just LOVE everything BF. im sure they will support this for many years and probably influance their sons also. probably people will figure out a way to do it even it the event doesnt make money.

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