domingo, 13 de diciembre de 2009

Scapebulls



A question from India, in Academia, about a symbol in Spanish culture:

My question is, why is Bullfighting Spain's national game? whenever I sit down and watch this game on tv, I feel it's so inhuman. Matadors get fatally wounded. How can anyone enjoy it as a game? Does this game has some cultural links if yes, then tell me what structural connections it has with the psyche and living style of people in Spain.

—And I answer back with the theory of the bull as a scapegoat in a cathartic ceremony:

Haha!! if you knew, Navdeep... My wife (the Beckettian one) later wrote a thesis on the bullfight, in connection with Hemingway, who also wrote several books on the Spanish bullfight. And now she's working on a project with a number of scholars, on the bull and the bullfight and their use as cultural symbols. So I suppose I should refer you to her, she must have some ideas on the subject. But no, I'll give you my view. Bullfighting is not so popular in Spain as it seems. But if one or two people in a hundred are interested, it still makes a good number. matadormatadoAbove all if it's a traditional thing which gets some attention in the media. The point of the game (Beatriz's view here) is a kind of living symbol of how brute instincts, i.e. the bull, can be controlled by regulated behaviour and social ceremony (i.e. the matador and the bullfight). It is a kind of celebration (a traditional one) of how humans, through knowledge, discipline, and control, can overcome the "dark" elements involved in their own nature. Because the bull is a symbol for something in humans, not just an "alien" animal. Of course the point is that this symbolic ceremony is played out with real blood and death... usually the bull's, that's the point, although of course the danger to the matador is a necessary ingredient. There are many debates in Spain as to whether this should go on or not, whether regulations should be changed... Me I've never been to a bullfight, and my wife very rarely, she's interested in it as a cultural phenomenon. She has a paper on Hemingway's view of the bullfight here at Academia. By the way I didn't know one could watch bullfights on TV in India - most offensive to the sacred cows I guess, although the Spanish bull is a wholly different kind of beast - It's a globalised world indeed.

... oh yes it is. Much ado these days with bullfighting—from the UK to Israel to Italy to Mexico and back to Spain.

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But oh look, there is a symbolic value about the bulls which is even more offensive to some... they are seen as a symbol for Spain (witness the popular right-wing Spanish flag with the silhouette of a black bull in it). And these days bullfights are being banned in Catalonia as part of an assertion of Catalonian identity against Spain. The excuse is "animal rights" but of course there is no talk of banning abattoirs or industrial chicken farms. It is wholly a matter of imaginary communities—given that as a matter of fact bullfights are as typical in Catalonia as in the rest of Spain.

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