You could probably be forgiven for thinking anti-bullfighting activists have turned to murdering matadors now. After all, the last death of a matador during a bullfight was in 1985, so it isn’t a common occurrence.
However, you’d be wrong. On Saturday evening, more than 30 years of relatively ‘safe’ bullfighting – at least for the matadors, if not for the bulls – ended when 29 year old Victor Barrio died during a bullfight in Teruel.
If you’ve read my thoughts on trophy hunting, you’ll probably know where I’m going with this post. Predictably, my animal welfare and activist friends have been sharing their delight across the social networks.
One down, many more to go.
I watched the video of what actually happened on YouTube, and I’m not going to share it here because it upset me so much that I actually wanted to cry. If you really want to see it, I’m sure you can find it easily enough.
In words, the bull – his name was Lorenzo – caught Victor with the end of one horn and flicked him into the air. When the man fell helplessly to the ground, Lorenzo did what any terrified and angry bull would do, and made sure his tormentor would never move again. One of his horns pierced Victor’s chest and severed his aorta. Victor had no chance.
To all my friends who have been celebrating the death of a young man:
“What the hell is wrong with you? A man died and you’re celebrating his death. You are no better than all the people who watched that bullfight to celebrate the death of the bull.”
Victor Barrio was not the problem. Matadors are not the problem. All the people who work in the bullrings and risk their lives to help bring down a very strong and dangerous animal are not the problem.
The problem is a culture that celebrates the torture and murder of a beautiful creature and calls it entertainment.
A few months ago, when I was in Rome, the first on my list of places to visit was the Colosseum … because you can’t go to Rome without seeing the Colosseum. As we wandered round this massive building and looked at the displays depicting what it might have been like 2,000 years ago when it was in regular use, I noticed it wasn’t all about gladiatorial contests. A lot of the fights were between humans and animals. The Romans liked to kill wild animals such as lions and tigers for their entertainment.
At first I was upset. Although I knew big cats had been used in some fights, I had never seen it pictured before and, as a lover of all cats, regardless of size, I found it even more upsetting than the current trend of blood sports.
Then it occurred to me why the Romans might have done this. To people back then, the world was a dangerous and frightening place. Even though humans were already starting to dominate the planet, our ability to keep nature at a distance with projectile weapons was limited, and we hadn’t started surrounding ourselves with the comforting shields of metal boxes everywhere we went. Showing the gladiators’ ability to subdue the most dangerous of wild beasts demonstrated Rome’s power to protect – as well as to control – the people it ruled.
So, what’s our excuse now?
Well, there isn’t one. But we’re not so different from the people of 2,000 years ago. Thanks to our long lifespans, human evolution takes place over millions of years, so we are still driven by the same instincts as our ancestors thousands of years ago. We still have an instinctive fear of ‘dangerous beasts’ (and Victor Barrio probably had a few moments last night to realise how dangerous a bull weighing over 1,000 pounds really is), and it’s that fear that leads so many people to react positively when the matador wins again. Nature has been subdued, and we’re safe.
This is how spectacles of killing have become cultural events. They tap into something deep in the human psyche, and as long as people don’t question why they feel good when they see the matador win, they will continue to be ruled by the same instinctive drives as our ancient ancestors, and nothing will change.
Perhaps some good will come of Victor Barrio’s death. Perhaps a few more people will be shaken by the realisation that their ‘heroes’ are not infallible, and they will start to question what their support of bullfighting really does for them. Perhaps the movement to ban bullfighting across Spain will gain a little more support and momentum.
Because the reality is, the bull is not such a dangerous beast as people imagine. The dangerous ones are the humans who, even with all our weapons and our shields and our protections, are still afraid.
(Photo: A bull. Outside eating grass. As nature intended.)