The Catalans have decided to abolish bullfighting, and this leads me to muse on this peculiar display, or custom, or institution, or whatever it may be.
I'm hardly an expert. I've read Hemingway, of course, and know his fondness for matadors and of bullfighting in general, so I have what knowledge can be absorbed from reading him. I've seen some film of these animals being tormented by picadors and dispatched by the matador, and of the parade they put on before the torment begins.
As may be guessed, I have no objection to this spectacle being abolished, in Catalonia or elsewhere. I can't say I've ever understood the explanations, or justifications, of bullfighting to the extent I know of them. I can't recall exactly what Hemingway wrote--something about courage, and grace, and defying fate, and custom, and art, I think; some romantic musings about life and death. He made an outraged old lady his foil in his book on the issue; a very typical Hemingway touch. Papa was somewhat peculiar himself, of course, and could be rather brusque in characterizing people. He thought El Greco was a homosexual based on the appearance of his paintings ("viva El Greco el rey de los maricons").
I think one need be neither an old lady nor a homosexual to be baffled by bullfighting--why it takes place, why anyone finds it interesting or attractive. The Romans, of course, amused themselves by watching men fight various wild animals. But even the Romans had pity on the animals now and then (especially elephants) and the crowd would actually stop the shows in some cases. Also, the Romans didn't idolize the animal fighters as they did the gladiators. They recognized there could be no real glory in killing a beast.
I'm not sure there is any glory in killing a human, but would agree with the Romans there is certainly none in killing an animal, especially killing one in a lengthy, convoluted, showy, elaborate manner. After being repeatedly gored by men on horseback and on foot, it's a wonder a bull can do anything at all to a matador, let alone hit one with a horn now and then. A matador would seem to have to deliberately put himself in harms way to incur any risk--which I suppose may be what delights the fans of bullfighting in some fashion.
If so, there are other ways of achieving such a result. Displays of boxing or other martial arts at least pit human against human. There can be said to be something in the nature of fairness involved in those cases. Each participant knows the risk, each has trained for the fight, they are more or less equally matched (each of them are human, at least, and can think and plan and react intelligently).
Using custom, tradition, history, art, or most anything, to justify tormenting and killing an animal seems a shabby thing. One wonders why this macabre display survives, anywhere.