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Bullfighting in Spain: Animal Rights vs. Tradition Essay

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Updated: Aug 17th, 2020


Despite heavy criticism concerning animal rights activists as well as other groups, corrida, the Spanish name for bullfighting, is still one of the symbols of Spain, but will we and our children watch mouth-opened the skilled matador defeating the courageous and dangerous bull?


When tourists, as well as Spanish people, name things they associate with Spain, bullfighting is among the first three things. This is often referred to as art, tradition, love, passion, risk, and something larger than life. At the same time, some people argue that bullfighting is the torture and slaughter, barbarism and archaism or even national disgrace. There is no consensus on the matter, but people agree that it is a complex issue that may differently affect people’s lives.

“This is barbaric torture of innocent animals that are bred to be killed slowly and painfully just for fun!” claims Anna, 24, an animal rights activist. She has been to bullfighting once in her life, and that changed her life. She says, “I was shocked to see the suffering of the poor bull that was slowly dying.” Anna is not alone in her attitude towards tradition. Badcock (2015) notes that the Spanish society will be divided for a long time as there is no simple solution to the issue, and animal rights fighters will oppose bullfighting.

At the same time, animal rights activism is only one facet of the problem. The issue has a political and economic background, and it is also associated with the issues of cultural identity. Frayer (2011) notes that the decision of Catalonia to ban bullfighting has a historical as well as political context. During the times of Franco’s dictatorship, Catalan’s culture and language were severely repressed, and the bullfighting issue is now seen as a way to resolve some national and cultural problems. People of Catalonia want to stress the difference between them and the rest of Spain. The ban on bullfighting is one of many things Catalan people do in this respect. Of course, people in Madrid dislike such attitudes, and think that Barcelona is the “capital of traitors” as Yolanda, 34, a matador’s wife puts it.

“This is our tradition, our history, our passion, and this is what we are,” says Yolanda. The woman is very emotional when asked about the controversy of bullfighting. In fact, she does not see any controversy, but insists on the importance of this kind of art, as she refers to bullfighting. “Those who do not like corrida have no idea about the history of Spain and our culture, and they are national traitors!” Yolanda exclaims. The woman expresses her outrage without choosing words and notes that she is sick and tired of the debate on the matter. She believes that those who do not like bullfighting should keep away from bullrings, and everybody will be happy.

The renowned anthropologist Brandes (2009, p. 783) claims that bullfighting is “Spain’s distinctive identity” and thousands of people associate it with Spain. Landborn (2015) states that Spaniards associate corrida with such concepts as courage, passion, skill, life, and death as well as the eternal conflict between nature (bull) and the human (matador). More so, bullfighting is often associated with another iconic peculiarity of the Spanish. Thus, Landborn (2015) compares flamenco with corrida, and it is clear that those are two dances of passion, life, love, and death. In bullfighting, people watch the matador “dancing” with the bull and defending the symbol of wild and dangerous nature.

However, it is also clear that younger generations are less concerned with the issue. Yolanda sighs and notes, “Young people are becoming more disinterested in Spanish traditions.” The woman has noticed the trend that is becoming more and more apparent. “I simply don’t care,” says Jose, 18. “I mean bullfighting is a tradition, but we have to move on as times have changed. I do not see the beauty in this activity.” This teenager expresses the opinion of his entire generation. “I think corrida will be banned sooner or later as it is not in line with European values,” says Laura, 17. Those born in the 2000s are more integrated into the common European culture, and they tend to share common European values. They see bullfighting as something archaic and irrelevant. However, this attitude is somewhat undermined by the fact that matadors are still icons of style for many young people in Spain (Frayer, 2011). Hence, the concepts of courage and masculinity are still incorporated into bullfighting, and young people still share these values though the practice is becoming less popular.

“Perhaps, we are also partially guilty in that,” contemplates Javier, 33, a matador, Yolanda’s husband. “I mean modern bullfighting is becoming more and more corrupted and less and less professional.” Many people agree that the practice is becoming rather corrupted, and many are trying to make money instead of following the tradition (Frayer, 2011). More so, bull breeders often provide weak bulls while some matadors are less skilled. For instance, in 2014, the bullfighting was called off after three matadors were badly injured (Govan, 2014). In 2015, Jimenez Fortes was gored and had serious injuries (Willgress, 2015). “Young matadors are less focused, they make many mistakes, they are not skillful enough” states Jose, “and this makes bullfighting look like the massacre of either the matador or the bull.”

Of course, the economic element of the issue is also very important. Bullfighting is the reason why many tourists come to Spain while it is also an important symbol of Spain for any tourist. “I have come to see the fight of the matador and the bull,” says Mark, 32, a Canadian tourist, “and I will participate in the run. I expect it will be one of the brightest experiences in my life.” The country’s bullrings are often full, which means significant funds for local budgets.

“I also think that it may be cruel, but this is a beautiful Spanish tradition,” notes Ada, 27, a tourist from Germany. “I think this is spectacular… I mean sand and blood, there may be something in it. I also think that attending the bullfighting will help me understand Spanish culture better.” These people are ready to come to Spain, which means they will spend their money in this country. Admittedly, the Spanish economy will benefit from every dollar or euro brought. Tourism is an important segment of the country’s economy, and any event or place attracting people has particular significance and value (Brandes, 2009).

At that, there is another side to the issue. Financial constraints have a negative impact on the development of bullfighting in Spain. Fewer people go to see bullfighting as they simply cannot afford it or prefer spending their money elsewhere (Brandes, 2009). However, negative publicity causes more damage to the practice. Javier notes, “Of course, bullfighting is not the most important segment of our economy, but it is a well-developed industry that employs many people. What will come of us if bullfighting is banned? I am a matador, and this is all I can do. I have some concern about my and my family’s future.” Javier as well as thousands of people involved in bullfighting risk becoming unemployed if the practice is banned in the country. Of course, officials should also take this into account when considering banning or leaving bullfighting.


Clearly, there are many things to consider when thinking about bullfighting. There are political and economic factors to take into account. There are cultural issues as well. It is clear that bullfighting is still deeply incorporated into the Spanish identity, and even though younger generations seem to be disinterested, the tradition is still alive and well. Spanish people, as well as tourists from all over the world, are eager to see the battle between the courageous and skilled matador, the symbol of the civilization, and dangerous and graceful bull, the symbol of nature. Some claim that it is an ancient tradition, and modern people have no right to make it disappear. Whereas, others stress that it is high time to ban this cruel and barbaric practice. There is still no consensus, and only time will show which opinion will win. For now, you still have an opportunity to see one of the most controversial practices of our days.

Reference List

Badcock, J. (2015). BBC. Web.

Brandes, S. (2009). Torophiles and torophobes: The politics of bulls and bullfighting in contemporary Spain. Anthropological Quarterly, 82(3), 779–794.

Frayer, L. (2011). Bullfighting in Spain stays alive despite regional ban. NPR. Web.

Govan, F. (2014). The Telegraph. Web.

Landborn, A. (2015). Flamenco and bullfighting: Movement, passion and risk in two Spanish traditions. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Willgress, L. (2015). Mail Online. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Bullfighting in Spain: Animal Rights vs. Tradition." August 17, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bullfighting-in-spain-animal-rights-vs-tradition/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Bullfighting in Spain: Animal Rights vs. Tradition'. 17 August.

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