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Michaela Jacobs

Professor Kjirsten Goeller

English 1201.502

14 April 2019

Bullfighting: Torture by a Different Name

The bull’s black hide gleams in stark contrast to the arena’s sand. He pauses to strike

his hoof on the ground before galloping past the matador’s cape. The matador, in his suit of

lights, swiftly pulls the red cape aside, and the animal thunders past. This was the image I had

imprinted on my mind when I heard bullfighting mentioned. However, this all started to

change when a travel show on PBS remarked that the bull was killed during the process. An

investigations on the on the internet provided graphic images of bulls with mouths gaping,

eyes rolling, and blood gushing. More images and videos of matadors being gouged with

horns and trampled under heavy hooves twisted my stomach. The general source explained

that a bullfight is an event where a matador slowly weakens the bull by causing him to lose

blood in preparation of plunging a sword through the animal’s heart; this was all for

entertainment and money. It was justified as an art or cultural aspect of Spain. Bullfighting in

Spain should be banned because it inflicts unnecessary pain on the animals and increases the

detrimental effects on the physical and mental stature of the people involved.

Film director, Jaime Alekos, compiled a documentary with explanations and

commentary by professionals on various stages of bullfighting. These people include José

María de Cossío in his book Bulls: A Technical and Historical Treatise, Miguel Pandilla

Suárez in The Fighting Bull: Husbandry, Training, and Behaviour, Cesáreo Sanz Egaῆa

in The Lure of the Fighting Bull, Amós Salvador and Rodrigáῆez in Theory of
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Bullfighting, and Francisco Montez in Complete Tauromachy. Bullfights occur in three main

stages. The picadors on horseback work to weaken the bull in the first stage. Alekos quotes

José María de Cossío stating, “Strategically, the process of breaking down the bull begins in

the first stage, when the picadors injure the bull with jabs inflicted by their lances” (Alekos

00:03:38-00:03:50). The bull loses blood, and this prepares him for his death at the end of the

event. Then, the banderillas are stabbed into the bull’s shoulders. CATCA Environmental and

Wildlife Society describes banderillas as a sort of harpoon that is decorated with colorful

paper (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par. 10). José María de Cossío continues, “…the second

stage tends revive and stimulate him…” (Alekos 00:07:15-00:07:35). The metal hooks work

to make the bull angry and active. Lastly, the bull enters the end of the fight where he is

killed. The matador continues to weaken the animal with the muleta. Miguel Pandilla Suárez

explains that this is, “…the sham, an extension of his [the matador’s] hand…” (Alekos

00:10:28-00:10:50). The matador uses the muleta to weaken the bull further. He is to, “…

punish him if he has not been punished enough, take away the faculties that the bull has if any

are still left, break him so that he accepts the final moment…” (Alekos 00:14:40-00:15:07).

The bull is then stabbed through the heart; however, this often does not kill the bull instantly.

Cossío explains that, to please the audience, the matador proceeds with the descabellar. He

uses a sword or dagger to cut the spinal cord (Alekos 00:18:50-00:19:26). This causes the bull

to fall; this pleases the audience so as not to bore them as they watch the bull dying too

slowly. Tracey Vasil Biscontini, an experienced journalist and teacher, outlines in “Animal

Rights” that bullfighting, “…first appeared around 711. Experts also think that bullfighting may

have started out as a type of hunting. The modern version of bullfighting probably did not
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emerge until sometime in the 12th century “(“Animal Rights” par. 52). An exercise that likely

started from necessity became a frivolous, needless celebration.

In the fight itself, the bull is weakened throughout to make him easier to kill.

Biscontini outlines in “Animal Rights” the various animals’ rights involved in bullfighting.

She explains that picadors lance the bull in the neck to, “…weaken the neck muscles so the

bull will hold its head lower than normal” (“Animal Rights” par. 54). The CATCA

Environmental and Wildlife Society explained that these lances are twisted when in the

animal’s back, and they can cause wounds 14cm by 45cm (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par.

