Bullfighting and Baseball as well as other Things
There are two conclusions that I think are indisputable about bullfighting. The first is that bullfighting is violent. A synopsis of the violence that occurs in a single bullfight, of which there are six in a full bullfighting event, is: The bull will charge at a blindfolded horse being ridden by a picador who, when the bull makes contact with the horse, is going to stab it between its shoulders with a spear. The bull will charge banderilleros who stab and stick six arrow like objects between the bull’s shoulders. The bull will charge the matador, who is concealing a sword, with which the matador aims to stab the bull between the shoulders and through to its heart. If this goes ‘well’, then the bull will stagger for a moment, bleed from the mouth, and fall over. If the sword does not deliver a fatal wound, the bull will be brought to lower its head so it can be stabbed between the shoulders and through to the heart with more ease. After the bull is fatally wounded, a dagger is used to pull the plug completely. The bull is then dragged out of the arena by a team of three mules. Throughout the fight the bull bleeds profusely and is exhausted by the bullfighters. It is also a possibility that one of the performers gets injured or killed by the bull. I think that this is enough to categorize it as indisputably violent.
The second is that bullfighting is indisputably interesting because few individuals have an attitude about bullfighting that is both emotionally ambivalent and uninterested. I think there are only two ways that an individual can be emotionally ambivalent and uninterested about bullfighting. The first is that if an individual grew up in a culture which bullfighting is a part of, and both thinks of it as too violent for them to be interested to see, but also appreciates that it is a part of the culture they grew up in to the point that they accept its existence. The second is if an individual were from a culture that has a practice more violent and extreme than bullfighting in it to the point that bullfighting looks like a mild activity similar to the way someone who grew up in any western culture looks at yo-yoing. I don’t have anything to say about this type of individual beyond using them to help define other groups, the ones that make up the vast majority that find bullfighting interesting, of which there are three: individuals that are for bullfighting and are excited by it, individuals that are against bullfighting and are disgusted by it, and individuals that are emotionally ambivalent about bullfighting but find it interesting.
I’m going to give names to these categories of people. I’m going to call the people who are excited by bullfighting section seven. This refers to a section of seats of the same name in Las Ventas bullfighting arena in Madrid. The front row seats in section seven are the front row seats of the front row, they are positioned best to take in the bullfight. Across the arena to the right of section seven is the band, positioned in relation to section seven so the music is nether to loud nor too faint, across the arena to the left is where the President sits, positioned so that he, and the evaluation of the fight he gives, can be seen easily from section seven, and straight across the arena is a sign with information about the bull currently in the ring which is visible from section seven without having to turn your head. The first part of the bullfight occurs right in front of section seven, and the dead bull is dragged past section seven at the end of the fight. Its where the most passionate bullfighting fans sit. The emotionally ambivalent, uninterested category I’m going to call yo-yos. The category of people who oppose bullfighting I’m going to call protesting foreigners, and I’m going to call the people who are emotionally ambivalent, but interested, unprotesting foreigners. The people in these two categories are foreigners in the sense that they are not local to a culture where bullfighting is a part of, and they are not yo-yos. I think this narrows down the group to individuals who can be said to have a culturally western disposition. A difference between unprotesting foreigners and protesting foreigners is that the former gives cultural authority to section seven, whereas the latter claim cultural authority. The attitude of unprotesting foreigners is that they do not criticize a practice that they instinctively have doubts about out of understanding that they do not have an understanding of the culture that bullfighting exists in. Protesting foreigners on the other hand apply their culture’s rules to all cultures. I don’t think either type of foreigner has any objective rightness. Not that objective rightness exists anyways, I think, I don’t know, it’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
Because protesting foreigners object to bullfighting, they do not attend bullfights, they view the violence that occurs during bullfights in the same way they would view violence in a different context such as a slaughterhouse. This is not true for unprotesting foreigners and section seven who view the violence as interesting in a way that numbs the natural reaction to the violence that occurs in the bullfight. If the two groups were to view the same amount of and type of violence that occurs in a bullfight in a slaughterhouse, then the violence would fail to be interesting in a way that numbs natural reaction to the violence, in fact, the context of a slaughterhouse may enhance the severity of dread in the natural reaction to the violence.
What makes the violence in the context of a slaughterhouse interesting is probably the same for unprotesting foreigners and section seven. Although the emotional reaction to it may vary in intensity, it probably is of the same type: some mixture of shock, guilt, disgust, and attempt to justify the practices existence or continuation. On the other hand, what makes the violence in the context of a bullfight interesting is different for section seven and unprotesting foreigners.
