Bullfighting is a traditional spectacle of Spain, Portugal, southern France and some Latin American countries (Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador), in which one or more bulls are baited and usually killed by a matador in a bullring for sport and entertainment. It is often called a blood sport by its detractors but followers of the spectacle regard it as a fine art and not a sport as there are no elements of competition in the proceedings. Bullfighting is banned in most countries, and has been banned more recently in some countries and regions with long histories and traditions with the event. Most notably, bullfighting was banned in 2010 in the Spanish region of Catalonia and its largest city Barcelona, where it has a centuries long history and attracted international fame. At the same time, places like Madrid have responded to such actions by officially preserving bullfighting as an art form. This means that anti-bullfighting activists can be charged with a crime and a substantial fine for disrupting the patrimony of bullfighting and Spanish culture. These historic actions have re-enlivened the debate about bullfighting in Spain and around the world. The pro and con arguments and select quotations from editorials, op-eds, and books are outlined below.
“Those who see bullfighting as cruel are, of course, right. It is cruel that man should breed and kill animals for his enjoyment whether as a dinner or a dance. But to my mind the life of an Iberian fighting bull, a thoroughbred animal which lives to a minimum age of four, roaming wild, feasting on Spain’s finest pasture, never even seeing a man on foot, is far superior to that of the many thousands of British bulls whose far shorter lives are spent entirely in factory conditions and killed in grim abattoirs so that we can eat beefburgers.”
In most bullfighting countries, bulls are honored as mystical creatures of immense strength and beauty. Statues of bulls regularly stand outside of bullfighting stadiums, and depict the animals in the most majestic, strong, and beautiful way possible. These statues frequently stand alone without an accompanying matador in the depiction. This respect and appreciation of the bull is a demonstration of the decency with which the art form treats the animal.
All members of the bullfighting community, fighters and crowds alike, prize quick and relatively painless kills. If a matador fails to deliver such a kill, and the bull suffers needlessly, then he will be jeered and shamed. This dynamic demonstrates a clear sense of decency within the bullfighting community.
Ernest Hemingway: “The only place where you could see life and death, i. e., violent death now that the wars were over, was in the bull ring and I wanted very much to go to Spain where I could study it. I was trying to learn to write, commencing with the simplest things, and one of the simplest things of all and the most fundamental is violent death.”
Jeremey Bentham, Theory of Legislation. Principles of the Penal Code. “The Culture of Benevolence”. 1802 – “Cock-fights and bull-fights, the chase of the hare and the fox, fishing, and other amusements of the same kind, necessarily suppose a want of reflection or a want of humanity; since these sports inflict upon sensitive beings the most lively sufferings, and the most lingering and painful death that can be imagined.”
According to anti-bullfight veterinarian José Zaldívar, in the great majority of cases, the matador missed the vital spot that would cause the bull to die quickly. “These provoke internal bleeding. It is a slow, agonising death – as the high acidity of their blood proves.”
Jeremy Bentham once said: “It doesn’t matter if they can reason; it doesn’t matter if they can speak; what does matter is if they can SUFFER.”
“At the end of the fight, the bull may not be yet dead while his body parts are cut-off to be kept as trophies. Spanish bull breeders receive EU agricultural subsidies, meaning that UK taxpayers’ money goes to support this terrible industry.”
In order to reduce the risk to the matador, sometimes a bulls horns are shaved. This can inflict some pain on the bull and can also make it more sensitive to other forms of pain during the fight.
“Bulls are not the only creatures to suffer in bullrings. The tormented bull does not understand that it is the man on the horse’s back that is causing his pain, only that he is in agony. He therefore sees the horse as his enemy as much as the man. It’s not unusual for horses used in bullfights to be so badly gored by the bulls that they have to be killed, but only after they have been dragged from the ring and the view of the spectators.”
Ernest Hemingway said about bullfighting that it is “a decadent art in every way […] if it were permanent it could be one of the major arts.”
“Our squeamishness means that we prefer death which is mechanical and invisible, while the Spanish understand that it is part of a cycle.[…] It is a public celebration of death (a subject we prefer to hide from in Britain) which, when it is done well, becomes a celebration of life. The man charged with the task of delivering a fine end to this fierce and powerful creature will dance with it along the way, laying his own life on the line to create a swirling symbiosis.”