6). These wounds are painful and deep; they cause distressing lesions that draw a great deal of

blood and hinder the animal’s movements. Then, banderillas are thrust into the animal’s neck

and shoulders (“Animal Rights” par. 55). These weapons weaken the bull because, “With each

movement of the bull, these harpoons rip off his muscles” (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par.

10). These procedures, that cause great blood loss, are painful and distressing for the animal.

They are justified because they make it safer for the matador to approach his head and deliver

the final blow. The harpoons and lances tear away his muscles, and they cause debilitating

blood loss and pain. Then, the matador is to end the fight by plunging a sword through the

bull’s heart. Regrettably, this has occasionally been witnessed to take more than one try.

Sometimes the matador misses, “…getting the lungs instead, so the bull starts to vomit blood”

(“What Happens in a Bullfight” par. 11). The last stage of the fight, the graceful kill, is only

too often nothing of the sort. The animal, weak and distraught with little to no defenses left,

has a metal blade run through his back only to puncture his lungs and cause him to spit up

blood. The bull must then be stabbed two or more times to finally hit the heart so he can start

the definite process of dying.

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However, the pain starts long before the fight for these animals. Andrew Linzey,

founder of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and Clair Linzey, director of the Oxford

Centre for Animal Ethics, explain that some pro-bullfighting activists justify all these acts by

declaring, “Bulls do suffer in the bullring for fifteen minutes, but they have previously

enjoyed a happy and comfortable life free in the grassland” (Linzey and Linzey 512).

However, this is not completely accurate because the suffering does not start in the ring.

These animals, “…are often kept in a dark box for days before the event so they will be

confused by the time the bullfight starts” (“Animal Rights” par. 59). In these crates before the

fight, they often go without food and water to make them even weaker. Various other

procedures are designed to weaken or confuse them. They are beaten in the ribs and kidneys

with wet bags of sand, have Vaseline smeared in their eyes, and are given laxatives (“What

Happens in a Bullfight” par. 4). Other times, individuals, “…stuff the bulls' noses with cotton

to make it difficult for the animals to breathe” (“Animal Rights” par. 59). The bulls are

weaker and easier to kill after all these treatments. This is not to mention that the sliding door

that allows the bull to enter the arena often, “…is released to make it fall onto the bull’s head,

fissuring their skull…” (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par. 4). They do not even get a

completely humane life before the fight. They are tortured to make them weak. Again, this has

the purpose of making it safer for the matador to be around the bull. Unfortunately, this

information is often hidden or cleverly disguised so that the audience is unaware that anything

has occurred before the fight. They are deceived into thinking the bull is perfectly healthy.
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Fig. 1. Bullfighting is a form of entertainment that ends in the slow, bloody death of the bull


While the immediate animals involved in bullfights are the bulls, they are not the only

animals that are exploited in the ring; horses are also endangered throughout the fight.

Picadors on horseback work to weaken the bull by piercing him in the neck and shoulders

with lances. Unfortunately, this enrages the bull, so he attacks the horse instead of the rider.

The horses are often gored in the process. People work to take the horse out of the ring, “…its

insides are inserted back into its stomach with hay to support it, then stitch it with rope or

wire…” (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par. 7). They are not given proper medical attention

to keep infection out of their wounds, and the proper equipment is not used. The horse is

then sent back into the ring to continue the fight. If it survives the rest of the fight it is

slaughtered afterwards (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par. 8). The horse is simply a tool of

entertainment; once it has served its purpose, it is killed. The last moments of so many horses

are filled with fear and excruciating pain.