The bullfight is interesting to unprotesting foreigners because going to a bullfight is experiencing something that is historic in an alien culture, culturally celebrated by people they give cultural authority to, and thought of as culturally important by people they give cultural authority to, with complete confusion. This confusion is experienced only by unprotesting foreigners, but is shared between both unprotesting foreigners and section seven.
The bullfight is interesting to section seven because, probably among other things, they find it exciting. Because they find it exciting, they enjoy it, and because of this, if asked, they could explain why bullfighting is interesting; they can explain something that they in part like solely due to feeling, as intellectual. Although they can do this, they still have a confusion inside of them that is tied to bullfight that is the same type of confusion that is experienced by unprotesting foreigners. This confusion is that they can explain the interesting, intellectual qualities of bullfighting, but they can’t explain what it is that is specific to bullfighting that causes themselves to be able to, or feel compelled to, come up with arguments, and discover nuances that show bullfighting to be interesting. I think this is true because I experience a similar thing but instead of with bullfighting, with the NFL. Both bullfighting and the NFL are similar because they are both incredibly violent things where the type of interesting numbs the natural reaction that one would have to that violence in a different context. I like the NFL, I find it interesting, I can provide arguments and point out nuances that can portray the NFL as something that is interesting, but I cannot explain what it is specifically about the NFL that makes it so easy for me to think of reasons that portray it as interesting. Although I have this confusion in me that is tied to the NFL, I barely experience this confusion, and I especially don’t experience it when I’m watching the Super Bowl. Because I experience this with the NFL, and the way I interact with the NFL is similar to the way section seven interacts with bullfighting, I think that the existence of this unexperienced confusion exists in section seven.
The inexperience of the confusion by section seven enhances the confusion experienced by unprotesting foreigners. Because the bullfight is one of the more culturally alien things to unprotesting foreigners, it is an inherently confusing spectacle. Because unprotesting foreigners are confused, they are disengaged from the bullfight in the sense that they are not nearly as engaged as section seven is; instead of being in it, they kind of float above it, the reaction to the bullfight of section seven becomes a part of the observation of the bullfight.
I fit into the unprotesting foreigner category. I went to one at Las Ventas and at the very least I would go to the two other types of bullfight shown there. I saw a Novillada fight which is with apprentice bullfighters and lighter, younger bulls, the two other fights offered are regular bullfights and Corrida de Rejones where the bullfighters are mounted on horses. I am neither for or against bullfighting, I just find it interesting, and confusing, and my interest forces me to reconcile this confusion.
The first point of confusion I found with bullfighting is the classification of bullfighting as a fight. This may be an unfair thing to be confused about because bullfight isn’t the actual terminology for a bullfight, its corrida, a Spanish word that is different than the 23 translations for fight that is offered by Google. But, it is nevertheless called a bullfight in English, classifying it as a fight to me which I found confusing because I found it to have much more in common with a performance. It had a three-act structure. Act one is mainly carried out by the picador, act two is mainly carried out by the banderillos, and act three is mainly carried out by the matador. There is a cast of characters, although the picadors and banderillos have a part of the performance to their own, they are still supporting characters, the matador, who is the main character, plays a large role in their acts as well as having the closing and most dramatic act for himself. Himself because all the bullfighters I saw were guys and there is no word in English like there is ‘on’ in French. There are certain things in the performance that are done to gain a larger emotional reaction. For example, to heighten the sense of danger that the bullfighters are in during the fight, prior to engaging with the bull with violence, the bull is run around the ring by the matador and his assistants in order to display its power to the crowd. There is also other storytelling elements such as foreshadowing. After this period where the bull’s power is displayed, a horn sounds which signals the picadors entrance, a moment which is the beginning of the end for the bull, it begins to be stabbed in order to lessen its ability to carry its head and to make it tired and easier to control and kill. After several viewings of the fight this becomes the moment, rather than the end of the fight when the bull is actually killed, when the bull’s death is felt, because past this point its chances of survival drop significantly. I found the bullfight to most similar to a WWE show, far more similar than the bullfight is to any other thing referred to as a fight in MMA, boxing or hockey. The two are similar in the sense that they are scripted as there are certain plot points that have to be hit with pacing in mind, but also impromptu, one because an off the cuff tagline may lead to a new popular catchphrase, the other because there is a live bull involved.
By extension is feels weird to describe the matador, picador, and banderillos as fighters rather than performers. Because it feels weird to call them fighters, yet they are still being called fighters, a feeling of unfairness comes about, because value to a fight comes from the fights fairness, if a fighter in a UFC fight was found to be on steroids, the validity of the fight is questioned, and the bullfighter and the bull are not on equal footing. An example of this is if the matador fails to stab the bull through its heart in a timely fashion, two assistant matadors come out and flank the matador, the thee of them lower their capes and wave them on the ground at different times drawing the bull’s head back and forth, lowering it. This makes the bull still and provides the matador a clean, elongated, opportunity to stab the bull through its heart.
