Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Bullfighting in Spain, the beginning of the end?

The debate is raging on in Spain about bullfighting. Always thought it a waste of time myself.

Bullfighting in Spain, the beginning of the end?



So, is it all change for one of the most emblematic symbols of culture in Spain – bullfighting?

I ask this because recently RTVE (the national Spanish state TV channel) has decided that they will no longer show bullfighting in Spain at prime time.  In fact, from now on they intend only showing bullfighting for half an hour on Saturday mornings.  This is almost the equivalent of the BBC declaring that cricket will only be shown on Monday mornings for half a hour at 11.00 hrs.

Is RTVE’s action important?

Well, it is significant, perhaps, more than important.  Not least, in highlighting the sheer controversy over bullfighting in Spain.  This, it is clear, is a matter that is simply not going to go away.  In that regard, it is hard not to draw a parallel with fox hunting in the UK which, after a long running battle was banned altogether.  This, I suspect, is what will happen to bullfighting in Spain with the question being ‘when’ any ban occurs rather than ‘if’.

Of course, it would be completely wrong to suggest that there is not reasonably widespread support for bullfighting.  Go to ten bars when bullfighting is being undertaken and you will find a fair number have their televisions tuned to the relevant fight or commentaries about it.  This is particularly true of country areas.

Equally, a demonstration of bullfighting’s importance within Spanish culture was shown when a recent parliamentary vote to declare bullfighting in Spain a matter of ‘national cultural interest’ was defeated by only 2 votes.

Needless to say, for foreigner and Spaniard alike, bullfighting in Spain is synonymous with the culture of Spain and, along with Flamenco, is what provides the country with an overt and particular identity – however much of a caricature.  It is also true to say that fighting bulls (even if not the actual fighting of them) is as emblematic to the Spanish as the British bulldog was to Britons in the past.

The trouble is that few young Spaniards seem to take much interest in bullfighting.  Of those that I know, many find it distasteful whilst others are just bored by it.  The latter point is understandable as, unless you are an afficionado, the fights can appear disappointingly formulaeic – although Ernest Hemingway argued persuasively otherwise in his remarkable book Death in the Afternoon..

In any event, when a national TV channel decides not to show something or reduces its exposure of something to a minimum then that ‘something’ will certainly suffer.  I seem to recall the same happening to darts in the UK when it ceased being televised for a long time.  So, RTVE’s decision will not help the cause of the pro bullfighting in Spain lobby.

From a purely cultural viewpoint, I suppose one has to ask whether the disappearance of bullfighting in Spain would have any overall affect upon the culture of Spain?

In truth, I suspect that a total ban on bullfighting in Spain would affect Spanish culture not a jot.  Certainly, the ban on foxhunting in the UK (irrespective of its merits) barely scratched the surface of British culture one way or another.  Indeed, both fox hunting and bullfighting are side issues to national culture – with the bigger arguments, surely, being freedom of choice, the parameters for state intervention and the protection of the rights of animals…


The art of bullfighting in Spain – an explanation.

Bullfighting on its last legs?

On the horns of a dilemma

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