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Similarly, the horses are also subject to pain before they work in the ring. Many fights

show the horse simply looking towards the side that the bull is hitting him in. One would

naturally assume that a horse in fear or pain would whinny or scream and that this, in turn,

would pull attention to the pain that was inflicted on the animal. However, the horses are

prepared before the fight as well. CATCA Environmental and Wildlife Society revealed that,

“…their vocal cords are mutilated…” (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par. 6). This keeps the

audience calm and unaware as the horses have no way of expressing their misery.

Unfortunately, this preparation process is often done without anesthetic, so the horse is fully

aware of the occurrences and pain (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par. 6). Again, they are not

kept from pain with proper medical attention before the fight, and the audience does not

understand the pain that the horse endures. Also, one would assume that the horse would

naturally prefer to run away if in fear, but the workers at the ring have already deprived it of

its senses. CATCA explains that the horses, “… are blindfolded, and have Vaseline and Cotton

in their ears and nose holes…” (“What Happens in a Bullfight” par. 6). The horses have no

way to defend themselves or express themselves as their basic senses and abilities are

blocked. They have no choice but to follow their master’s commands to the point of death,

and they are subject to pain even before the fight begins.
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Fig. 2. The blindfolded horses are often gored and killed in the process of the bullfight (AL-


On the other hand, some justify bullfighting in the regard that animals do not feel

suffering. They state that the bull does not suffer. Fernando Savater, a philosopher, explains in

his book Taurético that bulls do not suffer emotionally because they, “…do not have interests

in the sense that they do not make choices” (qtd. in Linzey and Linzey 516). He is stating that

the quality of an animal’s life cannot be diminished because they lack reason. He explains that

they do not act with any future intents; they only act to get what they need to live.

Nonetheless, this is a highly debated topic that has no clear answer. The chapter references

that Aristotle believed, “…that movement in animals represents precisely their innate faculty

to desire” (qtd. in Linzey and Linzey 516). Some might still argue that the movement itself is

facilitated by some need. However, the article logically concludes that the choice to fill the

need is up to the animal. It states, “In order to satisfy a need, one has to wish to satisfy it.

Thus, animals must have some interests, or they would not bother to move” (Linzey and

Linzey 516). Consequentially, it is scientifically undeterminable to measure the extent that

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animals emotionally suffer. Therefore, Savater’s argument cannot be scientifically confirmed,

so his argument is not based on any research or facts. It is his own opinion.

Unfortunately, the animals are not the only ones that suffer in the ring. The people

directly involved in the fights and their family members are often injured or killed.

The Washington Post article by the professional journalist, Mary Hui, recounted Victor

Barrio’s death on the day of the accident. Victor Barrio, a matador of twenty-nine years, was

killed when a breeze blew his cape the wrong way. He was gouged in the thigh, thrown to the

ground, and punctured in the lung (Hui par. 5). Victor Barrio died a tragic and unnecessary

death. He put himself at risk by working in the ring. Still, he was not the only one to suffer for

his death. Raquel Sanz watched her husband die, and it was an emotionally degrading time for

her. The article records her saying, “My life is gone, I have no strength” (Hui par. 13).

Bullfighting claimed the person she loved, and now she has to live her life without her

husband. She will also have to find a new way to support herself; the accident distorted her

life and way of living. “Animal Rights” furthers this image by including an interview with a

previous matador, Álvaro Mύnera. He explains how he was injured in a bullfight, and how this

totally changed his way of life. He states, “It gored me in the left leg and tossed me in the air.

This resulted in a spinal-cord injury and cranial trauma. The diagnosis was conclusive: I

would never walk again” (qtd. in “Animal Rights” par. 61). Bullfighting not only caused this

man physical pain, but he lost an ability that was very important to him. He even had to leave

his native country for physical therapy in the United States (qtd. in “Animal Rights” par.

61).He was left paralyzed and without work, and he had to leave everything he knew to get

help. Again, entertainment transformed his whole way of life.