Section seven does not feel this unfairness, through the event they cheered entirely for the achievements of the matador and company. This is because, to section seven, the bullfighters have been established as the good guys in the performance. Because the fighters are the good guys to section seven, section seven is willing to allow the odds to be tilted in their favor, a dynamic that, as a foreigner, I thought of as odd for reasons that I think are tied to me being a foreigner. To me, the performers are just superficially the heroes in the performance, and the bull is superficially the villain. The matador and the other performers are dressed colorfully and elaborately whereas the bull is naturally black in the same way Darth Vader is. The performers are more relatable to the crowd as they are people and the crowd is people, whereas the bull is a different species. But, as a foreigner growing up watching American movies, I have been conditioned to hero-villain archetypes that cast the bull as the hero, and the performers as the villain. The performers have the bull trapped against its will, has taken something from it that it desires, its freedom, and has put it in a position to be killed in an elaborate, symbolic way — which is how villains behave in American movies. The bull on the other hand, has the deck stacked against him, is engaging in violence only because he has been put in a position that justifies it, and is battling against a group of people with accents — which is how heroes in American movies behave. What goes along with the ingraining of these archetypes is a way of engaging with the story being told, which is to have optimism that the hero, although put in an against all odds situation, will prevail, and I think that it’s this optimism that allowed me to sit through such a brutal event, whereas the way section seven views the event, with the performers as the heroes and the bull as a sort of villain, allows them to sit through such a brutal event.
Although I thought of it as unfair, the bullfight is fair in the sense that the result is the fair result. Given the advantage of the bullfighter, it would be unfair if the bull won. The archetypal hero I am used to, in reality, would always die. In the movie Die Hard, it is unfair that Hans Gruber didn’t end up on a beach earning twenty percent, Bruce Willis should have died in that movie. That jump in the ventilation shaft is impossible, he should have plummeted and died. It is unfair that he defied gravity and other sciencey things in that moment. Hans, and the bullfighters, planed their plans according to reason and logic of the universe, it was unfair that in order for Hans to lose, and the bullfighters to lose, the logic of the universe has to be broken.
This explanation of perceived heroes and villains in the bullfight potentially sort of explains why the home crowd cheers for the bullfighters, but it doesn’t explain, or clear up confusions about, what specifically the home crowd is clapping at; what specific occurrences during the fight are instances of the abstract idea of both high quality bullfighting and, a high quality bullfight. To explain what a high quality bullfight is, a quote by the Spanish poet Jose Bergamin is used, he says the matador “is to is to diabuse the bull not to cheat him, to outwit him, not to taunt him”, a matador who does this is a skilled matador and puts on a high quality bullfight. After watching the fight, I don’t have a recollection of seeing this sentiment reflected in the parts of it that drew applause. For example, there is a move that the matadors performed throughout the fights where they would get the bull to charge them using the cape, remove the cape from the bulls path, turn to face the direction that the bull is moving, then maneuver the cape in such a way that the cape ends up behind the matadors back, the bull staring at the cape, and the matador standing in between the cape and the bull, in a pose, facing the bull at very close range. This I feel like came off as mocking the bull, everyone in attendance but the bull knew that the matador is going to eventually kill the bull, the matador is the bull’s true enemy, but it remains transfixed on the brightly coloured cape draped behind the matador’s back. Because of this, and the qualification for a good fighter who is putting on a good bullfight, I do not understand why the crowd clapped at this move, but my confusion about it is cleared up a bit through comparing bullfighting to baseball. The bull, in baseball, would be the batter because they are both outnumbered, they both have a limited existence in the bullring/batters box which length is tied to the number three, the bull moves through the three parts of the bull fight but can die at any time, the batter has three strikes but can get out at any point, and they both have a certain level of ignorance, the bull does not know what is going on, and the batter does not know what pitch will be thrown. The matador is the pitcher because he most directly interacts with the bull, in the same way the pitcher is the defender that most directly interacts with the batter, and the picadors, banderilleros, and the rest of the cast, are the catcher, infielders and outfielders, because everything they do is in response to the interaction between the bull, the matador, and the overall objectives of the bullfight in the same way the catcher, infielders, and outfielders do everything in response to the interaction between batter and pitcher, as well as the overall objectives of baseball. The crowd with the attitude of section seven watching this metaphorical baseball game cheers for occurrences of quality pitching that contribute to the tangible idea of the highest quality pitching and a pitching performance of the most quality, which is a perfect game, and pitches that contribute to the pitcher achieving a perfect game. They keep coming back to the arena to see the same story play out over and over in pursuit of witnessing a flawless performance of the bullfight as it is designed to play out, and they clap when something occurs that contributes to this. So even when something like the move that ends with the matador standing in front of the bull while the bull stares at the cape behind the matador appears to be mocking, it may just come off like that because of the context supplied by the fight up to that point. If the fight hasn’t been flawlessly performed up to that point then it may seem mocking because the moment may feel unearned but, if the matador was able to convey to the crowd a strong, almost terrifying, feeling of danger about the bull in the early goings of the fight, then this move becomes a very dramatic moment. The crowd claps regardless because it still is an isolated component of a good bullfight in the same way a baseball crowd claps for a nonsense strikeout on a jaw-high fastball from a pitcher that has given up five runs in six innings because it’s still an isolated component of the highest quality pitching performance.
