Running of the Bulls
Today in Pamplona, Spain, probably the most famous animal abuse festival in the world has ended. It is called the fiesta in honor of San Fermin, the patron saint of Navarra (the district which Pamplona is its capital city) but most know it as Running of the Bulls or Encierros in Spanish.
Additionally to this post we have made a videoment about the Pamplona festival and for a wider view about the various world festivals please watch this.
The festival is originated in the combination of two different medieval events, the religious ceremonies honoring San Fermin which were held on October 10th, and the commercial trade fairs which were held at the beginning of the summer in which bullfighting were conducted by the cattle ranchers in the evenings for their and the villagers’ pleasure. The ranchers were driving the bulls from the corrals through the streets and into the bullring, a practice that became popular with locals joining the run and at some point they started to run in front of the bulls.
In 1591 the ceremonies were transferred to the 7th of July to combine with the trade fairs and to improve the weather for the celebrations.
Nowadays, a run takes place every day at 8am between the 7th and the 14th of July. 6 bulls and 6 steers who are supposed to herd them, run the 825 meters of immensely crowded narrow streets from to the corral into the bullring.
The terrified bulls, surrounded by hundreds of runners, are harassed and touched all along the run and in case that a bull decides to drive off one of his harassers, other runners storm him with blows, kicks and tail pulling.
Running on the cobbled streets with sharp turns, the bulls also suffer from falls, tramplings, bruises and fractures.
They often collide with the walls get severely injured, sometimes breaking bones.
When entering the bullring the bulls are immediately imprisoned inside the ring, saving them for later. Meanwhile cows and calves are released to the bullring for the runners to enjoy as they abuse them, playing matadors. In the evening the 6 bulls, who were forced to run in the morning, are tortured in a bullfight spectacle.
Running of the Nudes
In 2002 after years of protest mostly by local activists, PETA launched a campaign against the bulls run, offering a different thrill, looking at naked humans running instead of at terrified bulls.
In the first ever running of the nudes event, 25 activists “wearing plastic bull horns, red scarves and little else…”, run in the same route the bulls run 2 days before.
The campaign was a great success for the city of Pamplona. Although they didn’t appreciate the nudity, they definitely embraced the international attention bringing even more tourists to the already popular oppressive festival.
Already from the third nude run, local media and tour guides listed the protest run next to the protested against run in their events calendars, recommending tourists to check out the “Encierro Humano” (the human run) as well as the original Encierros.
Another significant step of acceptance happened in the fourth Annual Running of the Nudes event when a Pamplona newspaper included the Running of the Nudes in its official San Fermín Festival guide.
The events of the following years were the biggest quantitatively and festively and consequently started to draw a lot of criticism from within the AR movement, especially regarding its blunt sexism but also since many activists felt the campaign was insulting and degrading to the movement’s seriousness and sincerity and draws focus from the real issue which is mostly the bullfighting in the evenings of each day and not even the bulls run in the mornings and definitely not the feasting humans who obviously must be provided with an alternative thrill….
In a critical press release about ‘The Running of the Nudes’ and PETA from 13/08/2007, The animal rights organization called Animal Equality wrote:
“If there was any doubt about the kind of reaction this event provokes in the people of Pamplona and the Spanish public in general, a quick look at some of the reactions in the media is all that’s needed. The size of the breasts of the activists is of more interest than the sad reality the bulls will endure just a few hours after PETA’s carnival. From our point of view, it’s an embarrassing event that greatly harms non-human animals and that also harms the image of the animal rights cause that the public associates PETA with. It’s difficult enough in our current age to get society to take our claims seriously, and continuing on this pathway of trivializing their exploitation and suffering only adds to this.”
Ironically the nude festival gave the average excitement seeker two reasons to come to Pamplona in the beginning of July. Hundreds of thousands of humans, mostly males with an adrenaline rush, now also got an opportunity for a testosterone rush.
Many tourist websites cataloged it under “Naked festivals and events around the world”, or “10 ways people are getting naked in Europe” and recommended tourists to precede their vacation in Pamplona in two days so they could watch the nude run.
Part of the reality of protest in this postmodern ultra-capitalistic age is that even a protest can be easily incorporated into the consumerist society, becoming another commodity for humans to purchase. The consumer based system is totally capable of gulping even subversive ideas and certainly ones who played straight into its hands.
Postmodern capitalist culture succeeds in integrating and possessing everything. It can easily live with internal contradictions. In this case a 14th century torture ritual which still seems culturally primitive and pagan, becomes a thrilling touristic international cultural experience of an “important” tradition. And that’s corresponding with turning the protest against the violent tradition to another thrilling touristic international cultural experience of a becoming tradition. A protest against a tourist attraction has become a tourist attraction. The more protesters and the less cloths they are wearing the greater the attraction.
