The Old News
By Jack Wright
There’s a new Minister of Culture and Sport in Spain these days, Maxìm Huerta, who admits bullfighting is not his cup of tea:
And yet there’s still some lingering part of the native population that can’t envision their country without the toros and he’s supposed to be looking after their interests because he’s their minister too. But Francisco Rivera, a matador who boasts a lineage of iconic matadors, says that with this new minister the bullfighters feel they are being “marginalized”.
To these members of the populace, bullfighting is culture and can’t therefore be ignored, let alone turfed out of existence. In fact, Spain is toros. Ask even the tourists who wouldn’t know they were staring Spain in the face unles the matador and the tool of his trade, the bull, come into their line of vision. But what’s culture?
Prof. Helen Spencer-Oatey of the Centre of Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick, Coventry, observes in her 2012 What is culture? A compilation of quotations. GlobalPAD Core Concepts: “In 1952, the American anthropologists, Kroeber and Kluckhohn, critically reviewed concepts and definitions of culture, and compiled a list of 164 different definitions. M. Apte (1994: 2001), writing in the ten-volume Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, summarized the problem as follows: ‘Despite a century of efforts to define culture adequately, there was in the early 1990s no agreement among anthropologists regarding its nature.’”
“Culture,” says Prof. Spencer-Oakey, “is a notoriously difficult term to define. . . [It] is a fuzzy set of basic assumptions and values, orientations to life, beliefs, policies, procedures and behavioural conventions that are shared by a group of people, and that influence (but do not determine) each member’s behaviour and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behaviour.”
To the proponents of the toros, there’s no question about it: Bullfighting is part and parcel of the Spanish culture whatever their definition of culture is.
To them, the bullfight is a complicated art that only the truly initiated can understand and appreciate. According to Prof. Spencer-Oatey, this would be exemplified in Matthew Arnolds’ Culture and Anarchy (1867) where “culture [is] referred to [as] special intellectual or artistic endeavors or products, what today we might call “high culture” as opposed to “popular culture” (or “folkways” in an earlier usage). By this definition, only a portion – typically a small one – of any social group “has” culture. (The rest are potential sources of anarchy!) This sense of culture is more closely related to aesthetics than to social science.”
Whichever way culture is defined in relation to the toros, why is the Minister of Culture not a bullfight aficionado? Because, as he tweeted IN 2010, “I don’t much like suffering getting mixed with applause.”
Now that he is Minister of Culture and Sports, Huerta feels it expidient to be conciliatory and has provided his own definition: “[Culture] is the costume that we have put on, the film that we have seen, the music that accompanies us in the taxi, the museum in which we have entered and the party and the applause on the football field. . . Culture is us, today, yesterday and I want it to be tomorrow too. Culture is not factions, it has to be the pride of all. . .”
This from someone who also tweeted:
También digo #NoAlToroDeLaVega
9:59 – 12 sept. 2015
Of course, the Toro de la Vega is not bulfighting. No “art”. Just sheer brute force against a helpless animal. It is a particularly barbaric medieval bull festival celebrated annually in Tordesillas, Valladolid consisting of hundreds of lancers chasing the bull through the streets of the town and down to an open field. Some will try to lance the beast to death. Campaigns against this festival of extreme cruelty have been organized. Huerta joined the NoAlToroDeLaVega campaign. In 2016, the regional government of Castilla y Leon banned the killing of the bulls but many of the the people from Tordesillas have risen up against the prohibition and contested the ban. As a result, the bull may still be killed but not in public and the festival has been renamed Toro de la Peña.
And now about sports. The Minister of Culture and Sport tweeted:
Umberto Eco: “odio a los deportistas”. Yo, el deporte. Que manera de sobrevalorar lo físico! Ozu (Umberto Eco [Italian novelist, literary critic, philosopher and university professor] “hates the athletes”. Me, the sport. The physical is overated.)
13:51 – 26 abr. 2010
Having accepted the post of the Minister of Culture and Sport, Huerta should explain the tweet away, shouldn’t he? So he did: “I am not an athlete. I’m saying this for all those things that have come out [on Twitter]. I do not like to practice sport but I do like sports, and I will support and love sport and support all athletes because they are heroes and heroines.”
Even if he was some thirty years younger, it is improbable he’d make another Rafa Nadal unless from the couch.
Oh, by the way, for those who haven’t heard it yet — a bit late not to have heard already — the 47-year old minister is an award-wining novelist, TV presenter, a member of Spain’s Academia de las Ciencias y las Artes de Televisión (Academy of the Arts and Sciences of Television). His La noche soñada won the Premio Primavera de Novela in 2014. He’s in good company. Other winners of the award down the years include such illustrious names in contemporary Spanish literature as Juan José Millas, Fernando Savater, Rosa Montero, and Lucia Etxebaria.
Featured image/Twitter@maximhuerta, Fair use
Death in the Afternoon, Fair use
Nadal in 2012 in Roland Garros,/Yann Caradec, CC BY-SA2.0