Bullfighting: Fine Art or Blood Sport?
Bullfighting is a deeply controversial spectacle that is called a "fine art" by its supporters and a "blood sport" by its critics. It mainly takes place in European countries such as Spain and Portugal, as well as certain Latin American countries, such as Mexico.
The spectacle takes place inside a bullring, where one or more bulls are baited before being killed according to formal rules and customs, which are interpreted by the bullfighter. Strictly speaking, as there is no directly competitive element, it cannot be called a sport, but it is certainly seen as an art form by its fans.
Bullfighting has been going on for thousands of years, but has increasingly become exposed to negative scrutiny in recent decades, as the animal rights movement has grown. Critics of the practice can be found inside bullfighting's heartlands as well as in the wider world.
Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honor.
— Ernest Hemingway
6 Arguments in Favor of Bullfighting
- Bullfighting is an art form and should be seen as an equivalent to dance, or painting, or music. The matadors are following rules, procedures, and traditions that have developed over centuries.
- The practice has a long heritage in many areas and especially in countries such as Spain. It likely goes back to at least the Roman period and represents a form of living history.
- Bullfighters are skillful and, behind all the pomp and ritual, the bull is actually being killed in a very efficient manner.
- Far more bulls are killed to be eaten by abattoirs than die in the bullring. There are many slaughterhouses that operate in a less-than-effective manner. The focus on banning bullfighting as being particularly cruel is misplaced.
- In some places, parts of Spain especially, bullfighting is perceived by many people as being an integral part of their regional culture.
- Critics sometimes argue that bullfighting is wrong because it is killing for fun, rather than for something necessary like food. This approach only really works as an argument for full vegetarianism (rather than just anti-bullfighting), as every time someone chooses a steak over a salad or a beef burger over a cheese sandwich, you could argue that they are endorsing killing for fun.
5 Arguments Against Bullfighting
- The practice is barbaric and cruel. Essentially, bullfighting is ritually slaughtering an animal purely for entertainment.
- Rather than "traditional," the practice could be better described as "archaic". We no longer allow gladiatorial contests, so why should we allow bullfighting?
- It is not just the bulls who suffer: horses are also injured and suffer death (not to mention the bullfighters themselves, who can be maimed or killed too).
- The death of the bull is extended and painful, making it unnecessarily cruel. The argument that the bullfighter kills the bull efficiently is clearly questionable. If anything, the customs of the spectacle demand that the animal's death is drawn out rather than quick.
- People who are in favor of bullfighting tend to play down the numbers of bulls that are killed, but figures gathered by animal rights groups suggest that 2,500 bulls lose their lives in Portugal each year, and in Spain, the figure is closer to 30,000.
Bullfighting Around the World
Spain, Portugal, southern France, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and the Philippines all have bullfighting as a traditional spectacle.
There are also other places in the world which have non-lethal versions of bullfighting, and places (such as the Persian Gulf, Bangladesh, Peru, Balkans, Turkey, Japan, and Korea) where bulls fight other bulls rather than people.
The Oldest Bullring in the World
The oldest bullring in the world is the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria in Seville, Spain. Bullfighting takes place there during the annual Seville Fair and is part of the Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla, a famous guild created for traditional cavalry training.
Construction of the bullring began in 1749 at the place where a previous bullring had been located. Work was supervised in the early stages by Francisco Sanchez de Aragon and Pedro y Vicente de San Martin and the inner facade of the plaza (know as the Palco del Principe or Prince's Box) was finished in 1765.
Sculptures were added by the Portuguese sculptor Cayetano de Acosta.
Courage and grace is a formidable mixture. The only place to see it is the bullring.
— Marlene Dietrich
Types of Bullfighters
There are essentially three main types of bullfighter:
- Matador de Toros - Considered to be both an athlete and artist by bullfighting fans, his job is to gradually subdue the bull. He is judged by the crowd according to his style and bravery.
- Picador - He rides a horse and spears the bull with a special lance called pica. The horse is protected from the bull's horns by a 'peto', a mattress-like shield.
- Banderillero - He is a matador who plants banderillas (little flags) into the bull. The crowd judges him.
To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter of baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens who have spent their lives crammed into cages, or veal from calves who have been deprived of their mothers, their proper diet, and the freedom to lie down with their legs extended, is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbors not to sell their houses to blacks.
— Peter Singer, Animal Liberation
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why doesn't Spain ban bullfighting?
Answer: Advocates for bull fighting in Spain typically see it as a traditional part of their culture, going back thousands of years. For proponents, bullfighting is more than a sport, it is an art form.
Question: Why do people kill bulls for fun?
Answer: Proponents of bullfighting argue that not only is it a means of providing entertainment for thousands of people, but also part of a centuries old cultural tradition, and that “toreros”, or bullfighters are the equivalent of skilled artists. Another argument used in favor is that fighting bulls live longer and have better quality lives than those raised on farms purely for meat.
© 2013 Paul Goodman