Bullfighting, flamenco, and siesta are linked to the Spanish culture. But in the 21st century bullfighting is not as accepted as it once was, and has even been banned in some regions. While the Scoopettes are against bullfighting, we feel a need to look at it on The Spain Scoop as it is still very much a part of the culture. Some say it’s cruel, others say it’s art. Where do you stand? Shawn, from A Casual Notebook, is based in Madrid and offers one perspective on the tradition.
Photos and story by Shawn Moksvold
At Madrid’s Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, angry spectators unload insults from their seats. Things are not going well. The bull has already stumbled after its second charge at the matador, its buckled front legs pitching all 607 kilos of its weight into the air in a sloppy, undignified somersault. The torero struts away from the squirming animal and adjusts his tightly fitted ensemble that is presumably meant to accentuate the broadness of shoulders and clenched buttocks. The bull is already exhausted, and sports a fuchsia-colored nose from a mix of sand, blood and frothy snot. I find myself simply gawking, as the matador eventually kills the lying bull (which has, in the end, endured a total of seven punctures and/or impalements) with a jab of a sharp blade at the height of its spinal column.
“Now he’s going onto a plate of rabo de toro,” says a raspy old man next to me. Then a bugle sounds and a modest brass band plays a quick paso doble jingle, and the whole thing starts again.
It would be misleading to report that there is any serious effort to minimize the harm done to the bull while at the same time accentuating the appearance of danger to the matador. It must be a show, but with the likelihood for disaster strictly curtailed. Coming at the bull are men on horseback wielding long lances, others approach from the side and in front. Stealthy, agile men brandish colorful barbed spears, leaving them to hang in the bull’s flesh.
So it is the style of the bull’s ordeal and the illusion of a worthy confrontation that excite the aficionados (fans) in the stands, who would like to consider the bullfight a national celebration, something that is pure and uniquely Spanish.
Although bullfighting’s support in Spain is by no means universal (in fact it is almost non-existent in Galicia, and outlawed altogether in Catalonia and the Canary Islands), the vernacular has bled into everyday Spanish speech and in so demonstrates how this tradition has permeated Spanish culture. And the tradition shows only slightly waning popularity in Castile, Madrid, and Andalusia. Matadors are critiqued on TV and in the arts sections of major newspapers, and they have Facebook pages, tweet status updates, and appear in gossip magazines.
Anyone who makes a habit of watching the spectacle of a bullfight must admit at least a passing interest in death, whether that of the animal or the threat of it to the man in the ring. And I suspect it is the deliberate spectacle that is so appalling about the bullfight. The haughty show of killing an animal so easily provokes contempt and protest. But it is for that reason that many come to watch. The matador, whatever is said of him, remains a professional of embellishment; what he does, and it is almost always a man, is nothing short of tense prancing, like a cat when it notices itself in the mirror, and he takes himself very seriously.
But in the context of contemporary culture, perhaps he is becoming an anachronism, an unwilling nod to the ways of the old world. It is antiquated, to pit animal against man in a prepared spectacular. The modern notion of killing animals has become a utilitarian, assembly line process. It is not stylized and admired, and therefore it is less debated within the fringe elements of society. The matador still has no desire but to exist in the most visible place possible—at the center of the arena–and I wonder how long he will get away with it.
Shawn Moksvold is a freelance writer with particular interests in travel, food and wine, and Spanish culture. His work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Cultureist.com, MADbudget.com, and San Diego City Beat. He writes for his blog, A Casual Notebook, and currently lives in Madrid, Spain. Follow Shawn on twitter @casualnotebook