Bullfighting traces its roots to prehistoric bull worship and sacrifice. The killing of the sacred bull (tauroctony) is the essential central iconic act of Mithras, which was commemorated in the mithraeum wherever Roman soldiers were stationed. The oldest representation of what seems to be a man facing a bull is on the celtiberian tombstone from Clunia and the cave painting “El toro de hachos”, both found in Spain.
Poet Garcia Lorca said in the 1930s, the corrida is “the last serious thing in the modern world”.
In Spain, many youth idealize bull fighters for their strength, grace, and wit in outmaneuvering bulls. This is valuable in inspiring and compelling success in future generations.
“The oft-repeated claim that such rings are kept alive by tourists is ludicrous. Despite the economic recession, which has hit Spain especially hard, the corrida is still thriving. Its top practitioners are huge stars, and its fans, among them a prominent group of British aficionados, intensely devoted, because it is still the very soul of this dark and complex country.”
“The truth is, if a creature suffers then there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. All animals are sentient beings that experience joy, happiness, fear and pain, in the same way that human beings do. We can have no right whatsoever to make them suffer for our “enjoyment”. If any torture inflicted to an animal deserves condemnation, bullfights are the worst kind of torture since they are performed solely in the name of entertainment. We must end the animals’ torture and stop these shows of brutality and violence. It is too small a step from the intentional infliction of pain on an animal to the torture and killing of human beings.”
Part of the pull of bullfighting for crowds is witnessing death. Advocates of the practice make this into an argument for the practice. But, a desire to see death in front of one’s own eye’s amounts to bloodlust. Why should humans be accommodated in such a morbid pursuit?
“These outdated spectacles perpetuate the idea that injuring and killing an animal for amusement is acceptable.”
Many traditions have been defended for their cultural, traditional value. Stoning women for immodesty is one of them. We know very well that such tradition-for-tradition’s-sake arguments are debunk. The same holds true with bullfighting, a tradition that is based on cruelty to bulls.
Video, pictures, books, and news reports all make it possible for individuals to learn about and understand death. It’s occurring around us naturally all the time. It is completely unnecessary, therefore, to artificially produce death in the bullfighting arena in order to create an appreciation of the cycle of life and death, etc. Nature watching is also a good alternative. Or even hunting or fishing, in which an individual generally attempts to quickly and decently kills an animal that they will then eat. Torturing and bull for entertainment is unnecessary when compared to these outlets for understanding life and death.
Eric Gallego, an animal rights protester, said in 2010 to the Times Online: “Bullfighting is a bloody entertainment. We must stop this cruelty because we don’t want to be a barbaric society in Europe.”
The best bullfighters are the ones that come closest to the bull, letting its horns pass inches by the fighters side, etc. The greater the risk for the bullfighter, the greater the reward from the crowd. This pressure makes the fight more fair. The bullfighter is not trying to stay as far away as possible in order to make a riskless kill; they are trying to demonstrate their courage and bravery in the face of potentially fatal risks.
Bullfighters are frequently gored in bullfighting, although it is relatively rare that they are killed. There was a gruesome goring in 2010 in Spain, in which the horn of the bull entered through the neck of a matador and through his mouth.The fight is not perfectly fair, but it is plenty fair.
In Spain and most other countries with bullfighting, the horns of bulls are not shaved, but rather kept sharp. The fact that they are not usually shaved demonstrates that organizers and crowds want to keep the fight fair and suspenseful. Savvy fans would not have it any other way.
Fighting the bull doesn’t have to be a completely fair fight; that misses the point, which is that man has developed a mastery over the tools and techniques required to control and overcome certain elements of nature, such as a two thousand pound bull.
“The bulls in a standard bullfight are drugged and confused animals, debilitated and run in circles by others who stab them with spears before the matador approaches to make the “kill shot” with his sword. Anyone who believes this fight to be fair, is mistaken. By the time a matador approaches to actually kill the bull, the animal typically has enough spears in his neck and back muscles to prevent him from fully lifting his head.”
“A bullfight is never a fair fight, as the confused and frightened bull faces a matador and several other men, some on horseback, armed with terrible weapons. Read more bullfighting facts.”
“What about the “brave” matadors, picadors and their ilk? Bullfighters are rarely injured and seldom killed in the ring. With their armory of weapons to weaken the bull until it can no longer fight, their lives are not at great risk. In fact, in the last 50 years only 10 bullfighters have been killed worldwide.”
Man can show his “mastery over nature” in many ways. Technology, science, agriculture, and industrial processes are great ways. Torturing bulls for entertainment is not necessary in the face of the alternative means.