Spanish Culture and News

How long has bullfighting got?

Bullfight, Las Fallas, Valencia

It’s San Isidro here in Madrid this week, Spain’s premiere bullfighting fiesta, with daily corridas seeing exorbitant wages paid to big-money matadors: “José Tomás recently negotiated a deal worth €450,000 a bullfight during San Isidro – a figure that caused outrage among aficionados as part of it was paid by Madrid city council.”

This according to a must-read article in the Guardian, that also outlines the following interesting facts: “…only half of the country’s 1,268 bull breeders made a profit last year. […] Of the 351 members of the Union of Bullfighting Breeders, the second biggest industry body in Spain, only 50 escaped going into the red last year […] A Gallup poll carried out in 2006 found that 72% of Spaniards had no interest at all in watching bullfights. In 1987, a similar poll found that only 46% were not interested in la corrida.”

So, the Spanish are getting less interested in bullfighting, council’s are subsidising fights, and bull breeders are in debt. Perhaps none of this should be surprising in an age where Playstations and the quasi-Hollywood appeal of ‘La Liga’ (the professional football league) are far more glamorous to younger generations, who probably see bullfighting as an activity better suited to their cigar-toting grandpas.

But, as the Guardian also points out, “… As a whole, the industry records an average annual turnover of about €2.5bn. It employs 200,000 people, from matadors to farm hands.” Those are big numbers, and clearly the industry isn’t going to give up without… a fight.

I’ve been to two bullfights, one in my first month in Spain, nearly ten years ago, and again a few years later in Valencia during Las Fallas. I found the spectacle both fascinating (this is just a historical hair’s breadth away from Roman gladiatorial events), and abhorrent: a magnificent animal enters the ring and, with the odds stacked overwhelmingly against it, is horrible tortured and mutilated to death.

As an outside observer, the horror left a far stronger impression than the culture, and whether Spain likes it or not, in today’s global opinion network, the outside observer has increasing influence. What I’m trying to say is: on the world stage, Bullfighting makes Spain look bad.

And in this animal-loving and rights-respecting day and age, it is harder to swallow the age-old aficionados‘ excuses like, “this is art”, or the ethically suspect “these bulls wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the corrida” – lots of other animals have been ignored into extinction by humans, and I’m not convinced we are doing fighting bulls a favour by breeding them up for a torturous demise.

So how long can it last? 200,000 people’s jobs are on the line, so it’s not going to disappear overnight. I suspect the spectacle will slowly fade away, becoming increasingly shunned by the Spanish intellectual classes who will continue to distance themselves from the gore, remaining instead a marginalised hobby for those with enough cash to breed fighting bulls without need for profits, and councils rich enough to subsidise the event for important bull-related fiestas.

How long do you give bullfighting?