The postmodern humans are homo-consumericus, travel around looking for excitements, the world is in their hands, at their service. Just come and taste. Whether it is tradition or progression, violent shows or naked protests against violence, everything is consumable.
It seems that as long as the criticism over PETA was regarding the sexism and from within the movement, they could take it (as they are used to that) but playing into the hands of their enemies was too much, so after 6 years with no effects but negative ones, they have decided to change approach.
Painting of the Nudes
Obviously the expectation that humans would make decisions based on morality is still very low so the nudity is still a big part of the event, still functioning as a sexual provocation to get attention. However, the scenery and context was significantly changed. In 2008 the nude was no longer happy and festive but grave and demonstrative. From throwing “compassionate rocking party” to show Pamplona “just how much fun they can have without harming a hair on a bull’s head!”, the focus was changed to be on the bulls and specifically on bullfighting.
The naked bodies who were used as a source to draw attention to the alternative party, are used since 2008 as a source to draw attention to the bulls’ suffering. Activists started to paint their naked bodies black with red stains, insert fake banderillas in their bare backs, forming the shape of a giant bull or a huge slogan made out of naked activists, and in the last couple of years a nude funeral and a death march.
From cheap provocation platform the human body became a platform for a much more radical message presented much more seriously. Accordingly the result was less participants.
In 2006 about 1,400 people came to the nude run which is more or less the same amount as all of the events since 2008.
Still the nudity tradition remains the crucial element of the re-launched protest, and sexist men who come to see boobs don’t care about the message. They don’t even see the grim faces or the fake banderillas on the activists’ backs. They see naked girls and two days later they would see running bulls in the morning and a bulls’ ‘Show’ in the evening. It’s their world.
Not presenting a fun alternative festival full of naked smiley humans focusing on asking other humans to consider other options to have fun, and not presenting the violence of the original festival full of naked unhappy activists asking humans to stop supporting the horror, helps to convince the million participants otherwise. The happy nude produced two exciting events to consume and only attracted humans to come 2 days earlier to the festival, and the sad nude reduce the number of protesters but not the number of abusers.
The naked truth is that nudity doesn’t help. Happy or sad nudity, 100 or 1,000 protesters, still, about a million humans come to watch panicked bulls running in a narrow street crowded with hundreds of thousands of humans who many would continue harassing them once they get to the bullring for their sick pleasure, then go to eat other tortured animals in the town’s restaurants, and in the evening they’ll come back to watch the highlight of the torture in the same ring from the morning. About a millions humans come to Pamplona for this every single year.
It is not the messenger you should kill…
Running of the Nudes, definitely in its pre 2008 version, is objectifying, sexist, out of focus, insulting, pathetically aiming to the cheapest and lowest common denominator instead of taking a demonstrative form. So the campaign was changed, but the problem is that reality didn’t.
PETA and AnimaNaturalis have drawn conclusions after 6 years of failures offering an alternative “sexy cool party”, and now after 8 years of the new approach, we are in the same place. The festival is still one of the most popular in the world and it still ends with a ritual which unbelievably still occurs and is still very popular in 2015.
The new approach barley covers the sexism. Clearly what draws the attention is still the nudity and not the sharp slogans on the signs which barley cover the activists, who otherwise would be dressed. The women objectification and sexism are concealed with dark and “bleeding” makeup but it is still there. Men participate too, as well as activists from all ages and sizes, but the front ones are carefully picked to fit the media standards.
The new approach barely covers the human objectification and it certainly doesn’t cover the continuation of the animals’ objectification. Asking the abusers to stop abusing is validating humans’ superiority and animals’ objectification.
The worst objectification, the much harsher and deeper one is the waiting for humans to change on animals’ expense.
The problem is not that activists ask humans to stop abusing animals using objectifying and sexist ways but that asking humans to stop abusing animals, regardless of how it’s done, is in itself objectifying and speciesist.
The big problem is not the way they address humans but the fact that they address them at all.
The change in the approach is cosmetic. The tendency and sort of action is still absolutely human oriented. Until when will the most caring humans in the world beg the least caring humans in the world, to care just a little?
When will you realize that the problem is not with the message or with you the messengers but with the addressees?
Maybe someday the running of the bulls will stop, maybe even the bullfights. But they are only a drop in the ocean of suffering called the world. The world you call to fix, refusing to understand that some things are unfixable.
And even if it was fixable, letting all its victims suffer until you figure out how, is objectifying billions of creatures. Some things mustn’t be “fixed” but ended.