I had no interest in bullfighting when I moved to Spain after finishing my undergraduate studies in 2008. I attended one, though, because it’s Spain, and it’s the most cliche uniquely Spanish thing one can do as a foreigner. Seemed obligatory enough. Another thing to check off the expat to-do list.
So I did. I saw El Fandi (a master showman and crowd-pleaser), Cayetano Rivera, pictured below, (a physically beautiful man from a long line of famous toreros) and another older gentleman I can’t recall in the city of Móstoles.
To my surprise, I was immediately captivated. I assumed it would be similar to the rodeo (another gift from Spain via Mexico). As a Texan I go to the rodeo pretty much every year. I usually don’t enjoy it. In fact I mostly groan about finding a parking space, navigating the massive crowds, and seeing a bunch of middle/upperclass suburbanites LARPing in ridiculous cowboy costumes.
Bullfighting was no rodeo.
The dazzling colors, the militant Spanish music, the horses, the massive bulls (dwarfing anything I’ve seen in Texas or Mexico), the pre-modern attire, the beautiful ballet punctuated by abrupt violence and death. I quickly understood why Hemingway became so enraptured by the art. Love it or hate it, It’s thoroughly hypnotic.
But it’s not merely a spectacle, nor some cruel vestige of a more brutal past. It’s profoundly existential and poetic. (Hemingway referred to it as classical tragedy, owing to the fact that at least one protagonist is always fated to die).
Professional sports are fun. But at the end of the day they’re artificial. They’re simulations, inconsequential competitions, a controlled mechanism through which societies can channel male aggression into something profitable.
The torero isn’t playing a game. He confronts death and horrific injury each time he enters the arena. At the symbolic level he embraces death for his audience and conquers death for them. Christian symbolism becomes inescapable, which is partly why the art has resonated with deeply Catholic Spain for so many centuries. Even the twirling of the cape as the bull passes is called a “Veronica”, referencing the woman who wiped the face of Christ. To this day, Spanish conservatism and Catholicism are firmly intertwined in the bullfighting culture.
One quickly intuits the nature of the acts. One can tell when a matador is taking risks and when he’s playing it safe. One can see when a matador is scared. One can be repeatedly moved by the ineffable aesthetic marvels that a talented bullfighter produces with his movements. In sum, you get the hang of it pretty quickly – which is more than I can say for cricket.
As you can imagine, I also admire bullfighting because it’s a stubborn, brazen rejection of postmodernity and effeminate Western decline. In an insane era in which leftists across the West unabashedly kill millions of babies as a “right”, but cry and scream for the rights of animals, it’s an endearing middle finger.
Cattle are bred for one reason – to be killed for humans. Spanish bulls live better than cattle anywhere else on earth. By law they are required to roam free for 5-7 years (we send most of ours to slaughter as early as 18 months). They mate. They eat grass and acorns. And rather then being crammed into some mechanized, terrifying industrial slaughterhouse at the end of a miserably short life, they get to go out in a blaze of combat and glory. Occasionally, particularly heroic bulls are pardoned after a duel and allowed to permanently retire. The bulls that are killed are processed and used as food – traditionally given to the poor.
There is no wanton waste of life. There is no mindless killing for entertainment. Matadors are professionals and death for the Bulls usually comes swiftly. In fact, some veterinarians argue that the bulls likely don’t feel much pain, owing the adrenaline rush, fight or flight onset, and short duration of the combat. (Critics dismiss this idea, but there are countless stories of soldiers in combat being wounded and not noticing until minutes or hours after the fact, thanks to the adrenaline).
As long as bullfighting remains legal and popular, there is hope for Spain, and by extension, Europe. If bullfighting is abolished, it will represent (to this writer at least) the final symbolic triumph of Leftism over traditionalism. It will be a closing chapter of Western Europe’s well-documented collective suicide.
So I encourage you watch some bullfighting documentaries and maybe even a full corrida de toros on YouTube. Or read Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon.
Who is the greatest bullfighter of our time? José Tomás, pictured below, is arguably that man. He is an artist of the highest caliber. Often called an “enigma”,Tomás eschews interviews, lives austerely, rejects his celebrity, and remains intensely devoted to his craft. In some ways he reminds me of a Daniel-Day Lewis in that regard. He takes more risks than anyone, has been gored countless times, jokes that he is Mexican because he nearly bled to death in Mexico and was saved by a massive blood transfusion. People have paid thousands of euros for a ticket to see him perform.
Find his videos. You won’t be disappointed.
If you’re intrigued but sad that a trip to Spain or Mexico City isn’t in the cards right now, fear not. Bullfighting is growing in Texas and California. God willing, it will become a normal feature of the rodeo as the Hispanic population grows.