As you know, Barcelona city council this week held a symbolic debate on whether to condemn bullfighting. During it, according to El Periódico (free registration), local conservative Javier Basso
defended the “noble spectacle of the dance of bull and man” from harassment by “imperialistic cultures” like the “Anglo-Saxon and Germanic”. “Bullfights are part of our culture”, he affirmed.
A foul breeze from the Francoist tomb? Not completely, if we are to believe Ernesto Giménez Caballero, Franco’s spin doctor during the civil war. In a fascinating polemic published in 1931 under the title Origen europeo, liberal y antiespañol de las corridas de toros he claimed that the current state of bullfighting was all the fault of the British and the French:
Corridas de toros crystallise in Spain as national spectacle in the same measure as the parliamentary system. (Rare was the deputy who didn’t arrive late in Parliament on days of bullfights for having attended the spectacle.)
It is not, then, the genuine, hierarchical, humane and heroic Spain of the seventeenth century which is to blame for the barbarism of bullfighting, but the Europeanising, bourgeois and deformed Spain of the nineteenth century. Not cruel Spain, but humanitarian Europe. France, the Anglo-Saxons: that Europe which degrades and then insults us, us Spaniards.
The notion that bullfighting is an import from the north is intriguing – bear in mind that theatres were closed on Thursdays in Elizabethan England to allow people to attend bullfights. Unfortunately it turns out that Giménez Caballero is not against bullfighting as such, but against the democratisation by evil guiris of a sport practised by Moorish and Christian gents:
Bullfights were not “a national and romantic” celebration in Spain until the nineteenth century. Until the chivalrous nobility was destituted by the bourgeoisie, thanks to the influence of Napoleonic France and liberal England. Until that time, the bullfighting constituted in Spain a noble sport, of gentlemen, bound to a popular and ancient cult, almost divine, by the bull: a sacred animal in Iberian, Mediterranean, ancient mythology.
The caballero fought on horseback, aided by servants, before illustrious ladies, monarchs. Fighting bulls with lances was in the heroic Spain of the seventeenth century a manly substitute for war. (This was observed as early as Goya, Goya, vertex of Spain, between two worlds, the noble and the liberal!) However, the French Revolution overthrew the horseman, threw him from his horse, putting in his place servants, cruel and plebian rabble, who before had stayed disciplined in the background. This was the historical origin of the repugnant “picador” who, in his hatred of that aristocratic animal, the horse, did not hesitate to introduce it, defenceless, to the horns of the bull.
More on this fascinating page (which, incidentally, gets confused about the Tarasque, which is not a bull but a multi-faceted monster generally found up in Provence.)
The powerful appeal to the left of the humble matador on foot, served by men on horseback, helps explain why two thirds of the Catalan socialist party (PSC) votes were in support of the maintenance of the practice. In fact, the principal determinant of support is not class, politics, or religiosity, but perceived ethnicity: despite ancient and flourishing traditions of beast-killing here, it is seen as being Catalan to oppose bullfighting, while ignoring the infinitely more miserable lives led by Catalan livestock.
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