Our Personal Experiences with Bullfighting

Dear Kara,

As Claudia explained in her introduction to the bullfighting tradition, there is definitely a divide to be found in regards to Spaniards taking pride in this “artistic piece of the culture” or getting infuriated by having this “unusual violence towards animals” associated with their culture. To understand some of the underpinnings of both of these sides, as well as the basics of what a bullfight actually entails I highly recommend reading the introductory article. However, today we would like to share a bit about our personal experiences with bullfights.

 

Dani

 An opening ceremony before the first fight.

An opening ceremony before the first fight.

As a Hispanic Studies major, I actually had the opportunity to take a Spanish class at my university that was based on controversial topics in the Spanish-speaking world. Seeing as my professor was Spanish, we spent more than our fair share of time debating the tradition of bullfighting. I read countless articles and watched numerous videos, produced by supporters and opponents of bullfighting alike. And while I applaud my professor for supplying us with the resources to research and discuss this concept that was foreign to our culture in the most unbiased way possible, I still feel that 90% of us came away from the semester feeling that it was a horribly cruel sport.

I thus never had much interest in seeing a bullfight myself, despite being curious about this tradition that seems simultaneously integral to and yet also dividing of the Spanish culture. I've made an effort to speak about this tradition with as many Spaniards as I felt comfortable doing so with and I've found that most people in my life are rather vocally antitaurino, or anti-bullfighting, so they will likely be disgusted with me if they read this article. Still, we started this blog to be sincere with you so I’m just going to honest—I have gone to one bullfight.

I was always on the fence about if I wanted to or not. I shouldn’t use the word ‘want’ necessarily...I knew I would not enjoy a bullfight but there was a part of me that felt I was not fit to judge it if I had never experienced it myself. Still, I could never motivate myself to actually buy a ticket until a friend was visiting during the Málaga feria and got excited about the fact that he just so happened to be visiting the one week that bullfights were going on in the city.

 The spectators' enthusiasm (especially the youngest spectators) is what caught my eye.

The spectators' enthusiasm (especially the youngest spectators) is what caught my eye.

So, in the end, I did go to see one and while it was not enjoyable in the way that I find a theater or dance performance to be enjoyable, it was interesting. The most interesting thing to me was actually watching the audience, not necessarily the torero and the bull. Deciding to purchase a ticket and show up at the Plaza made me feel a bit uneasy about 'supporting' bullfighting by extension. In stark comparison, everyone around me looked genuinely excited...especially the kids. That was the part that honestly got to me the most—seeing adorable 8 year old kids all dressed up in their feria best and cheering and yelling along as the bull was weakened and weakened made me feel even more uneasy about being there.

At the same time, I also feel it helped me understand why pro-bullfighting folks are so passionate. These little shiny-eyed kids looked just like I did going to a baseball game when I was little. They had looked forward to this event, possibly helped their parents pick out the best seats, and gotten excited about all of snacks and hoopla that come along with the experience just like I had back in the day. For me, watching a bullfight is not the same as watching baseball but that’s also because I was brought up in a different country where such activities are not the norm and baseball is. If I had been brought up by pro-bullfighting parents, I would likely come to understand the tradition much more deeply and to believe that it is truly an art, never really questioning why antitaurinos would feel otherwise.

 There are so many people involved...it definitely doesn't feel like a fair fight to me.

There are so many people involved...it definitely doesn't feel like a fair fight to me.

I also have to admit that during the first bullfight (because yes, there were about eight different bulls in the ring that night) I was much more bothered by the whole situation than I was by the end. In a matter of hours, I become a bit desensitized and could already see why someone who had been to dozens of these events would not think so much about the violence. Instead, I got wrapped up in trying to understand the different players in the ring, the different stages that they had to work through, and why people were clapping at different points in which the excitement wasn’t apparent to me.

The final thing that surprised me about the bullfight was just how many people WERE involved and the fact that they were quite quick to run for cover in the callejón (the walled-off section around the ring that is too small for the bull to enter). Of course, they are dealing with a powerful animal that has been made confused and angry so it is only logical that they have an escape plan, otherwise bullfights would more regularly end in a human death. At the same time, I feel like seeing this firsthand re-instilled the belief for me that toreros are not as brave as people who are pro-bullfighting make them sound, nor are they fighting the bull one-to-one. Long story short, I did not necessarily enjoy my bullfighting experience but I was also less disgusted by it than I had anticipated and do feel that I have a little bit more to add to the conversation now that I've experienced it myself.

 

Claudia

Like Dani, I have been to exactly one bullfighting event (although, like she said, it does involve multiple fights). However, unlike Dani, I had done almost no research and asked almost no questions previous to showing up at the Plaza. While I did weigh my own personal pros and cons, I went with my Spanish school, my family, and some family friends who were visiting at the time, so I almost considered it as more of a research opportunity into Spanish culture than my personal interest in the event at hand. 

 There is a lot of risk involved for the  torrero.

There is a lot of risk involved for the torrero.

When I arrived to the bullring I was shocked to see it was packed and that everyone around me was so excited. People had brought food and drinks and everyone was chatting amiably waiting for the show to start. And for me it was literally a performance, albeit a bit violent, but with the equal amount of preparation and finesse that I would imagine going into a play or concert. As I am a bit squeamish around blood (to the apparent delight of the young men sitting behind us), it wasn't necessarily my favorite type of show, but after that day I can understand why Spaniards consider bullfighting to be an art. 

Although I doubt I will ever consider going again, I have had some really interesting conversations with people about this practice—bizarrely as it sounds, almost more so with people who are pro-bullfighting. I personally like to hear the unpopular opinion about things as I feel like you have to work twice as hard to come up with a good argument when most people are against you. That's why I was excited to talk to one of my classmates about this subject who is not only bullfighting-friendly but actually wanted to be a torero. Studying sociology, you find a lot of people who want to 'help society' and 'don't want to hurt anyone,' but this kid truly believed in the art of bullfighting. He told me that it is actually really hard work and quite dangerous as you don't just end up in a ring one day, but have to practice like it is your job (because it really is your job). He also told me that there is an art to it and those bullfighters who are good look like they are dancing with the bull, not waging war. 

 For those who are pro-bullfighting, there is much more to the bullfight than the fight.

For those who are pro-bullfighting, there is much more to the bullfight than the fight.

Although I personally will probably never be pro-bullfighting, because I wasn't brought up in a household that values this kind of activity, having conversations like these with people in my community makes me think differently about my opinions, even if I might not change my mind about what is the 'right' option for me. Do I personally continue to think that bullfighting is unnecessarily cruel? Yes. Would I like to see it stopped? Probably. Do I believe I am inherently right about the subject? I don't actually know, in fact, all I really know is that I probably don't know enough to make the decision. This may sound apathetic or straight-up stupid if you have a strong opinion about the subject, but through my cultural competence studies I am trying to be okay with not knowing everything and not having all the answers, especially when it concerns cultural stimulus that I don't understand 100%.

Have you attended a bullfight? What are you thoughts on this activity?

Sincerely,
Dani and Claudia