Yesterday we all took a trip to the Bullfighting Museum here in Salamanca. I think it’s safe to say we were all pretty awestruck by what we saw and heard. Obviously, the actual bullfight must be shocking and disturbing to watch, but the culture around the “sport” as told to us by our museum guide was shocking as well. He compared bullfighting to Formula One Racing–something that gets the adrenaline flowing when you know you’re in danger. However, it seemed to me through the descriptions of the event that the matador is in very little to no danger during the fight, thanks to a team of other people that weaken the bull with long spears from horseback before the matador enters the ring. I always pictured a bullfight as a mano y mano, one on one competition between the matador and the bull. I could almost understand that–almost. The reality is that it’s nothing like that. By the time the matador faces off against his victim, it is weak, bloodied and confused. That’s why matadors are very rarely injured in the ring.
It was interesting to hear that occasionally a bull will be spared if it is deemed to have “fought well.” This means that the bull followed all of the bullfighter’s movements and didn’t disobey when prompted to run through his cape. I asked how often this happened, and was told that it is exceptionally rare–out of 8,000 bulls, only 63 received this “honor”. Other “honors” include a being dragged around the ring for a “victory lap” after being killed if the bull fights well, or having their head mounted in a museum, like the many we saw yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the reason those few bulls are spared is not for a moral reason–they are saved in order to breed them, preserving the genetics of a “good bull”.
Bullfighting is something I just can’t understand. And from talking to some locals here, like our tour guide Maria and my host mother Marisa, many Spaniards don’t appreciate it either. Even some of the matadors my colleagues have spoken with agree that they simply have become desensitized to what they’re doing. It’s seeming more and more like an outdated custom, such as a gladiator fight. Maybe that’s why supporters of the bullfight are so upset when its compared to that ancient spectacle: it reminds them that they’re watching a barbaric event that does nothing but kill an innocent animal and fuel their bloodlust.