Practical Issues > Animals for Entertainment
Bullfighter's Remorse Ends His Bloody Career

This incredible photo marks the end of Matador Torero Alvaro Munera's career. He collapsed in remorse mid-fight when he realized he was having to prompt this otherwise gentle beast to fight. He went on to become an avid opponent of bullfights. (The look on this bull's face says it all for me. Even grievously wounded by picadors, he did not attack this man.)

Torrero Munera is quoted as saying of this moment: "And suddenly, I looked at the bull. He had this innocence that all animals have in their eyes, and he looked at me with this pleading. It was like a cry for justice, deep down inside of me. I describe it as being like a prayer - because if one confesses, it is hoped, that one is forgiven. I felt like the worst shit on earth." "Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures.Alero Munera says: "Chiquil�n, another repentant bullfighter, claims to have seen bulls weeping. He says that he cannot kill even a fly nowadays. I take my hat off to that man. He's a real hero who learned his lesson through reason and thinking." - Thomas de Quincey

Shortly after waking this morning, I came across this photo of a bullfighter in moment of brutal reorganization. A wounded bull seemingly pleading with a crumpled man bedecked in a bullfighter's attire of golden colour and high status. I saw that some 13,825 people (at the time I looked) had 'liked' this photo. Some 5,907 shares accompanied it, along with the words, "and suddenly, I looked at the bull. He had this innocence that all animals have in their eyes, and he looked at me with this pleading. It was like a cry for justice...".

Clearly, some of us, we want to believe such a good story. That Alvaro Munera Builes ('El Pilarico', a Colombian bullfighter turned champion of animal-rights)/Fabian Oconitrillo Gonzalez realized the injustice to the animal and that from that moment became stood in opposition to the sport/art of bullfighting. But in truth, this image was not what it seemed. Or rather, what people hoped it was they were seeing.

I was initially touched by the photo when I saw it come up in my stream of links shared and thought it heart-wrenching this small jpeg floating there in a pop-up window.

Does this show our willingness to see the good in people, in man? Or is it merely a good example of Chinese Whispers, that game I remember from my schoolyard days? Is it all just a cruel internet hoax? (Remember Patricia Piccinini's artwork used as proof that a girl could be turned into a rat-like creature for disobedience? Or the Ghost in the Stereoscope? A quick glance through The Museum of Hoaxes tells all.)

What say you?

I believed, clearly and in an instant, in one animal's power to be able to plead for its right to live or to be released from pain. It was my first unchecked response. And then the world told me otherwise. This cannot happen. This is not something you would see. These are not the actions of a matador in the ring. There is no realization of the act as viewed from the side of the bull. The rug was pulled from under me, once more, and perhaps highlights why I am so cynical.

The words beneath or accompanying the image, I believed them. I read them and looked at the scene and yes, the bull was pleading, the matador's posture expressed remorse. This was not so. Change the words beneath and the image changes. I guess, if anything, it highlighted my love of words and I am impressed by their ability to steer my mind when reading a scene. It is why I love to play in the title area or arena of my own work. This line of text has the potential to alter how you read the scene. Sometimes it agrees with what you have seen and assessed, and other times, it spins you around and stands you upon your head.

The above photo has been doing the rounds on the internet with claims it is Alvaro Munera Builes, a Colombian animal rights activist who in his youth fought as a novillero, a 'novice bullfighter', under the name 'El Pilarico' in Colombia and then Spain. In fact, not only is this not true, it could not be true.

Munera did not leave bullfighting because of some conversion in the bullring; quite the reverse. It was the bull that made him leave.

In 1984 a bull called 'Terciopelo', from the breed of Marques de Villagodio, caught him in the foot and tossed him across the ring, fracturing the fifth cervical vertebrae in his neck - along with other injuries - which rendered him permanently paraplegic.

It was only later after he had been transferred from hospital in Spain to a recuperative facility in Miami to be closer to his relatives in Colombia that he developed a 'moral' problem with bullfighting. According to his own account, it was the doctors, nurses, other patients and their families treating him with contempt because of his bullfighting past which caused the change. In his own words, he converted to their point of view because "there are more of them, they must be right."

Whatever you think of this as a reason for an ethical about-turn, it is clear that it was not the behaviour of a bull while dying that caused this man to end his run of 150 bulls killed.

One thing I can say with complete confidence is that matadors don't reach that stage in their career - well beyond that of Munera - and suddenly think it's all a mistake in the ring. He will have killed hundreds and hundreds of bulls before that moment. Much like the matador Sebastian Castella in the photo above in a strikingly similar situation.

The reason for the similarity is that to sit on the 'strip' around the ring after the sword has been placed in the bull is a common desplante, or act of defiance, within the part-scripted, part-improvised spectacle that is the corrida de toros. Whatever the corrida is, it is certainly not a fight (the English word bull-fight derives from our foul old hobby of bull-baiting with dogs), and the concept of fairness or sport no more enters into the corrida than it does the slaughterhouse.

Which is not to say that feeling is impossible. The reason I know all this about the bulls and the bullfighters is I spent two years living with them to research a book on the subject. And despite all that time, I was still moved to write the following passage about my visit to Pamplona.

It was a strangely moving experience running side by side with a bull, close enough to touch, although that was frowned upon. He was pure-brown in colour and apparently totally ignorant of my existence at his flank, his whole being determined only to keep with his herd and get clear of this mass of humanity. The kinship I felt with him was purely physical, locomotory, but it was still more than superficial.

Later that evening I watched the one and only bullfight I will ever see in Pamplona. The party atmosphere from the streets was magnified in the ring. Not one, but six bands were in operation, each one from a different fan club celebrating. The fans themselves danced and shouted and swore and drank, half the time with their backs to the sand. The matadors valiantly tried to get their attention by fighting, but the bulls were so distracted by the noise - and being run through the streets that morning - that they were almost impossible to make charge. It was an ugly, barbaric thing.

And then the bull I had run beside came in, and although he was fought well, he refused to die, despite the sword being within him. As the crowd cheered and booed, swayed and screamed, he walked over to the planks and began a long, slow march around the ring, holding on to life as though with some internal clenched fist, refusing to give up, refusing to die. I had run next to this great animal, had matched myself to him as best I could, and in doing so felt some form of connection to the powers that propelled him. Now I watched them all turned inwards in an attempt to defy the tiny, rigid ribbon of steel within his chest, and having been blinded by no beauty, tricked by no displays of courage or prowess by the matadors, I just saw an animal trying to stay on its feet against the insuperable reality of death. I left the plaza de toros with tears in my eyes.

From Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, published by Profile Books (UK). Serialised in The Independent on Sunday.

If you really want to know what happens in that bizarre world, and all the ethics around it, read the book. As well as receiving excellent reviews from the press, and being listed in their essential reading lists - and shortlisted for the Sports Book of the Year 2011 - they also point to the moral complexity of it all.
What makes the book work is that he [Fiske-Harrison] never loses his disgust for it. Daily Mail

It's to Fiske-Harrison's credit that he never gets over his moral qualms about bullfighting. Financial Times

Uneasy ethical dilemmas abound, not least the recurring question of how much suffering the animals are put through. Sunday Telegraph

Or, as the UK's top literary magazine put it:

Alexander Fiske-Harrison first tussled with the issue in his early twenties and, as a student of both philosophy and biology, has perhaps tussled with it more lengthily and cogently than most of us. Literary Review

Into The Arena can be purchased at all major British bookshops or from Amazon UK by clicking here (in paperback, eBook or audiobook.) In the US, it can be purchased from Amazon in all these formats by clicking here. In Canada here. In Australia here. In India here. In Singapore and South East Asia here.

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