To Watch Or Not To Watch (A Bullfight)

I’ve been seeing posters in Granada promoting the first few bullfights of what I imagine is the season. After 16 months in Andalucia, although I have had a mooch around the bullrings in both Granada and Antequera as a curious tourist, I have yet to actually watch a bullfight ‘live’.

The closest I have ever come was watching one on TV while in a bar in Ronda on my first trip to Andalucia in 2009 and truth be told, although I wanted to appreciate the history and culture about which I have been told, I couldn’t help just thinking it was all rather barbaric that an animal suffered for ‘entertainment’.

Since coming to Granada, I’ve met a handful of Spaniards from Granada and other parts of Spain who talk of ‘la corrida’ as an art form and of its cultural significance to Spain’s past, present and future and thus far, like many guiris and increasingly Spaniards here perhaps, I’ve yet to be convinced.

Having said that, I’ve never been to a bullfight and how can I have an opinion on something without having experienced it first-hand? It’s like Mary Whitehouse and Tipper Gore criticising TV and music for being indecent without ever watching or hearing it. I know I don’t like callos because I’ve tried it, whereas I love morcilla piccante and I know because I’ve tried it.

Is watching a bullfight the same though?

Bull prepares to charge during a bullfight

Whether you like it or not, it exists and is very much a part of Spanish and Andalucian culture especially and so from this point of view, I really want to go to a bullfight and see for myself as I probably would in any other country to experience part of the local culture of wherever you are.

I’m not a big football fan but I’ve been to both the Bernabeu in Madrid and Camp Nou in Barcelona to experience the atmosphere of the ‘live event’ as opposed to the football itself and part of me would like to do the same with a bullfight, if only to say that I have been, seen it, experienced it for myself and think it’s either terrible or the best thing since pan de molde.

In truth, I think I’m erring on the side of going just the once though don’t imagine I’ll stay for the whole 2/3 hour ‘show’ however culturally and historically significant it is as I think I’ll be in a bar outside the ring as soon as things between the bullfighters and the bulls get too ‘cultural and historical’.
  • What do you think?
  • Have you been to a bullfight?
  • Have you refused to go?
  • Is it machismo mixed with violent tragedy?
  • Is bullfighting an art?
  • Is it unnecessary cruelty?
  • Has living in Spain changed how you see bullfighting?
I think I’ll start the ‘easy’ way by taking a small step and giving Hemingway’s ‘Death In The Afternoon’ another go.

25 comments

  1. I’ve actually yet to meet a Spaniard, Basque or Catalán who is pro-bull fights. I’ve been to one…won’t go back. It has a lot of tradition, but living in Spain has made me more anti-bullfight just from listening to the Spanish be so anti-bullfighting.

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    • I’ve met a few people ‘down south’ who are pro-bullfighting but in truth Pablo, I feel I’m probably more pro-being nice to people and animals than I am anti-bullfighting, but either way I think I might go to see what it’s like and then make a more informed decision.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I went to the Carnaval del Toro in Ciudad Rodrigo in February. I saw the “encierro” which was exciting, terrifying and horrifying to watch all at the same time. I didn’t pay the extra to actually see the bullfight afterwards – I don’t support it and didn’t want to pay for the priviledge. It sure was an educational experience.
    I wrote in detail and added video about what I saw, if you’re interested. It covers a few of your bullet points above: https://robynbobbingaround.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/ciudad-rodrigo-carnaval-toro/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Robyn. Thanks for posting this. Was interesting to read about your experience before and after the bullfight and the bull run. In a strange way, although I’m not a fan of bullfighting, I think running with the bulls is absolutely absurd macho nonsense and even more so having seen your video clip. Did you ever figure out why that guy grabbed your ankles at the event? Was it a local tradition? Or just ‘festive fun’?

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  3. As a Tourguide, I’m often asked that question, that I’m supposed to answer in a “neutral” way for professionalism. So rather than soccer, I compare it with ballet and I tell my guests: isn’t it that ballet usually tells you a story, well, bullfights talk about the fight between men and evil (Bulls representing evil defeated by human). Plus in ballet there are special moves that are trickier than other, and that makes a dancer that can perform them better than the rest. Same in bullfights: there are moves and tricks that show off the level of skill and elegance of the bullfighter.
    However… If you go to a ballet and you know nothing about the story and the moves you are still likely to enjoy the show because it’s harmonic and delicate. Instead… If you go to a bullfight without knowing about its meaning and moves… You are likely to only see the blood and violence in it.
    So if you want to enjoy it, go with a friend who is a lot into it and is willing “translate” what’s going on in the ring for you, and do lots of research beforehand so you can focus more in the action than the blood. Or like in soccer, try to go to a bullfight with top bullfighters rather than an average one and spend most of the time watching the crowds reactions rather than the killing.
    And remind yourself what aficionados say: “the bull is given the noble opportunity to fight for its live, not like that veal you’ll eat for dinner that was unceremoniously killed at the slaughter house” (the bull’s meat will actually be sold as food at the end of the bullfight also).
    If everything I said didn’t convince you, that means that the love for animals and the rejection of violence is too strong in you: so don’t spend your money in a bullfight, you won’t like it (welcome to my world).