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Regrettably, those that participate indirectly also fall victim to negative effects. José

Graῆa, Jose Andreu, Muῆoz-Rivas, Paul Brain, Juan Cruzado, and M. Peῆa completed a study

on the physiological effects of bullfighting. José Graῆa is Professor of Clinical Psychology at

the Compultense University of Madrid. Jose Andreu is Professor of Psychopathology at the

Compultense University of Madrid. Muῆoz-Rivas works in Biological and Health Psychology

at the Autonomous University of Madrid. Paul Brain is Emeritus Professor of Zoology at

Swansea University. Juan Cruzado works at the Compultense University of Madrid in

medicine. M. Peῆa works at the Department of Personality, Evaluation, and Psychological

Treatment at Compultense University of Madrid. They showed three different videos of

bullfighting that had a positive, negative, or neutral outlook on the event to 240 children that

ranged from eight to twelve. Then, tests were administered to judge the various impacts that

the videos had on the children (Graῆa et al. 16). It is disturbing to note that these studies

conclude that, “Moreover, as the degree of justification of the aggressive display increases, so

does the child’s tolerance of such behavior, thus increasing his level of acceptable aggression ”

(Graῆa et al. 27). Therefore, allowing children to watch violent scenes and justifying these

scenes as an act of art or culture increases their aggression. In other words, the children are

desensitized to aggression, and this has the potential to lead them into accepting or even

committing acts of aggression that are successively worse. Consequentially, this study

supports the idea that, “…cruelty to animals is often advocated as a warning sign of potential

violence in individuals” (Graῆa et al. 26). If a person is willing to inflict pain on an animal,

they are often willing to inflict pain on another person. Justified bullfighting teaches children

that violence involving animals is acceptable. Then, this new level of aggression can lead to
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worse aggression; this, in turn, can be taken out on other people and society. The whole of

Spanish society is potentially at risk thanks to bullfighting.

Despite all these negative consequences, bullfighting is lucrative due to tourism. The

Local examines the effects of this in an article. It states that the National Association of

Bullfighting Organizers recounts that, “Spain could lose an estimated €3.6 billion a year if it

banned bullfighting…” (qtd. in “Spain Could Lose €3.6 Billion a Year if it Bans Bullfighting”

par. 1). This is approximately four billion United States dollars. The Europa Press recounts

that this is partially based on the millions of tickets sold and around 199,000 jobs associated

with bullfighting (qtd. in “Spain Could Lose €3.6 Billion a Year if it Bans Bullfighting” par.

2). Millions of tickets are sold to tourists visiting Spain; tourists are a major if not the most

influential reason that bullfighting still exists. In fact, Spanish advisor, Ángel Garrido, stated,

“At a time when employment is so necessary, we have to strengthen whatever cultural,

touristic aspect, of whatever nature, that allows us to increase the number of businesses and

jobs in Madrid” (qtd. in “Spain Could Lose €3.6 Billion a Year if it Bans Bullfighting” par. 5).

Thus, it is logical to conclude that bullfights largely survive due to visitors paying to see the

fight. If tourists took a stand against these practices, there would not be a need for them.

Unfortunately, if bullfighting is banned, Spain will suffer economic loss and many people

would lose their jobs. This has the potential to lead Spain into a deeper recession. However,

this alone does not completely justify the need for bullfighting. Andrew and Clair Linzey

reference that Jesus Mosterín in his A Favor de los Toros, explains that, “…drug trafficking

and other illegal activities also provide economic benefits and work, yet they are not

institutionally promoted for moral reasons” (qtd. in Linzey and Linzey 513). His argument is

very logical. While some acts are lucrative, they are not allowed because of the bigger picture.
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In other words, such acts are seen as beneficial in the short term, but long term effects could

greatly damage society and morals. Despite this argument, it is still a debate of moral


A major argument for bullfighting is that it is an innate part of culture. In The

