To See Death as an Art: the Spanish Bullfight Part 2

The Spanish bullfight

Now that I’ve talked about the anatomy of the Spanish bullfight, let’s delve into something a little more interesting, shall we?

Bullfighting. Bullfighting is one of the most stereotypically Spanish things you could think of, and these days it’s ripe with controversy – is it right, is it wrong, is it art, is it abuse? In my experience, the Spaniards I’ve spoken with have talked about bullfighting like they had a lemon in their mouths. It seems most pedestrian Spaniards don’t appreciate it at all, but it’s the people in power who think bullfighting is an art. So let’s talk about that.


Bullfighting is essentially the great-grandchild of the Roman gladiator days. It was popular to fight big, scary animals, which is a concept that developed in different ways in different cultures. Bullfighting started as something that only the rich could enjoy, considering you’d need to be able to afford both the bulls and horses, back in the day when the bullfighter would be riding on horseback.

I’ve been told a couple different versions of how today’s bullfighting (i.e. on foot) came to be, and, like a lot of history, we can’t be totally sure of what really happened. The first theory is that a nobleman thought that a man on foot trying to conquer a bull would make for a better show, and thus had a commoner take the place of the horse and rider. Well, he wasn’t wrong! Another theory is that a nobleman decided bullfighting was a cruel, medieval act, and decided the rich weren’t going to be involved anymore. This, of course, put many poor people out of a job, since they were the ones who were paid to raise these bulls. To keep their livelihoods afloat, they started bullfighting on their own; because they were poor and couldn’t afford horses, they fought the bulls themselves!


Now, as time goes on, different parts of Spain take different stances on bullfighting. For example, Catalonia, the east of Spain, has outlawed bullfighting for good. Meanwhile Madrid, with their fierce rivalry with Barcelona (the capital of Catalonia), has declared bullfighting as a protected art form. No matter the opinion of the people of Madrid, bullfighting is here to stay.

Now, for those of you non-Hispanics/Frenchies (as bullfighting exists in Spain, Latin America, and France), this might seem like a ridiculous debate. I mean, I lived in Spain for the better part of the year and attended a bullfight for myself, and my poor American brain still has a hard time wrapping itself around any pros. So let me explain.

Spanish bullfight

The Spanish Bullfight: cons

Let me start with the easy side. Yes, a bullfight is a horrifying experience for the bull. Left alone in the wild, bulls are pretty peaceful. Unless they feel threatened, they’ll let you be. Even if this weren’t the case, tourists and locals alike pay to watch a few men come together and strategically murder an innocent animal. Then, they applaud the murder. Sounds like glorified animal abuse, huh?

The Spanish Bullfight: pros

Many believe bullfighting is an art. The matador and his assistants use artistically honed skills to wave their capes in front of the bulls. If you watch a bullfight, you’ll see bullfighters take a very specific, stiff stance. Besides the act of the Spanish bullfight, the costumes are worth mentioning. These uniforms cost tens of thousands of euros, and matadors will own a few. They take pride in their work, risking their lives for their art. It’s also important to remember what I mentioned about the final death: if the matador fails and the bull doesn’t die quickly, he is booed and shamed for causing the animal unjust pain.

Now, I don’t personally believe I’m the right person to ask about whether bullfighting is right or wrong. I’m not Spanish, so it doesn’t hold the cultural significance to me that it may to those from other countries around the world. The lesson to take away, though, is understanding that. Understanding that you may never fully understand something, and that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. Instead, work towards appreciation. Being able to say “while I don’t agree with you, I can respect your opinions and do not allow the knowledge that we disagree tarnish my respect for you”.

Leave a Reply