December 8, 2006

IS BULLFIGHTING CRUEL?

Bullfight World
by Lyn Sherwood

The late matador from Philadelphia, John Fulton, described bullfight aficionados as “people who know about La Fiesta, but like it, anyway”.

But, the fact remains that, on strictly moral grounds, the majority of the world considers bullfighting to be indefensible.

It is a truth that aficionados must accept that in many cases, not by plan, but by circumstance, bullfighting sometimes has elements of cruelty. The toreros all know their scripts; they know what they’re supposed to do. But, Toro Bravo is adlibbing. He has never before appeared on this stage of sand, the plaza de toros. He is the mysterious Mr. X, and sometimes he responds in unpredictable ways. He could break a horn or a leg. He could fall to a matador who is incompetent with the sword. Any number of bad things could happen to him, things that aficionados don’t like, any more than do antitaurinos.

Bullfighting is not unique in this respect. In any public spectacle in which animals perform, the unexpected sometimes occurs. A horse that breaks a leg during a race suffers great pain. The difference is that the horse is then “euthanized” or “put down”, while according to the animal rightists, the bull in the ring is assassinated.

On many occasions, this reporter has debated animal rightists on radio, television, and before live audiences. Among the many things that they don’t seem to understand is that whether the animal is killed in a slaughterhouse or in the bullring, the result is the same. It’s all a matter of semantics.

Of course, Toro Bravo lives twice as long and isn’t raised shoulder to shoulder in some muddy corral, but as a wild animal, in the countryside. He is denied nothing, except the presence of a cow. Some could make the case that that denial constitutes cruelty, and in that, they may have a valid point.

We must, however, always remember that Toro Bravo is only a distant cousin to the domestic bull. It’s like the difference between a wolf and a pet dog. Toro Bravo is raised to, one day, demonstrate its bravery in the plaza de toros and to die, honorably, from a sword in the heart, while his domestic cousin is castrated and eventually killed with a sledge hammer to the head. In either case, he’s going to end up as beefsteak.

But, the slaughterhouse never grants an animal the indulto. Its life is never pardoned for extreme bravery. It’s a small point, but an important one.

There are many examples of animals being killed for commercial reasons. Elephants are slaughtered for their tusks, gorillas for their supposed benefits as an aphrodisiac. Animals are incarcerated in zoos. Animal pelts become fur coats, suede jackets, or leather shoes.

Hunting is rarely clean. Hunters first shoot the animals, then track them down to where they have finally fallen. Lots of people, including this reporter, enjoy fishing, without even considering that such must be a pretty terrible way for fish to die.

Are these things amoral? It depends upon one’s interpretation of morality. It’s all very subjective.

Do these things make me a hypocrite? Possibly. But, if it is hypocrisy, is it any more so than buying fresh meat in the market, without considering how the animal ended up, there? These are facts of life. Animals were put on earth to serve man. It’s survival of the fittest.

As aficionados of bullfighting, we must admit that La Fiesta Brava has its warts. To deny such is to refuse to admit that the emperor is wearing no clothes. We are deluding ourselves.

The occasional cruelties that occur in bullfighting represent the dues to be paid, in order to be an aficionado. The lousy afternoons are the price that make the great ones even greater.

When a brave bull and an honest matador come to know each other on the stage of sand known as the plaza de toros, and that knowledge results in triumph and artistry, there is reason to rejoice, although we realize that, by the next day, Toro Bravo will end up on our barbecues. Nevertheless, the memory of his courage and nobility will remain, indelibly, in our minds and hearts.

I have been involved in bullfighting for more than a half century. I am an aficionado, a title that I do not lightly accept. As such, I demonstrate my respect and admiration for the beauty and bravery of Toro Bravo and the art that is made possible during his dance of death with his Toreros.

I have fought and killed bulls in the arena. I have felt the pain of the horns. I have had my good afternoons and I’ve had my bad ones. But, while I bask in the glories of the good ones, it’s the bad ones that haunt my mind, the days when I have been unable to demonstrate the dignity of Toro Bravo. I regret my failures more than I remember my triumphs.

I am not an apologist. I refuse to defend bullfighting to anyone, for it needs no defense. It is, and it has been, in one form or another, for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Accept it or reject it. It’s up to you.

In the meantime, be aware of one vital point. All aficionados want Toro Bravo to be treated with respect and killed with honor. We respect His Majesty Toro Bravo. But, if we refuse to recognize the warts that are part of La Fiesta Brava, then we are as blind as the animal rightists.

Let me make one thing clear. With exceptions, I respect the anti-taurinos. But, those exceptions include the refusal to wear leather shoes or clothing and refusing to be treated with medicines or by doctors that were developed by vivisection.

Beyond that, there must be other causes that are more deserving of their scorn than is bullfighting.

¡Que viva La Fiesta de Los Toros!

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