Palgrave Handbook on Practice Animal Ethics by Andrew and Clair Linzey, the text explains

that bullfighting advocates argue that bullfighting is part of Spanish culture. It explains, “ …

that bullfighting is an art resulting from an aesthetic expression that forms part of the cultural

tradition of the country” (Linzey and Linzey 512). Therefore, it would be culturally degrading

to outlaw these events; this goes hand in hand with the argument that bullfighting is a form of

self-expression. However, Gustavo María, a professor in animal welfare at the University of

Zaragoza in the Department of Animal Production & Food Science and author of “Animal

Welfare, National Identity and Social Change: Attitudes and Opinions of Spanish Citizens

Towards Bullfighting”, explains that this is a changing concept. He explains, “In our study,

more than 60% of people did not agree that bullfighting is a Spanish cultural heritage…It is

clear that society evolves and some artistic expressions that were naturally accepted decades

or centuries ago may not be fully understood nowadays” (María et. al 820). Bullfighting may

have once been viewed as a necessary part of Spanish culture. However, Spain’s society is

changing; it is becoming increasingly modern and technological. Future generations are

becoming aware of the faults with bullfighting, and they are progressively becoming

disinterested in the sport. In fact, his study shows that, “…the proportion of people who do

not like BF is significantly higher than those who like this type of event (49 vs. 39%). These

differences are more evident in women and young people” (María et. al 813). The youth of

Spain are progressively moving away from this traditional festival, so it is becoming less and
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less engrained in Spanish society. If bullfighting is written in law as a cultural aspect, the

rights and privileges of the youth of Spain to decide how their country is governed is greatly

reduced. Instead, they will be governed by an outdated law.

Yet another argument is that bullfighting is an art form. Andrew and Clair Linzey

summarize that Fernando Savater argued that, “By shedding blood and exposing the audience

to real, live death, tauromachy has a justified artistic value that goes beyond moral limitations

because in its artistic expression there takes place the narrative of the tragic truth of life that

cannot be eradicated” (qtd. in Linzey and Linzey 518). In other words, Savater believes that

cruelty in bullfighting is necessary to represent real life; he does not sugar-coat that life can be

harsh. While there might be a true lesson to be learned from the fight, bullfighting does not

follow the general guidelines that the Classical Greek tragedy follows. First, Linzey points out

that tragedy needs to show the gruesome aspects, but he explains, “…the main characteristic

of art is its fictional nature as representation” (Linzey and Linzey 519). The book explains

that bullfighting displays the bloody struggle of life, but it is not fictitious. This is a display of

cruelty which is, “…the act of showing the bloody spectacle in its crudity and the reality of its

bloodshed” (Linzey and Linzey 519). In other words, true tragedy does not inflict real pain

and suffering, and this makes it a form of art. Bullfighting, while showing the pain and

suffering that the tragedy essentially strives to capture, does so in reality. Thus, it is cruelty

rather than art. Next, Linzey explains that a tragedy usually involves a hero that is unjustly

placed in a terrible circumstance that is beyond his or her power to control. This situation, “ …

arouses different emotions in the spectator: compassion, sadness, indignation, or anger. These

emotions have a moral substrate: they arise because the spectator perceives an unfair event

that should not be happening; they arise precisely on the grounds of the sense of moral good
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that the viewer holds, which triggers an empathetic process”(Liney and Linzey 519).

Therefore, tragedy works on a person’s sense of morals to create the sad mood. Unfortunately,

bullfighting does not follow this pattern. Instead, bullfighting gives the audience a sense of

excitement and happiness. Therefore, it is unlikely that this is a true tragedy because it plays

on the wrong emotions; tragedies are supposed to touch morals and create an angry or sad

sense. However, if it is a form of tragedy, one has to question if the morals of the people are

what they should be. This leads back to the idea that the violent acts increase the aggression in

its viewers; this in turn logically hinders compassion. If these people’s morals are hardened by

the bullfighting, it is logical that the good of the country rests in the banning of bullfighting.

