BOOKS: The Case Against Bullfighting

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2007:

The Case Against Bullfighting
by Michael A. Ogorzaly
Author House (1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403), 2006
248 pages, paperback. $14.95.

Michael Ogorzaly, who died at age 58 on
October 14, 2006, suffered a broken neck as a
college student, when a car in which he was a
passenger was involved in an accident. Confined
to a wheelchair thereafter, Ogorzaly completed
his education and went on to teach Spanish and
Latin American history at Chicago State
University. When Bulls Cry was his second book,
addressing a topic which had become one of his
focal concerns.

De-romanticising the bullfight spectacle
with a dose of anguishing realism in chapter one,
Ogorzaly goes into the history behind it.
Chapter two discusses the geneology of
bullfighting, revealing that the present day
corrida, which originated in the 18th century,
has very little connection with Spanish tradition.
Chapter three reveals the little-known
counter-tradition of conscientious Spaniards
seeking for centuries to abolish killing of bulls
for sport–a movement which has recently gained
force, bringing the passage of anti-bullfighting
legislation in Catalan state and more than 20
individual cities. Polls have for more than 20
years shown that the majority of Spaniards favor
banning bullfighting.
Chapter four describes how bullfights
remain popular in Colombia, Venezuela and
Ecuador, but are in decline in Peru. Portuguese
bullfights, often mis-described as “bloodless,”
are particularly brutal because while the bull is
not killed in the ring, he does have banderillas
(banner-festooned daggers) stuck in him, and the
injured bull, destined for the slaughterhouse,
sometimes suffers for days before being put to
death. This makes a mockery of the 1928 law
that forbade killing bulls in the ring to try to
reduce the animals’ suffering.
In later chapters, Ogorzaly relates how
artists, authors and the cinema have sanitized
bullfighting and romanticized the matador.
Ogorzaly is especially scornful of Ernest
Hemingway, whose 1932 volume Death in the
Afternoon is still widely believed to be the most
authoritative book on Spanish bullfighting
written in the English language.
“Hemingway found the sight of a horse
tripping over its own entrails ‘comic,'”
Ogorzaly writes. “It is too bad that the old
reprobate could not have had an out-of-the-body
experience and seen himself on that fateful day
in 1961 after he had put a shotgun to his face
and pulled the trigger. He might have laughed
his head off, or at least what he had left of
it.” But the evil that men do lives on. Running
with the bulls en route to the ring in Pamplona,
a little-known local tradition when Hemingway
wrote about it in The Sun Also Rises (1926), now
attracts thousands of participants from around
the world, and similar events are now held in
many other nations.
The prevalence of bullfighting in the
Spanish-speaking world, where most people are
devout Catholics, is also an indictment of the
failure of the Roman Catholic Church to enforce
anti-bullfighting statements and edicts issued
from the Vatican many times since 1567, when
Pope Pious V in the bull De salute gregis
dominici forbade bullfighting as an entertainment
more proper of demons than humans. Pious V
excommunicated emperors, kings and cardinals who
would not ban bullfights, and clerics who
attended bullfights, and excluded bullfighters
from Christian burial. Vatican secretary of
state Cardinal Gasparri in 1920 wrote that, “The
Church maintains His Holiness Pious V’s
condemnation of such bloody, shameful shows,”
Monsignor Mario Canciani reiterated the Vatican
position in 1989, and Vatican theologian Marie
Hendrickx reiterated it yet again in 2000 in the
semi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore
Ogorzaly describes how churches,
convents and other Catholic institutions continue
to defy the Vatican by actually sponsoring
bullfights as fundraising events.
Actively trying to stop bullfighting has
been left to dedicated activists. Ogorzaly
devotes an entire chapter to the work done by
fellow Chicagoan Steve Hindi of SHARK, whose
videography is the best documentation yet of the
cruelty involved in both bullfighting and its
close U.S. cousin, rodeo.
Ogorzaly describes how bullfighting is
lucrative enough to buy survival in France,
where over 80% of the population oppose
bullfighting, and in Mexico, where a 1998 poll
showed that 87% of Mexicans are opposed to
bullfighting. France, Mexico, Portugal, and
Colombia all have organizations working to stop
bullfighting, but even with majority support,
they still lack the clout to close the corridas.
Bullfighting is not uniquely a disease of
the Spanish culture. Similar ritualistic
bull-killing is practiced in parts of Asia and
Africa, including at the Zulu “First Fruits”
festival’ where at the end of each year a bull
is hideously tortured to death by young Zulu
Just as defenders of Spanish bullfighting
dismiss criticism of the corrida as unpatriotic
and an attack on Spanish culture’ so any
criticism of the Zulu ritual is denounced as
racist and an attack on Zulu culture. Just as
the Vatican fails to follow up the 1567
prohibition of bullfighting with actual
excommunications, so the National Council of the
SPCA in South Africa fails to press cruelty
charges against the Zulus.
Rejecting cultural pretexts for such
sadistic exercises, Ogorzaly condemns those who
argue that bullfighting can be considered an art
form. All the glittering sequined costumes and
colourful pageantry cannot disguise the sleazy
reality: if this is an art form, it can only be
–Chris Mercer
South Africa

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