Spain turns against bullfighting

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2007:
MADRID–“Pursued across open countryside,
jabbed at with spears and finally fatally stabbed
by a man wielding a lance, a bull called
Enrejado suffered a long, frightening and
sadistic death in front of an eager crowd at
Tordesillas, Castilla y León, northern Spain,”
recounted Guardian correspondent Gilles Tremlett
from Madrid on September 13, 2007, but unlike
British correspondents of a generation ago, his
subject was not perceived Spanish indifference
toward animal suffering.
Rather, it was Spanish outrage against
such events, which are increasingly viewed as
rural anachronisms.
“Pictures of the wounded, blood-drenched animal
being stabbed with the lance were published on
the front page of El País, Spain’s
biggest-selling daily newspaper, as it denounced
the survival of this primitive, medieval
spectacle,” Tremlett wrote.
“The regional government of Castilla y
León, run by the conservative People’s party,
has formally declared the festival to be ‘of
interest to tourists.’ Local people, however,
shooed photographers and journalists away so they
could not witness or capture the final moment of
death.”


That was a bit of an understatement.
Video posted to <www.youtube.com> on September 11
showed a mob beating a female reporter and the
videographer who recorded the attack, while
their studio anchor team watched in helpless
shock.
“They allow the bull to be traversed by
spears but do not want critics to cast their eyes
on it,” wrote Carmen Moran of El País. “This
event gives off a powerful odour of poorly
interpreted manliness.”
The Tordesillas bullfighters beat the TV
crew about six months after the government-owned
Television Española network dropped live coverage
of bullfighting, “ending a decades-old tradition
out of concern that the deadly duel between
matador and beast is too violent for children,”
reported Daniel Woolls of Associated Press.
Bullfighters and bullfighting promoters have been fuming ever since.
“Television Espanola’s first broadcast in
1948 was a bullfight in Madrid,” Woolls
recalled. “But for the first time in the
network’s history, none of its channels have
shown live fights this season, only taped
highlights on a late-night program for
aficionados.
“In practical terms,” Woolls assessed,
“the unpublicized decision by the Socialist
government is largely symbolic. Of the hundreds
of bullfights during the March-October season,
state-run TV only tended to broadcast about a
dozen. Pay TV channels and stations owned by
regional governments are full of live bullfights.”
But the symbolism is significant.
Observed Tremlett, “At times of political
tension the regime of rightwing dictator General
Francisco Franco reputedly programmed bullfights
against protests. How many people, the logic
apparently went, were going to join a march for
freedom if the sex symbol matador Manuel Benítez
El Cordobés was on the television?” The
bullfighting audience today is middle-aged or
older, a demographic of declining value to
broadcasters, and the celebrities of interest to
younger TV viewers tend to cultivate images of
kindness toward animals.
Bullfighting in France drew critical
notice for similar reasons in mid-August 2007,
reported Guardian Paris correspondent John
Lichfield. “A TV ad calling for a ban on
bullfighting has been declared unacceptable–
because it shows violent scenes at bullfights,”
Lichfield wrote. “If stabbing and slaughtering
bulls in public is too violent for family viewing
on prime-time television, critics ask, why are
children allowed to attend bullfights?
“The decision by France’s advertising
watchdog has drawn attention to the bizarre legal
status in France of “Spanish-style bullfighting,”
Lichfield continued. “Bullfight-ing is banned in
France, but legally tolerated in those areas
which can claim an unbroken local tradition. In
practice, French courts have allowed bullfighting
to spread to towns in the south where no such
tradition exists.
“The true bullfighting tradition in
France is not La Corrida, which arrived from
Spain in the 1850s,” Lichfield noted. “The
French tradition, in which the bull survives to
fight again and again, is still to be found in
the Camargue, in the Rhône delta, and in the
Landes, south of Bordeaux. The bullfighter or
bullfighters have to retrieve ribbons tied to the
horns,” a much more dangerous undertaking–if
anyone frightens the bull–than wounding and
killing a bull with long weapons.

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