December 22, 2006

Responding to Respondents Regarding ‘Cruelty’ Column

Bullfight World
by Lyn Sherwood

A few weeks ago, Bullfight World examined the subject of cruelty in bullfighting. The responses on my e-mail ( have been heavy. Some notes, from knowledgeable aficionados, question my own afición and accuse me of being pro-animal right’s, which is just plain silly. I did admit that, based exclusively on morality, most people consider bullfighting to be cruel. So, allow me to follow up.

The point that I had made was that bullfighting is not, by plan or intent, cruel. But, it has its warts. At times, things that might be considered cruel take place, merely because the bull is adlibbing, while the toreros know their parts. Toro Bravo has never appeared on the stage of sand known as la plaza de toros. He is the mysterious Mr. X. How he responds is the big question mark.

As aficionados we must admit that unfortunate things sometimes occur.

Some toros fail to recognize the intent of the sword placement and are slow to die. We have all seen matadores who have placed disgracefully low swords in the lungs causing quick but bloody and dishonorable deaths.

We have all seen clowns such as Jorge Jesus “El Glison” fool around, after a sword placement, rather than go for the descabello, which can end things, quickly. In El Glison’s case, it was because he never owned a descabello.

For that, he must be held accountable.

We have seen bulls that have broken legs or horns in the arena. We have seen overzealous picadores perform butchery (usually at the orders of their matadores). We have seen kamikaze toreros dupe the crowds with their overt bravado, thus denying respect for Toro Bravo’s bloodlines.

In spite of all of this, I love La Fiesta with all my heart and I am honest enough to be willing to condemn its inequities and to expose those things that are inflicted entirely in the name of commercialism or machismo rather than dignified artistry.

Million of bovines are killed every year in slaughterhouses. Their deaths by sledgehammers in the head aren’t pretty, and they are frequently butchered before they’re quite dead at half the age of Toro Bravo.

Every aficionado who I’ve ever known is a lover of animals.

Nevertheless, we must all accept the responsibility to treat animals with dignity and honor.

And in the plaza de toros, the bull must be honored with a proper performance befitting and honoring the sacrifice of its life. Why else would we accept La Fiesta as a tragedy, a passion play if you wish?

To this reporter an afternoon of the bulls is tantamount to high mass.

The bull’s blood is the host of the communion. The whole thing must be accepted and witnessed with proper respect and dignity. To me the plaza de toros is tantamount to a cathedral or a temple.

In most public circumstances, death is symbolic. Romeo and Juliet don’t really die on stage. But, in the theatre-in-the-round of the plaza de toros we deal with real death not simulated representations.

I don’t make these statements to justify La Fiesta Brava for it needs no justification. It is. Accept it or reject it, it’s up to you.

It is the tackling of such subjects that, historically, has accounted for men of vision to be condemned for their blatant exposure of reality. But to me, writing of La Fiesta is no different than capturing its drama on canvas or in bronze. It is a tribute to Toros Bravos and their beautiful ritualistic dance from which one of them will not survive.

Love of Toro Bravo, love of the traditions of an otherwise anachronistic pursuit, love of the memories of those who have died for their passion, love of overcoming one’s own fear and in elevating Toro Bravo to his proper throne. That’s what it should be all about. Is that carrying idealism to a ridiculous degree? Perhaps.

But, as Walter Cronkite the master of journalism used to say, “That’s the way it is.” No matter how much we attempt to disguise bullfighting, or worse, to excuse it unless you understand it don’t condemn it for you’re arguing from a point of ignorance.

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