03 October 2011

Bullfighting ban set to take place in Catalonia

In 1996, 40 million spectators attended bullfights and bull-related festivals in Spain with a record 650 fights and 3,900 dead bulls. In 2007, that number was 2,622; in 2010, 1,724 -- a drop of about one-third. The number of attendees is likely to continue declining with Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia recently banning bullfights following a signature-collection campaign by activists.

Hours before Catalonia's last bullfight, anti-bullfight campaigners gathered outside the arena to celebrate with sparkling wine.

“Obviously a lot of political parties have tried to politicize this, but we mustn’t forget that this popular proposal sprouted from a pure pro-animal rights standpoint aimed at eradicating animal cruelty,” campaigner Soraya Gaston said.

Bullfighting enthusiasts see prohibition as an infringement on tradition and personal freedoms. Efforts are being made by Spain's conservative Popular Party to delay and/or repeal the ban, which takes effect January 1, 2012.

“Banning bullfighting in Catalonia is nothing more than an attack on liberty,” said Carlos Nunez, president of Spain’s Mesa del Toro pro-bullfighting group. “It’s the fruit of policies in Catalonia against bullfighting and all that is seen to represent Spain.”

Indeed, bullfighting has remained an integral part of Spain's history, virtually unchanged in execution since the tradition started centuries ago. Typically, there are three acts in a traditional Spanish bullfight:

During the first act, the bull enters the ring and temperament is gauged through various taunts to determine hostility or cowardice. The picador -- a man on an armored horse -- lances the bull's neck to ensure the head hangs low enough for the matador to kill later. At no point prior to the actual kill is the matador allowed to touch the animal with a sword, and doing so often results in disqualification, fines, and imprisonment.

In the second act, the bull is once again taunted, though this time into specifically charging the banderillero, a matador (bullfighter) tasked with planting banderillas, colorful barbs. If successful, the barbs will be forced into the bull's shoulders at the neck's junction to once again keep the head lowered and further weaken the animal.

By the third act, only the primary matador and bull remain in the arena. Taunted and stabbed, the bull is placed in an unpredictable, volatile state, likely experiencing an onslaught of varying emotions along the lines of fear, pain, confusion, anger, and frustration. At this point, the matador has the option of 'dedicating' the bull to the general public, a friend, or family member. The matador can also demonstrate 'mastery' over the animal before killing it by performing an adorno, a flourish that can range from kneeling in front of the animal to kissing it on the head.

Barnaby Conrad, a former bullfighter (whose contributions to an article on the subject were very useful for writing this) describes how the final act usually concludes:

"The typical kill is performed by the bullfighter thrusting forward the muleta with the left hand—causing the bull to lower its head and lunge in quest of its adversary—while sinking the sword with the right hand into the small opening between the bull’s shoulder blades at the junction with the neck. If the bull should raise or buck its head as the matador leans in for the kill, as happened to Manolete, killed in the ring in 1947, the bullfighter will almost surely be thrown or gored. The sword should penetrate diagonally, severing the aorta, which, if well executed, causes almost instant death. If it does not, the matador’s banderilleros will often alternate in caping the bull at close range, forcing it to turn its head and body back and forth, further weakening the bull and hastening its death. If the bull still has not died, a second sword is then used. A matador has 10 minutes from the start of the muleta passes in which to kill the bull. If the bullfighter fails to kill it within this time, a trumpet warning is blown and the president issues an aviso. A second aviso is given three minutes later, and a third two minutes after the second. If the matador has still not killed the animal, the bullfighter leaves the ring in disgrace, often to a chorus of whistling and boos and perhaps to a barrage of thrown seat cushions. The wounded bull is then taken out of the arena and killed in the corrals.

After the sword is thrust and the bull is down, another torero (the puntillero) will ensure the animal’s death by a jab of a small knife (puntilla) behind the bull’s head. Meanwhile, the matador, if acclaimed, circles the arena with the banderilleros to the applause of the spectators and then returns to the person honoured by the brindis (dedication) to retrieve the montera, which invariably is returned with the promise of a gift, which might range from a small amount of money to a present such as cuff links. If the performance was very good, the matador receives, as a token of popular esteem, one ear of the bull. If it was superb, the bullfighter receives two ears. But if the performance was spectacular, the bullfighter receives both ears and the tail. If the bull had battled bravely before his death, the crowd may petition the president (by waving white handkerchiefs) for the bull to be given a vuelta (lap) around the ring. The bull is then dragged once around the ring by a team of horses to the applause of the crowd and to the satisfaction of the bull’s breeder, who views this as a great honour. If the bull was exceptionally brave, the audience may petition the president to spare the bull’s life; if a rare pardon (indulto) is granted, it is indicated by the president waving an orange handkerchief. The kill, in these rare instances, is simulated using a banderilla or an empty hand, and the bull is then put out to stud.

After a bull is killed, the carcass is dragged from the arena, quartered, and dressed. Sometimes the bull’s meat is given to the poor, but usually it is sold right at the plaza de toros. Then the ring is raked over, the next bull is introduced, and the spectacle begins anew."

As awareness campaigns for animal cruelty towards bulls continue to proliferate, it seems likely that the trend of low attendance will continue. In an article titled, "The Fiesta is Ending," leading newspaper El PaĆ­s highlighted that changing tastes and economic difficulties, particularly in small towns, have led to a 34 percent drop in the number of bull-related festival events from 2,622 to 1,724 between 2007 and 2010. Spain’s leading broadcaster also said it would no longer show live bullfights in order to protect children from viewing violence.

Bullfights can vary in style and do not always end with the animal being killed; however, the fighting is obviously non-consensual on the bull's behalf, and in itself, 'fighting' is premised around the use of violence (and in this case, all for mere entertainment), regardless of whether or not the bull is slaughtered at the end of the show.

Jonathan Reynolds
Jonathan is a freelance writer and blogger residing in upstate New York.

Photo credit:cc:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jorge-11