“It only takes one person to bear witness. One to share what they have seen.” Animals Australia Facebook page
Once upon a time I worked for a tv show. One day my boss called me in to her office to see some footage. She had obtained it from Spain to be included in an episode of the show. It was a bullfight. Her name was Lyn Bayonas. She learned about the bullfight from her old boss, Orson Welles. Mr Welles was an aficionado, up there with Hemmingway with his passion for things Spanish. I had absolutely no interest; rather I felt revulsion for the ghoulish spectacle on the screen. Lyn insisted, as only she could, that I sit down and learn something. She explained the bullfight is a ritual. It’s about our relationship with nature. Our relationship to death. Our relationship to meat.
Her lecture came back to me recently when I found a copy of Death and the Sun; A matador’s season in the heart of Spain by Edward Lewine. It’s a great read. A page-turner. Will the matador die in the bullring, like his father before him?
There’s no doubt about the bulls, of course.
“Bulls suffer and die in the bullring. Either you believe this is justified, or balanced somehow by the supposed beauty, history, and cultural significance of the corrida, or you don’t. Cattle and other animals suffer and die in the food industry. Either you believe this is justified, or balanced somehow by the human desire for nourishment from meat and by the tradition of meat-eating, or you don’t.” pg 188
The Spanish don’t have a word for bullfighting, instead they use words such as, “the fiesta de los toros (festival of the bulls) or fiesta brava (wild festival) … What the matador (killer) ” … does with the bull is usually translated in English as “to fight” but the Spanish word for this is torear, which takes the word for bull and makes a verb out of it, “to bull”. The art or craft of bullfighting is called toreo — “bulling”.’ pg 25
He explains that, ‘A single bullfight involving full-grown bulls is called a corrida de torros” … ‘The act of holding a corrida is indicated by the word celebrar, as in, “Yesterday they celebrated a corrida.’ pg 26. It’s like saying we celebrated mass or morning matins. It’s a ritual. It’s not a fight. The bull has no chance to live. The bull will die. The bull becomes meat. He represents all cattle, all meat. However, he does have a chance to take the matador out with him or at least give him a few weeks off and a decent scar to remember him by. Lewine again:
‘Bullfighting is easy to dismiss as an artefact of humanity’s savage and uncivilized history. But in its bloody way the bullfight is the essence of civilization, if by civilization we mean humanity’s subjugation of the natural world and the development of custom and ritual to replace violence as the governing principle of human interaction. A society that can mount a corrida is an advanced society, one that has tamed nature, met the basic needs of its people (to the extent that entertainment is a priority), and channeled the bloody impulses of its populace into ordered ritual. There is nothing more civilized than a bullfight. It is the sum of humankind’s fears and wordless needs contained in a spectacle of rigid control and elaborate ceremony.’ pg 227
Think about it. It’s too easy now to pick up that shrink-wrapped flesh from the meat aisle and sizzle it into some processed sauce and slap it between two calcium enriched buns without giving a second thought to the life given. It’s too easy to ignore empathy as the cows are stripped of their skin and twitch in their chorus-line of death on the way to their disembowelling. No. We must turn the spotlight on our food. We must face up to our responsibility. You must look. You must see.
‘Aficionados say there is a special feeling that comes when a great matador passes a bull low and slow around his body and the bull responds, charging hard at the cape and lending solemnity and danger to the matador’s movements. Hemmingway described it as a lump in the throat. Garcia Lorca called it “man’s finest anger, his finest melancholy and his finest grief.” It is an electric mixture of fear, pleasure in beauty, sadness, anger, horror, joy, tension, the feeling of victory over death, and the viewer’s relief that he or she is safe and not facing the bull.’ pg 32
This is far more than a cat playing with a mouse. Lewine describes the matador’s use of a bull as the painter’s use of a brush or a trumpet player’s use of the trumpet. The man makes art with the vanquished beast. The man is an artist, seeking beauty in the subjugation of the other life. The art lies in the domination. The wildcard is the bull. It may toss, gore or kill. But it will die in its turn. Certainly.
Of course it’s cruel. Of course the bull suffers. Right in front of your eyes.
Consider the conspiracy in modern farming. What is locked away behind hedges and walls? How many cows suffer every minute of every day in feedlots? How many pigs are shut up in sheds unable to move for their entire life? How many chickens were kicked to death in the last hour? All far, far away from the public gaze?
Today in most affluent countries, farming animals for meat is done out of sight. Billions of invisible creatures are bred and fed in close confinement and slaughtered on a conveyor belt. Their lives are lived in darkness, pain and terror. Humans peruse their hermetically sealed plastic packages of flesh without the faintest glimmer of awareness of how that beast lived and died to become a product. Now the agriculture industry seeks laws to protect their secrecy even further, laws known as ‘Ag Gags’ where it will be illegal for activists to visit and photograph factory or experimental farms or indeed any animal abuse. Sign a petition against them here.
This is the horror. That humans can have so little regard for life that they slaughter millions, nay, trillions of creatures (created by ?) to slice into pieces because they like the taste when it is no longer even necessary to eat meat. That the meat industry can seek protection to continue to devolve their systems is hideous. Dishonest. Deceitful.
If you see the bullfight as a ritual then this modern denial of death seems weak. We become insipid and deceptive, hiding, cowering from the facts of life. We watch hideous news every day, rubber-neck at bloody car crashes and see extreme violence surrounded by fumes from chemical-laden popcorn and rumbles of high-performance Dolby. Pretending. Playing.
That six bulls should die in an afternoon in the full glare of the sun, witnessed by people who are at least emotionally sensitive to their existence, seems just and fair.
Bear witness to your meat.
Or, you know, you do have a choice …