Bullfight. The word alone is troubling for most people. Yet this is a fairly recent phenomena. Very recent, in fact. The bullfight has been one of the most enduring of all human created spectacles, celebrated in the earliest days of our most ancient cultures and across many continents, both as a religious right and as a celebration of the now long-forgotten triumph of our taming of what were once very wild & dangerous beasts.
Allow me to get a bit philosophical. The intense spectacle of a bullfight seems to demand it... So I'm going to expound on the controversy of this subject with photos interspersed that hopefully capture some of the drama, excitement, and a combination of both the inherent revulsion and beauty that are part of the bullfight...
|The presentation of the Matador.|
("Matar" = "to kill" in Spanish, and "Matador" = "the killer" or "the one who kills").
Let me start by saying that I am, of course, against senseless cruelty to animals. And I certainly understand that if someone dislikes the concept of the bullfight that he or she should refuse to attend.
However, for those many out there who believe bullfighting should be banned, I can say that I think they probably have no idea what bullfighting truly and actually is. I know I didn't until I attended two bullfights recently, and still really can't say I completely do, but there is no question that having attended them has altered my preconceptions. And I am fairly certain that the loudest voices proposing the banning of bullfights have almost certainly never attended one. While we are all entitled to our opinions, calling for the banning of bullfights without ever witnessing one (or two or more) is not at all unlike burning books you've never read or of which you've only read the liner notes.
|It takes obvious skill & courage to face this 2,000 lb plus monster with horns...|
|Eventually, the two foes come face to face. An opposable thumb and large frontal lobe has obvious advantages...|
The obvious crux of the issue clearly boils down to one's interpretation of what is "cruel". For it can only be on the basis of whether or not this spectacle is "needlessly cruel" that one can argue for or against its termination. This should be obvious to anyone trying to intellectually grapple with the issue, but a more subtle and important element is the recognition that there is no more an objective measure of "cruelty" than there is of beauty or any other quality: cruelty is indeed in mind of the beholder, and beauty in the eye. Some see one or the other; I see a bit of both...
|Delivering the coupe de grace Pt. 1: Get the bull to lunge with head down and thrust toward the beast...|
|Pt. 2: Drive the tip of the blade just off the spine and aim for the heart...|
|Pt. 3: Finish the job with a thrust to the hilt...|
|... and in this case, enlist the aid of fellow Toreros to tire the bull until it accepts the inevitable.|
It should also come as no surprise, despite the obvious irony, that "cruelty" is indeed more beholden by those that live in a less cruel environment. For those who live where life itself, both human and animal, is more tenuous and risky, life and death and cruelty and compassion are not so mutually exclusive nor such strange bedfellows. And Mexico is certainly such a place by all measures and statistics. I think those who live safer, more sanitary and prosperous lives are undeniably more fearful of the demons we call death, cruelty, disease, etc., for we all fear most that which we know the least. For those who have only seen the flesh of their daily meals neatly wrapped in plastic, washed clean of all traces of blood, bones, feathers, fur & fins, and presented on a shiny white shelf in an air conditioned super store, how else could they feel towards a deadly contest between a man and a bull and its untidy melange of grunts and snorts and blood and dust, other than with a sense of dread, fear and even disgust? And how else to describe this spectacle of man and beast, and all the participants themselves, in any other term than as "cruel"?
Yet it should come as no surprise that for those who don't live in a society of sparkling clean corporate chain stores and who witness death more frequently and on a more personal level, the word "cruel" comes up much less frequently when describing the happenings in the bull ring. And perhaps for those in the stands, the beauty of the movement and the artistry of the dance stand out in stark contrast to the mundane circumstances of suffering & death...
|Taunting the bull to bring it on...|
|... and earning a well-deserved "olé!" from the fans.|
|No question here as to who's mastering whom...|
|... with poise, style, & grace that can't be denied ...|
|Following an exceptional performance, the ring master presents the matador with the victim's ears...|
|... and a member of the crowd presents him with a well earned draught from a boda bag.|
|The Matador pays his respects to his fallen foe with a respectful pat on the thigh...|
James Jones, in his novel The Thin Red Line, which was based upon his personal experiences as a US Marine rifleman in the bloody battle of Guadacanal in WWII, perhaps sums up the entire philosophical & psychological quandary of the bullfight with one of my favorite quotes of all time:
"One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there's nothing but unanswered pain. That death's got the final word, it's laughing at him. Another man sees that same bird, feels the glory, feels something smiling through it."
Perhaps this best explains why a man steps into a ring, armed with only a brightly colored cape and a flimsy little sword, and stares into the eyes of a 2,000 lb+ angry beast. And maybe it also explains why the rest of us watch, captivated, unsure of which side to really cheer for...