bullfighting


bullfighting
   The country's second-most popular spectacle (only football attracts a larger public), bullfighting has mirrored the broader cultural changes taking place in Spain since 1939. While a reduced number of corridas took place throughout the Civil War, in both Republican and Nationalist areas, the stock of fighting bulls was seriously diminished, with herds exterminated both for food and as political gestures against large landowners. Consequently, the bulls seen in Spanish rings after 1939 were generally smaller, younger, and less well-armed than those of previous eras. A single matador, Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez ("Manolete"), notable for his solemn, hieratic style, dominated the post-war years. Despite two seasons of competition with the spectacular Mexican, Carlos Arruza, in 1944 and 1945, Manolete was still the outstanding matador of his day when, on 28 August 1947, he was fatally gored by a Miura bull in Linares; his death the following day occasioned national mourning. Manolete's death left a void no contemporary could fill, not even the graceful Pepe Luis Vázquez, the more sober Antonio Mejías ("Bienvenida"), or the talented and glamorous Luis Miguel González ("Dominguín"). Indeed, in 1949 and 1950, bullfighting was dominated not by full matadors but by two novilleros, Julio Aparicio and Miguel Báez ("Litri"). Geographically, bullfighting remained most popular throughout the 1940s and 1950s in its traditional strongholds (Andalusia, Valencia, central Spain and parts of the north) though massemigration from the impoverished south to Barcelona led to a resurgence of bullfighting there which endured for a quarter of a century. The 1950s also saw a new generation of matadors, including Aparicio, Litri, Manolo Vázquez and Antonio Chenel ("Antoñete"). Most important of all was Antonio Ordóñez, whose unique ability to unite the two principal classical styles of bullfighting, the sober rondeño and more flamboyant sevillano, led to his generally being considered the greatest matador since Manolete. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, popular toreros included the spectacular Antonio Borrero ("Chamaco"), the courageous Diego Puerta, the classical and gifted Paco Camino, and the solemn Santiago Martín ("El Viti"). There was also the fearful and erratic but incomparably artistic Francisco Romero López ("Curro Romero"), who in the 1990s still enjoyed unprecedented esteem in Seville, and who remains still active in his midsixties. None of these, however, hinted at the development which would shortly transform the conservative world of the corrida: the appearance of Manuel Benítez ("El Cordobés"). An illiterate bricklayer, son of a rural labourer who died a prisoner following the Civil War, El Cordobés came to prominence following an unprecedented publicity campaign. Clumsy and technically inept, El Cordobés was initially the antithesis of the classical torero. Yet these very defects, allied to an overwhelmingly sympathetic personality, and a youthful, long-haired appearance very much at odds with the conformist Spain of the 1960s, enabled El Cordobés to personify the contemporary struggle for wealth and status in a still-impoverished country, turning him into a national icon, a Spanish equivalent of his contemporaries, the Beatles. As such he appealed both to younger Spaniards and the rapidly increasing number of tourists who frequented the newly-built bullrings of the Costa del Sol or Costa Brava. Although traditionalists never fully lost their mistrust of his clowning, El Cordobés gained steadily in technical security, improved his style and, the glamour of novelty past, obtained notable triumphs in the most serious and demanding arenas in Spain. More negatively, El Cordobés also helped impose on bullfighting a smaller, weaker, more docile bull, with sometimes scandalously shaved horns. It was this diminished animal which was most frequently to be seen in Spanish rings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period which saw the final retirement of such older matadors as Bienvenida, Dominguín, and Antonio Ordóñez and the emergence of important younger matadors, including Sebastián Palomo Linares, Francisco Rivera ("Paquirri"), Pedro Moya ("El Niño de la Capea"), and José Mari Dols ("Manzanares").
   Partly in reaction to the bulls fought by El Cordobés, the 1970s saw a resurgent interest in the fighting bull itself. The large, well-armed, genuinely wild toro bravo had never entirely disappeared, as testified by the products of such bull-ranches as Miura, Pablo Romero, Conde de la Corte or Isaías y Tulio Vázquez. At a time of crisis for breeders, however, the bulls of Victorino Martín came to prominence in the Madrid plaza of Las Ventas, resulting both in the continuing popularity of that breeder and his bulls, and in the controversial predilection for huge, well-armed bulls which has come to distinguish Spain's most important bullring. The period since 1975 has also seen an increasingly scientific attitude to bull-breeding, led notably by Don Alvaro Domecq y Díez.
   As in other areas of Spanish culture, the death of Franco in 1975 had important implications for bullfighting. When the Civil War ended, the victors endeavoured to harness bullfighting to their cause, by means of "Victory" corridas, like that celebrated on 24 May 1939 in Madrid, and corridas such as that held annually in Bilbao on the anniversary of the "liberation" of the city by Franco's troops. It was hoped that regional differences might be partly overcome by promoting the so-called Fiesta Nacional. Franco regularly and conspicuously attended the important charity bullfight, the Corrida de Beneficencia, held annually in Madrid, and in the 1960s he cultivated the acquaintance of El Cordobés (whose father had died in one of his prison-camps). However, Franco's evident lack of interest in bullfighting (his native region of Galicia having virtually no taurine tradition) meant that the spectacle was never as identified with his regime as some would have liked. Despite predic-tions to the contrary, bullfighting quickly shook off any association with Francoism. The long-standing ban on women performing on foot in the arena, for instance, was removed as part of the gradual liberalization of Spanish society. (The subsequent progress of women in bullfighting has been generally slow, however, though the highly regarded Cristina Sánchez took her alternativa in 1996.) King Juan Carlos, meanwhile, took Franco's place at the annual Beneficencia corrida and attended many other corridas in a notably democratic fashion, taking his place among his subjects rather than using the royal box. Even in regions such as Euskadi, which reacted most radically against the attempted imposition of a single "Spanish" national identity, attempts to condemn bullfighting as a relic of Spain's reactionary past were soon dropped as politicians recognized the strength of popular support for the spectacle. Although the Generalitat in Catalonia has shown a lack of enthusiasm for bullfighting, only the Canary Islands have banned corridas. Leading socialist politicians soon became as familiar a sight in Spain's bullrings as conservative nationalists had been in previous decades.