So, bullfighting, which can come off initially as a completely primitive occurrence does have this intellectual appreciation to it. It is a component that is probably used to defend the practice, and contributes to the decision of cheering for the matador through clapping which itself becomes another source of confusion. During the fight, as I was on the bull’s side, I was looking at the bull trying to see if it was learning what was happening to it, how it was happening to it, and who was most directly responsible for it. There was one bull that for a few moments understood the strategy of the picador and it refused to charge. There’s a certain type of observant behaviour that you can see in the bull in these moments that are ended by the passing of time, the limited cognitive ability of the bull, but also clapping. Whenever the crowd clapped it seemed to have the same effect on the bull’s mental process as shaking an etch-a-sketch does, its cognitive process seemed to be reset and wiped clean every time applause would break out. This made me think about the alien quality of clapping that it has to most things, it’s just people and monkeys that are really able to do it to my knowledge and I’m guessing that clapping, as a collective to show appreciation for something, came later rather than earlier in the evolution of human beings. The cognitive effect on the bull was not the lone cognitive effect that the clapping had, I also was effected by it, I felt myself becoming conditioned to clapping when the crowd clapped, on a few occasions my hands actually moved without me consciously telling them to, they moved towards the first clap only for me to put a halt to this before they met. I recognize this impulse from attending sports events back at home where DJ drops like ‘EVERYBODY CLAP YO HANDS CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP’ are played over the stadium speaker system, and how this has a hypnotic effect that will sometimes get my hands to clap without me telling them to. Because clapping in an arena environment can have a conditioning effect, I was uncertain about the motivation to clap by section seven, if it was always genuine or if was done to some extent out of detached automation brought on through the entire crowd being in a trance state. I don’t think there is a way of telling how much of section seven’s applause is genuine or not, but I do know that the most genuine of reactions that take place at a bullfight come when the bull hits the matador. I think that these moments are the most genuine because they brought out an involuntary response from each member of the crowd that came from something that occurred in the fight itself, not outside the fight like the clapping of the crowd, and they were the individual events in the fight that had the most potential to change the outcome of the fight for the perceived heroes and villains in the fight for each member or the crowd, for section seven, their hero’s life was threatened, for me, my hero was just getting his first shot in.
Controversy around bullfighting was also another point of confusion for me. I was told by someone foreign to Spain, someone from the States, who said that bullfighting was a very divisive issue, as divisive as Trump, but I did not see any protests at the fight or anywhere else, so I asked an employee of the arena’s museum about controversy and bullfighting. By the way he responded I could tell that he liked bullfighting, saw it as important and exciting, so he put forth a pro bull fighting argument. It’s not that his argument was absolutely case making, it really can only potentially point out hypocrisy or start an evolution of discussion into the larger topic of animal rights, but it was both cheeky and clever. I asked him the question, if bullfighting is controversial, and he answered (I’m using quotes but am paraphrasing) “No”, very frankly and almost dismissively. “So, its just a small group of people?”, I asked. “Yes”, he said, “some people here protest it, and some foreigners don’t understand it very well, but it is tradition and part of Spanish culture. But its also like this, for example, I hate Athlético Madrid, I would go to their stadium and protest it”, he said this while looking up at an invisible Athético Madrid stadium to my left and emphatically waving his fist at it, he then returned to the conversation, “but I love Real Madrid, you know, they’re my favorite team, I want them to win a lot. So, the people who protest bullfights, protest them because the bull gets killed, but these people also like eating meat. People can go see the bullfight, and because they can see the bull get killed they protest. If they went to the slaughterhouse and saw what happens there, they would protest that too”.
The last point of confusion that I found with bullfighting is a would-you-rather it poses. The bullfighting bull is raised in the countryside of Spain. There are half a million hectares of land dedicated to the raising of bullfighting bulls in Spain, roughly two hectares per bull. Of cattle, they have the best lives, but the extreme majority die in a bullfighting ring. Would you rather be a bullfighting bull, or a regular bull raised only for meat?