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    • Hi Marta. Thanks for this insightful reply. Your comment quoting the aficionados is exactly what I hear from bullfighting ‘fans’ here, however they are knowledgeable so I may well go with them next time.

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  4. Oh, and I forgot another (very superficial but unfortunately also very popular) option: start fancying a cute torero and go only to his corridas, so you are more worried about him than the bull… 😣

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  5. After 24 years in Spain I have only watched a bullfight (once) on TV. I started crying and couldn’t finish, so I always reckoned that going to see one in person wasn’t for me. But like you I’ve often felt drawn by the whole “experience the atmosphere” thing. I know plenty of people here in Sevilla who are bullfight fans, have also met a few who aren’t. I suppose to me it doesn’t seem any more cruel than what we do to many of the animals we end up eating. Especially those poor factory farm animals whose entire lives are torture. In comparison these bulls (specially bred for the ring) live like kings for 3-5 years and then suffer about 15 minutes of torture in the ring. Because of this (not every animal I eat has had a happy free-range life) I feel it would be hypocritical of me to be anti-bullfighting, but it’s still not something I’ve felt a very strong desire to see for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting point Shawn. I’ve been surprised how many people are still fans here, though having said that, unsurprised that in general they are older. I wonder if there’s also a political link still with the Right where bullfighting is seen as the symbol of the ‘true’ Spain’? Either way, I think my curiosity may get the better of me. I’ll tell you how it goes.

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  6. An often overlooked point is that a bull bred for the ring has a very good life. There is a farm near where I live and you see these beautiful animals in pasture, where they live for five years before becoming big and strong enough to enter the ring. Bulls bred for meat or leather on the other hand endure a far less natural upbringing that lasts less than a year. Were I a bull, knowing execution is my fate, I know which life I would choose. (Especially getting the chance to kill a bullfighter!)

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    • Hi Stephen. That’s a point I was totally unaware of until my recent conversations with bullfighting ‘aficionados’ and interesting to see it from the bull’s point of view too. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. I think as an expat this is a difficult question to answer. I’ve never been to a bullfight because a) I have no interest in it and b) I know I’d be bored and disgusted. Interesting that bullfights now have a higher profile in Spain than they did when I first lived here (1989) both among fans and those who would see them abolished. I personally think bullfights are here to stay – daring death and feeling you’re immortal is such an inherent part of the Spanish character and this is totally reflected in standing in front of the bull. Good article!

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    • Thanks Joanna. Glad you liked the post. I’m anticipating similar feelings, however think I’d like to see it for myself to make a more informed decision. If I last that long…

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  8. Nice piece and some unusual and interesting comments!

    I find it very tricky to discuss bullfighting and usually refer to one of my favourite Irish writers who wrote about this way back in 1936, “They are a controversial subject. As I can never find a defence of them to placate my own conscience, how am I to defend them to others more sensitive? There is no defence. Either it gets you, or you’re sick.”

    In the same book, the writer describes taking a friend to her first bullfight, “she took an outspoken loathing to the entire Spanish nation…I begged her to leave the ring with me. But no – she would see the thing through. I begged her that we might go home rather than stay to insult the Spaniards, who after all had not compelled us to attend their bullfight. No. It was obvious that morally, she was panic stricken. She was going through a storm and I could only sit still and hope that whatever side of her won we would get through without an incident – which seemed unlikely.”

    The writer is Kate O’Brien and the book is Farewell Spain. If you do go to a bullfight, you might remember Kate and her panic stricken friend 80 years ago 🙂

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    • I will indeed keep her in mind when I go. Hopefully in the next week or so during the Granada feria. Thanks for commenting Pamela.

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  9. A very interesting topic. As a non-meat-eater, I have always been horrified by the thought of bullfighting. As a journalist, I felt I should go once, just to experience it first hand and have an opinion based on truth. Luckily, a friend had some tickets she couldn’t use, and kindly gave them to us. I lasted 2/6 bulls. The matador was a novillero, which means he was still learning, and botched killing both bulls. After watching two bulls die a slow, painful death, we left. Nothing would ever entice me back there again.
    Now, as a guide, like Marta, I have to explain about bullfighting. I give my clients the facts from both sides (how a bullfight works, the whole industry supported by la corrida, how popular it is here in Andalucia; the anti movement, where it’s banned etc), as is my job, and then I tell them that personally I don’t like it.
    It’s a sticky one, but I would definitely suggest going, perhaps as Marta says with an aficionado. In my own view it can never be justifiable, but seeing it from their point of view could offer your an extra insight. Also, an English writer wrote a book on the subject recently, which is worth reading. I’ll find it and post the name here.

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    • Hi Fiona.
      Interesting getting your side of things as a non-supporter living in Andalucia who also needs to know about the subject for work. I’ll be writing a follow-up piece soon. Thanks for your comment.
      Jason

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