Bullfighting: why it is wrong to condemn the Spanish tradition – Dan O’Neill
The bullfight for animal lovers in Britain (allegedly) is like, let’s be done, a red rag for a bull.
He lines up with those legendary Spanish donkeys thrown from church towers. Or dancing bears in Bucharest. And now, scream the usual suspects, we are actually funding this filthy sport.
Every year we pay Spanish farmers a grant of Â£ 13.5million under the Common Agricultural Policy. And what do these insolent Iberians do with money? They use it to breed fighting bulls on their pastures, that’s it.
Two targets in one: for Eurosceptics, this is another example of a British bounce squandered in Europe; for animal lovers, that means we keep the cruelest of all sports alive. There are calls for Cameron to refuse to pay – better luck this time around, perhaps.
Alan Meale of Labor tabled a motion in the Commons saying âBullfighting is heinous. It involves the torture of animals in public … it’s the last thing in the world we should be subsidizing. Of course, the Wales Alliance Against Cruel Sports agrees.
I consulted my former Madrid friend Manuel Labor, former matador of the Conference League (failure).
“Where they go wrong, Senor Dan, says bullfighting is a sport. Oh no, it’s a ritual, it’s part of the Spanish soul and that’s why …”
That is why, four years ago, it was declared a protected part of the cultural heritage of the Madrid region, along with the most important historic buildings and monuments.
“And remember too,” Manuel said, “without bullfight the world would be a poorer place.”
Well, he’s right. He inspired poets like Lorca in Spain and great painters like Picasso. Without her, there would be no Carmen. It haunted Hemingway. This gave the Spanish heroes to run Messi and Ronaldo as well. No British sports icon from Grace to Matthews can compare to Juan Belmonte, considered the greatest matador of all. And when Antonio Ordonez and Luis Miguel Dominguez faced off in the summer of 1959, their duel was immortalized in Hemingway’s That Dangerous Summer.
Dangerous is the word. A fighting bull is bred for battle, 1,200 pounds of malicious muscle strong enough to lift a horse and rider and throw them on its back. It can overtake a horse more than 25 meters and turn faster than a polo pony. He’s basically a wild animal, a killer.
Hemingway wrote: âBullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in mortal danger. Â»Yes, art. And artist.
In August 1949, the artist was Manuel Rodriquez Sanchez, known as Manolete, for some the equal of Belmonte. Before he stepped into the ring to face the bull named Islero, his girlfriend said of the crowd waiting for him: âThey will never let him go until they see him dead. That afternoon they saw him die. Newspapers around the world have reported “Spain in shock”. Dictator Francisco Franco ordered three days of national mourning. Only the funeral songs were broadcast on Spanish radio. It was the Manchester-Munich crash multiplied beyond imaginable.
Just an example of how bullfighting is not a sport but in some ways a sacrificial ritual that runs through the tapestry of Spanish history. In the meantime, there is more than a hint of hypocrisy in these attacks on custom by our politicians. In this animal-loving country, two ex-soldiers were hired last week to protect a magnificent deer known as Red from the hunters of Quantock Hills in Somerset. Phew, our Little English might say, if the Spanish politicians told us it was odious.
Or if they condemned fox hunting, badger culling, dog fighting, battery breeding, grouse shooting, deer hunting and donkey rides on Barry Island. . Better, anyway, to spend your first four years pampered with the freedom to roam in glorious wilderness rather than crouching in a field or shed …
In human terms, as Emiliano Zapata proclaimed: “Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”.
A bland song leaves out the real horrors of war
I have always been moved by Eric Bogle’s The Green Fields Of France, one of the great anti-war songs. Young Willie McBride is Everyman. Or every soldier killed in the Great War. Killed for what? Bogle tells us, “Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame, The murder of the dying, it was all done in vain.”
This month it was the British Legion song Poppy Appeal, sung by Joss Stone. But, to the predictable fury of the tabloids, the BBC’s “heartless” bosses snubbed it because it wasn’t on their official playlist. Maybe these BBC bosses feel the same way Eric Bogle does. He wrote it to protest the horrors of war and called Stone’s offer a “sentimental version.”
It was. He left out lines like “A whole generation that was slaughtered and damned”, making it about as bland as the White Cliffs of Dover. So, another example of how this annual gathering at the Cenotaph becomes more showbiz than sacred?