By Tom Davidson
After Catalonia’s 2010 ban on bullfighting was recently revoked by the national court, with 8 of the 11 judges voting to overrule it due to its cultural heritage status, the region in search of independence could see the return of the sanguineous sport in the north-east. This vote carries much wider implications for the practice; is it still morally appropriate in a modern, civilised climate? Can we really use the term “cultural heritage” to justify something so distinctly unethical? It seems clear to me that the age-old debate over the abolition of bullfighting only has one logical answer.
Most brits are not fully aware of what a bullfight entails. An illusion persists of a glamorised spectacle in which a valiant matador expertly overcomes an enraged, villainous bull. The reality is strikingly different. A bullfight typically consists of three phases: first the picadors (men on horseback) riddle the bull with barbed spikes, next the bull is pierced with decorative spears or banderillas, and then finally the ‘oh so courageous’ matador thrusts the final blow in between the animal’s shoulders hoping to impale the heart.
In short, bullfighting consists of a deranged sequence of glorified torture techniques. The bull, disabled, disorientated, and dazed, serves as the pin cushion for countries attempting to tightly stitch the barbaric practice into their cultural heritage. Punctured repeatedly, around 250,000 bulls meet the same fate each year in bullrings worldwide, suffering slow and agonising deaths.
Not only is it shocking that bullfighting remains widely practised across the globe (notably in Spain, Southern France, and across Latin America), it is unsettling that the sport is used to infuse a sense of pride, with Spain choosing to adopt the symbol of the bull as a national logo. Yet, when Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Nazi SS and one of the most inhumane figures in world history, describes the practice as a “disgusting, extremely bloody spectacle,” it is certainly difficult to find any positive angle on it.
Furthermore, it is a common misconception that Spaniards adore bullfights. In fact, over two thirds of the population are pro-abolition and deem the sport a “national shame” rather than a source of pride. Spanish animal rights groups have stripped naked, showered themselves in fake blood and played dead outside bullrings in protest of the pain inflicting tradition. The 46ft high silhouetted bull images scattered across the country are also often vandalised by protesters.
It seems the only cog that keeps the bullfighting machine in service is the tourist industry. Fooled by the colourful posters and the smiling bull key rings in the gift shops, many tourists ignorantly attend these spectacles only to leave nauseous and disgusted at the brutal display of animal cruelty that just unfolded in front of them.
Bullfighting, or la tauromaquia, rests as undoubtedly one of the most polemical and divisive traditions in contemporary Spanish society, provoking opposition not just on an ethical scale but a political one too. Even though it is unlikely bullfighting will return to Catalonia due to the region’s ability to regulate the sport, how many more bulls need to be killed before we realise the term “cultural heritage” does not excuse outdated barbarism?
The practice, nowadays, is about as relevant as Gladiator fights or an actual Hunger Games. “Tradition” only serves as a poor cop-out for this cruelty-based, unethical manifestation of human bloodthirstiness.
Photograph by Marcus Obal via Creative Commons