Lastly, bullfighting causes its viewers to value and appreciate the wrong characters. Tragedy

is supposed to create sympathy for the hero because they have been placed in a despicable

situation that they did not deserve. The matador is often considered the hero of a bullfight.

Nonetheless, Linzey explains, “…the putative hero (the bullfighter), by choosing to place

himself in the bullfighting situation and having the clear intention of achieving his goal (to

inflict pain and cause unnecessary death), is much closer to the sadistic figure…” (Linzey and

Linzey 519). Bullfighting creates the matador as the hero, so viewers naturally root for him.

However, the matador chose to be a part of this fight, and he enters with the purpose of

maiming and killing an animal. The bull enters the fight through no fault of his own; he is

confused and fights just to stay alive. Bullfighting, if it were a true tragedy, would actually

cause the viewer to admire the character that is fighting to cause pain. This, in turn, is morally


Bullfighting is a predominantly Spanish sport that ends with the death of an animal.

Many justify its existence as an art, as a part of Spanish culture, or as an important economic
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gain. Others argue that animals do not suffer during the sport or that a previously happy life

makes this just one bad occasion for the animal. However, bullfighting is a sport that inflicts

unnecessary pain on the animals and people involved, and it disturbs the mental soundness of

its viewers through its desensitizing effects on human compassion and its portrayal of

violence as a heroic act. It is also becoming less and less popular as a cultural identity with

Spain’s youth. Altogether, its negative impacts on the communities and societies of Spain do

not merit its survival.

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Works Cited

AL-Ajmi, Kaled. “Angry Bull Attacks Horse.” Flickr, Flickr Commons, 14 May 2012,

https://www.flickr.com/photos/khaled100/7180312463/in/photostream/. Flickr Commons,

Accessed 26 March 2019.

Alekos, Jaime, director. Tauromachy - A Documentary by Jaime Alekos. YouTube, YouTube,

27 Nov. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=OT9sxCqPF_U. Accessed 28 Feb. 2019.

"Animal Rights." UXL Protests, Riots, and Rebellions: Civil Unrest in the Modern World,

edited by Tracey Vasil Biscontini, vol. 1, UXL, 2018, pp. 1-33. Opposing Viewpoints

in Context,


u=dayt30401&sid=OVIC&xid=bc7a8141. Accessed 26 Feb. 2019.

Graῆa, J. L., et al. “Effects of Viewing Videos of Bullfights on Spanish Children.” Aggressive

Behavior, vol. 30, no. 1, Jan. 2004, pp. 1-28. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/ab.20005.

Accessed 1 March 2019.

Hui, Mary. “A Spanish Matador Is Fatally Gored. Some Mourn; Others Say He Had It

Coming.” Washington Post, WP Company, 11 July 2016,


fatally-gored-to-death/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c7c4b3a70ee0. Accessed 28 Feb.


Linzey, Andrew and Clair Linzey. The Palgrave Handbook on Practical Animal

Ethics. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2018.

María, Gustavo, et al. “Animal Welfare, National Identity and Social Change: Attitudes and

Opinions of Spanish Citizens Towards Bullfighting.” Journal of Agricultural &

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Environmental Ethics, no. 6, 2017, p. 809-826. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10806-017-

9700-9. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.

Markkula, Lisa. “PETA.” PETA, PETA, 7 July 2017, www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-

entertainment/cruel-sports/bullfighting/. Accessed 19 March 2019.

“Spain Could Lose €3.6 Billion a Year If It Bans Bullfighting.” The Local, The Local Europe

AB, 28 Mar. 2016, www.thelocal.es/20160328/spain-could-lose-36-billion-a-year-if-it-

bans-bullfighting. Accessed 28 Feb. 2019.

“What Happens in a Bullfight.” CATCA Environmental and Wildlife Society, CATCA

Environmental and Wildlife Society, 16 April 2009, www.catca-

ews.org/catcaews/22.html. Accessed 1 Mar. 2019.