   As a whole, then, the 1970s were marked by continuity rather than any decisive break with the immediate past. The decade was also characterized by the lack of a really outstanding figure among leading matadors. It was remarkable, however, for the resurgence of rejoneo, and corridas consisting solely of rejoneadores topped the hundred mark in six of the years between 1970 and 1978. Only with the emergence from obscurity of Paco Ojeda in 1981 was there a truly exceptional matador in Spanish rings and he never acquired the genuinely popular acclaim accorded El Cordobés, though his muchdiscussed style influenced virtually all younger toreros. One matador known far beyond the narrow circle of dedicated aficionados was Francisco Rivera ("Paquirri"). An Andalusian of humble birth, Paquirri was a skilled and popular figure in the ring and famous also for his marriages, first, to a daughter of Antonio Ordóñez and, subsequently, to one of Spain's best-known popular singers, Isabel Pantoja. When Paquirri was fatally gored in the small town of Pozoblanco in 1984, Spain reacted in a way unknown since the death of Manolete twenty-seven years earlier. That Paquirri died while being transported by car to the nearest large hospital also prompted much criticism of the inadequacy of medical facilities in the remoter corners of Spain. The death of one of Spain's most promising young matadors, José Cubero ("Yiyo"), in Colmenar el Viejo, in the following year, brought home to a wide public the danger inherent in bullfighting, sometimes lost sight of in the post-Cordobés era. The increased popularity of bullfighting in the 1990s has resulted not from any appeal as anachronistic folklore but rather from the accommodation of the spectacle to the requirements of modern consumer society. Attendance at corridas is unprecedentedly fashionable, among women as well as men. Thoughts that bullfighting would soon feature among other uncomfortable aspects of a repudiated past have disappeared as intellectuals and celebrities as different as the economist and socialist mayor of Madrid, Enrique Tierno Galván, the opera singer Plácido Domingo, and the Nobel Prizewinning writer, Camilo José Cela, have all shown their interest in the spectacle. The number of bullfights has risen to unprecedented levels: there were 859 corridas de toros and 612 novilladas in 1997 (as opposed to 276 corridas and 204 novilladas fifty years previously). In Madrid, the San Isidro fair, which began with a modest four corridas in 1948, now runs to nearly thirty corridas, held on consecutive days. Television has played a crucial role, the private channels, including since 1998 digital television, finding live broadcasts of corridas popular additions to their schedules. Young matadors now frequently resemble teenage pop stars and some have enthusiastic followings among their female contemporaries. A number of popular matadors, including Juan Antonio Ruiz, ("Espartaco"), Jesús Janeiro ("Jesulín de Ubrique"), and Manuel Díaz ("El Cordobés") (self-proclaimed natural son of the older El Cordobés, Manuel Benítez), owe their considerable success as much to telegenic good looks as to their talents or courage in the ring. Whether this state of affairs is permanent or whether, removed from its traditional ambience of sol y moscas (sun and flies) to be sanitized and packaged by the media, bullfighting is vulnerable to the fickleness of consumer fashion is much debated by traditional aficionados. These prefer the solider artistic virtues of such younger toreros as José Miguel Arroyo ("Joselito"), Juan Serrano ("Finito de Córdoba"), Francisco Rivera Ordóñez (son of Paquirri and grandson of Antonio Ordóñez), Enrique Ponce, José Tomás and Julián Lopez ("El Juli").
   Few aficionados have as yet devoted much attention to the impact European integration and changing attitudes to animal welfare may have on bullfighting. In Spain, animal rights campaigners are still relatively few in number and their poorly attended protests make little impact. Attempts in the European parliament to outlaw bullfighting have so far failed, largely because opponents" ignorance of the social and cultural history of bullfighting has led them to overlook the extent to which, in the south of France as well as in Spain and Portugal, the corrida is closely bound up with popular constructions of national and regional identity. Today, bullfighting is as strongly rooted in popular manifestations in Navarre, Valencia, or the working-class suburbs of Madrid, as in its traditional strongholds. This genuinely popular support, coupled with the economic importance of the corrida, not least in terms of employment, seems set to see bullfighting continue to flourish in the Spain of the twenty-first century.
   Further reading
   - Amorós, A. (1987) Toros y cultura, Madrid: EspasaCalpe.
   - Cossío, J.M. de (ed.) (1943–92) Los toros, 12 vols, Madrid: Espasa-Calpe (the standard reference work).
   - Marvin, G. (1988) Bullfight, Oxford: Blackwell (an accessible account in English).
   - Moral, J.A. del (1994) Cómo ver una corrida de toros, Madrid: Alianza (an introduction to the structure and terminology of the corrida).
   IAN CAMPBELL ROSS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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