It’s hard to drum up a lot of sympathy for people like 20-year-old Benjamin Miller, who required three hours of surgery last February after being gored by a bull at Ciudad Rodrigo’s Carnaval del Toro in Spain.
Or for the four thrill-seekers gored so far this week at the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
Each morning of the week-long “religious festival”, six bulls and a steer are driven onto the streets with electric prods and sharp sticks and then goaded on by thousands of largely drunken onlookers until they reach the bull ring, where, that same afternoon, each of them will get stabbed and jabbed by picadors and banderilleros to sever their neck muscles before a dancing, prancing matador tries, often unsuccessfully, to ram a sword into the bull’s heart.
Injured participants like young Ben Miller, a student from the U.S., are helicoptered out to waiting hospitals, but for the terrified bulls it always ends the same way.
The churchgoing people of Pamplona dedicate this horrific event to their Patron Saint Fermin, a Christian convert who was martyred in the year 303 CE. Ironically, the man who baptized him, Saint Saturninus, was tied by his feet to a bull and dragged through the streets.
Across the country in Sabucedo, at another religious horror show, known as the Rapa de Bestas, 600 wild horses are rounded up and brought to the town square where they’re wrestled to the ground to have their manes shorn before being released back into the hills. This is all preceded by a special mass, including prayers to the town’s Patron Saint Lorenzo to protect the men from injury.
Movie director Miguel Angel Rolland has documented some of the worst of these festivals. The film, soon to be released, includes undercover video of scenes that make even the gruesome bullfights look quite tame by comparison. A bull is tied up and forced to bow down eight times before the statue of a local saint.
“It hurts me to say it but the Spanish are a savage, insensitive and ignorant people,” Rolland tells The Guardian. He estimates that at 1,868 festivals involving bulls last year, more than 11,000 were tortured and killed.
At a celebration of Corpus Christi that the local government calls an “event of regional tourist interest” a bull has a rope tied to his horns while dozens of men chase and drag him to the slaughterhouse.
At yet another, bulls are chased off a pier and then dragged out of the sea. (Many of them drown.)
And at one of the most bizarre, in Andalusia, a bull is tied up and forced to bow down eight times before the statue of a local saint. (Shades of the Spanish Inquisition.)
“Everyone goes,” Rolland says. “They take their children. These cruel events have the church’s blessing.”
Warning: This movie clip contains graphic undercover footage.
Many of these “festivals” have their origins in initiation rites that date back thousands of years, when it may have meant something for young men to prove their courage in the face of powerful wild animals. But such times are long gone. Today, the two things you can be sure of are that the bull will always lose and that ambulances and helicopters will be standing by to rush any of his tormentors into intensive care should they get hurt.
It’s a grim situation, but some of us can’t help but get a few moments of satisfaction from seeing these imbeciles occasionally getting hoisted on their own underpants.