Violence, A revenge of the bullfighting:
A bull’s horns collide with the back end of a fleeing matador. The matador resembles a crash test dummy flying through the air, but he’s a real man — so real that my friend asks me if he has a banana stuffed down the front of his tights. The matador hits the dirt and the bull tramples him. The crowd gasps. I look for signs of mashed banana. The wee Peruvian boy beside me yells, “Olé, olé!” The boy must be rooting for the bulls.
This is not a blood bath like in Spain. No bulls are killed. This is a revenge-of-the-bulls bullfight in Peru’s remote Colca Canyon (two times deeper than the Grand Canyon). Today, mostly the matadors will feel the pain, two times the pain, as they all appear to be hung over.
Now and then an inebriated spectator falls from the stands into the ring below. The crowd laughs. One drunk is crushed under hoof, tries to climb back up the red stone wall, but is rammed repeatedly. The crowd goes “ooooo.”
A caballero thinks he’ll be a star and jumps down into the ring waving a stolen matador’s cape. The man is gored dangerously close to his manhood and departs with his tail between his legs and a 12-inch rip in his jeans.
A matador in mauve produces banderillas, colorfully decorated, barbed swords, to throw at the bull like darts. They sink just below the skin and further antagonize the animal. The onlookers boo. The bulls are not supposed to be injured. But that’s a partial truth because two days ago when I arrived before the festivities, locals were selecting the best bulls and tormenting them for the many fights. A man hacked a chunk off a terrified toro’s ear and messily sucked the blood from the appendage in his hand as the bull bellowed in pain and fear.
The arena is packed with indigenous Peruvians of all ages in traditional attire. An old lady tells me that her walk home is four hours up the mountainside. I note her flimsy sandals. I’m torn between watching the crowd and watching the ballet of bull and bullfighter.
A 5-year-old girl with sunburned cheeks and a runny nose is drooling over the deep-fried guinea pig I’m gnawing. It’s the best sporting event arena food I’ve ever had.
My vegan and animal rights activist friends would be appalled by all of this, regardless of no bull being killed — they’d go “ape-shit,” and they scare me more than Al-Qaeda or an angry bull.
I wipe guinea pig grease from my face and cheer for the clown as he teases a bull away from a downed matador. I admit it, I’m enjoying this insanely bizarre spectacle, but why? It’s wrong even without the killing. I don’t like the bulls being distressed, but every time a matador loses, I feel satisfaction.
Why do people watch violent activities, and what is the matador gaining from the experience?
Dr. José L. Carrasco, M.D. and psychiatrist in Spain, did a study using matadors as test subjects. He found that the matadors had 17% less MAO (monoamine oxidase) than explosive experts. Low MAO levels can lead to impulse control issues and the desire to become a thrill seeker. MAO is an enzyme that allows the brain to break down excess dopamine. Dopamine levels increase from food, sex, danger and pain. People with lower MAO have a tendency to take bigger risks. The matadors are getting high.
But what about the spectators — where does their pleasure come from?
I contacted Ayala Leyser, PhD, a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist in Chicago. Dr. Leyser told me, “Watchers tend to be at the bottom of the status of any social totem pole, in need of empowerment and unable to act out their own aggression. They do so by identifying with the actors in this live game. It’s all about power and aggression — sometimes also about pain. Some people who were raised in abusive contexts have learned to enjoy pain and pain infliction even more so.”
Read more: CHRIS BRUMMER, GEORGETOWN LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR IMPLICATED IN MULTIPLE FRAUDS, ABUSER GOT CAUGHT
I’m both a thrill seeker and a “watcher.” I think I’ve just been called “the bottom of the social totem pole” too.
Aristotle would have another answer regarding the spectator. The ancient Greeks believed in the importance of catharsis — vicarious experience purging the need to act upon crazy desires and thoughts. This was why theater was important to the ancient Greeks. That’s why a good dose of violence at the movies, or in the real Grimm’s Fairy Tales, can be beneficial. That’s what I learned at university, and I’d argue with Dr. Leyser, if this were a tragic play, movie, or “The Bugs Bunny Show.” But the bullfight, although theatrical, is real. It’s more like the Roman games. And I loved it.