Cruelty trumps tradition

I really, really don’t take pleasure in the injuries or pain of others. I’m a “bleeding heart liberal” – which has been used as an epithet against me; I embraced it when it struck me that it shouldn’t be a negative: I’d rather have a heart that bleeds for others than one that feels nothing. I don’t understand such phenomena as “Jackass” (or “The Bachelor”, but that’s a whole ‘nother post I’ll never write).  Or Don Rickles – I loathe the whole category of insult comedy.  Schadenfreude isn’t my cup of tea. But there is one time of year that I actually smile at reports of injury: the Running of the Bulls.

This morning I found an AP report on the event that apparently happened today in Pamplona: two were gored, five more injured. Broken bones, puncture wounds: gorings and tramplings and assorted other injuries – and all I can think is “GO BULLS!”

“Thursday’s gorings were the first for the series of eight bull runs held during the nine-day street festival that also features around-the-clock drinking that attracts tens of thousands of Spaniards and foreigners.”

And on Wiki: “Being over eighteen and entering the itinerary before 7:30 are the main requirements to participate. Other prohibitions are to run under the influence of alcohol, run in the opposite direction of the running or inciting the bulls.” So – drink yourself sick after you’ve been stupid enough to risk your life, I guess. (They don’t even have the excuse of being drunk? Huh.)

The AP article quotes a 22-year-old from California: he “was amazed at the size of the 1,100-pound (500-kilogram) bulls as he ran alongside them for the first time.” Oh, what – you thought they’d be the size of poodles or something?

Oh, and “His 62-year-old father ran as well” – so it’s apparently genetic. California boy? Don’t breed. Please.

“An 18-year-old Australian who sustained three fractured vertebrae in the first race Wednesday remained hospitalized Thursday in serious condition”. Nice job. He’s evidently not paralyzed – but he risked never walking again. Last year some poor sod died. And for what? For a rush, and a story to tell.

My shamefacedly admitted favorite: “The unidentified 22-year-old man sustained a ripped scrotum from a horn injury”. When I said “don’t breed” in reference to the other boy, that wasn’t what I had in mind – but it amuses me very deeply that this particular sort of injury happens in a stunt that has no other purpose I can see but to “prove one’s manhood”.

I never bothered to look into it before; all I’ve ever known is that a bunch of bulls are released into the streets and encouraged to gallop along a prescribed path, and a bunch of (imo) morons (overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, men) run in front of, alongside of, and occasionally under the feet of said bulls. The news media can always be counted on to mention the injuries, and the deaths, and to show the bulls stampeding and slipping and falling trying to negotiate corners. And, ironically, it’s always made me see red.

Now I find that these are the bulls destined to be killed – the source I found didn’t say “fought”, but “killed”; of course, in this case it’s the same thing – in the arena that night, along with six calves or steers (castrated males, adult), depending on where you get your information. “The bulls that run each morning are killed in the evening in the bullring, their meat served up in Pamplona’s restaurants”. (And you can’t tell me those restaurants don’t charge through the nose for those meals. May every diner suffer horrendous indigestion. If the meat were given to the poor, it would be some small mitigating factor; it wouldn’t excuse it by any means, but it would weigh in the balance, ever so slightly.) It’s a nine-day festival. So that’s at least 54 cattle ritually, slowly, painfully slaughtered in front of screaming crowds, in just over a week, in just that one town. Oh.

For the record, I’m also invariably delighted when a bullfighter’s in the wrong place at the right time. If you want to get yourself injured in an adrenaline-inspiring activity, there are lots of ways to do it, and I might even feel sorry for you. It’s when you decide that in order to get that rush animals must be hurt that I start hoping for karma.

Under normal circumstances, the last thing I want to do is run down the traditions of others just because I don’t agree with them. That goes against everything I am or want to be. I write this keeping in mind that there is a grand and proud heritage behind bullfighting, and the matadors are the height of machismo, and they are said to have great respect and even affection for the animals they fight in the ring … And keeping that in mind is part of what nauseates me about the whole thing. Cruelty trumps tradition.

I found a long and wanna-be-flowery comment on the PETA blog about how this is the least cruel animal suffering there is among animal suffering, and how beloved the bulls are to their caretakers and the matadors and the mob who watch the fights. “These bulls live like gods and die like gods”. Oh, good, there’s a bucket handy. I’m sorry – what is this, first century Rome? My understanding is that the bulls are drugged – which kind of undermines the concepts of “fair fight” and “respect for the animal”, doesn’t it? – and their hides treated so that those hideous frilly spears can slide right in. From a link I’ll link below: “As the crowd cheers, the matador is allowed to take a trophy from his victim, usually an ear, the tail or the hooves. The bull is still alive when this is done and after that it is dragged away through the sand.” Bring the kids!

Image found on PETA blog

 And it’s all done in the name of a Christian saint, St. Fermin, who may have been martyred by being dragged to his death – by a bull. Or, actually, that might have been the bishop he served, but let’s just say it was St. Fermin anyway, just ’cause that would be all poetic. I’m sure Jesus would be cool with that – why not. But darn – if it wasn’t a celebration in honor of a saint they could really ramp up the fun by throwing a few Christians into the arena and making them fight to the death against lions or tigers or each other. Light up a couple for torches! Party!

I eat meat. I enjoy meat. I honestly have no intention of becoming a vegetarian. I am aware of the vast potential for calling hypocrisy on my taking a stand against one form of animal cruelty when, for pertinent example, the beef industry can be accused of cruelty on a much vaster scale. It’s a hurdle that every omnivorous animal lover has to cope with on his own terms. My response in this case though is, very simply, that there is a massive difference between the killing of animals for food and the killing of animals for entertainment.

I understand tradition. Thing is, it used to be tradition for teachers to beat unruly students. It used to be a tradition – or at least a fashion huge enough to become something of a tradition – to wear hats bearing a handful of feathers or an entire dead stuffed bird (to the extent that several species were driven to near extinction), or to have a preserved elephant’s leg in your hall for people to stick their umbrellas in. It still is a covert tradition in France to eat ortolans – but it’s illegal, and generally frowned upon, because of the cruelty involved – (http://walkinthedust.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/reel-13-gi/). Cockfights, bear-baiting, dogfights and their ilk are all illegal (here at least) and considered immoral by decent human beings. I don’t understand how decent human beings have allowed such a horrifying thing as bullfighting to endure – no, not just endure, but be celebrated.

Do I want anyone, even matadors or Michael Vicks or idiots who run with the bulls, to be hurt or killed? No. I really don’t. Am I going to feel any sympathy at all, in the slightest, if they are?

Hell no. Go bulls!

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One Response to Cruelty trumps tradition

  1. accountantgrrl says:

    Hear! Hear!

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