Animals suffer at human hands in numbers almost incomprehensible (50 billion annually for food alone), but the celebration of that suffering occupies unique ground, reserved for the most morally-bankrupt our species offers. Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, the main event during the San Fermin Fiesta, proves that despite our posturing part of our moral code remains frozen in antiquity. For one week each July, six terrified bulls are herded towards a gruesome death (itself, a level of depravity that would leave Darwin questioning evolution) by a mass of holiday revelers. The runners are described as courageous, daring, reckless, zany. Attracting international attention, the run makes for great theater, with spectators titillated by the prospect of men being thrown and trampled. What frivolity.
The fiesta is the heart of Pamplona tourism, and other than a prohibition against RWI, the mandate is to have fun. One site says, “This run only takes about three minutes, but it is a truly amazing and life changing experience for all involved.” For the bulls, life-ending. But first, they are tormented. Goaded by thousands, panicked by loud noises (bell-wearing oxen, cheering fans), and guided by young men wielding rolled newspapers and long sticks, the bulls slip and slide their way through unfamiliar cobblestone streets, becoming disoriented and frightened along the way. The run is marketed as adventurous competition with a dash of danger thrown in (the 15 deaths, prominently mentioned in Pamplona’s city guide, almost seem a matter of pride). That this is part of a religious festival, complete with prayers for protection to Saint Fermin, makes the run (and subsequent fight) a perversion with few equals.
ESPN should be ashamed (though, I’m sure they are not) that they cover this opening act to slaughter as sport. A more enlightened future will wonder how people could mock an animal’s fear and how the rest of us could abide it. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) is oft-credited with introducing Americans to the Pamplona tradition, even inspiring future runners. There is obvious irony in that classic’s title, for there will be no rising sun for this month’s running bulls. Their distress, mere entertainment. Their subsequent destruction, sad spectacle.