Famous matador Fran Rivera held up a red rag to social media recently when he published a photo on his Instagram account of him fighting a heifer while holding his 5-month-old daughter in his arms.
The photo was accompanied by the following comment: "Carmen's Debut: she is the 5th generation that fights bulls in our family. My grandfather fought like this with my father. My father fought like this with me, and I've done it with my daughters Cayetana, and now Carmen." [Translation]
Within hours, the photo received millions of “likes” (almost 14 million as of this article) and thousands of comments highlighting animosity between supporters and opponents of bullfighting in Spain.
The “anti-bullfighters,” who have felt silenced for years by the protection that bulls receive from state institutions, have found an arena for their activism via social networks.
"Of course pro-bullfighting arguments are ridiculous!! Raising a living being with such great care to later torture them… Recognize that you are a bunch of sadistic assholes… not that you need to listen… thank God the world is becoming aware and hopefully this carnage will cease to exist." [Translation]
"To those who don't like bullfighting, respect other people's interests. It's a photo of a father with his daughter. Showing her roots." [Translation]
"Ole, Francisco Rivera Paquirri! Those who don't like it should fight more to end world hunger and stop meddling in something that has been a part of Spanish culture for a lifetime." [Translation]
"niceguy_rob87 Your a freaking idiot. Why would you risk your child's life with an animal who is not tamed!!! You don't deserve to have children!" [Translation]
The scandal quickly migrated to Twitter, where “Fran Rivera” trended on January 25. Tweets were typically loaded with sarcasm:
No tenéis vergüenza. Respetad la tradición de que un tío torture a un bicho con cuernos con su bebé en brazos. ¡Ya está bien, hombre!— gerardo tecé (@gerardotc) January 25, 2016
"You have no shame. Respect the tradition of a guy torturing a creature with horns with his baby in his arms. Enough, man!" [Translated]
Estoy deseando tener un bebé para llevármelo de crucifixión.— Dios (@diostuitero) January 25, 2016
"I'm hoping to have a baby to bring him to a crucifixion. — God" [Translated]
-¿Señor Rivera, puede salir Carmen a jugar? pic.twitter.com/G3nwiB8861
— Valle Loko (@valle_loko) January 26, 2016
"Mr. Rivera, can Carmen come out to play?" [Translated]
The issue even crossed borders, spiking interest from British actor and animal welfare advocate Ricky Gervais:
Mental, dangerous & cruel. With or without a baby. https://t.co/KOEH2ZLEyG— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) January 26, 2016
On the other hand, Rivera's fellow bullfighters have sympathized with the matador, posting photos of themselves bullfighting with children in their arms, as seen in Paula Zorita's tweet below:
"May the anti-bullfighters know about cultural roots and values! I love seeing these photos… #YesToKidsInBullrings" [Translated]
Thanks to these tweets, many netizens have been astonished to discover a seemingly habitual practice among bullfighters, where they post chilling images such as this one published by retired bullfighter Antonio Martin:
Mi hijo también disfruto en mis brazos toreando,viva la tauromaquia pic.twitter.com/qIwcK5ztmA
— antoniomartinmartin (@AntonioTorero) January 25, 2016
"My son also had fun in my arms bullfighting, long live bullfighting." [Translated]
User BorisVian left the following comment for Rivera on eldiario.es:
"Your foolishness has put you and your fellow bullfighters in the entire world's spotlight (being news and not the good kind in several leading international publications). I think you still don't know how badly you've screwed up." [Translated]
Indeed, news has appeared in papers all over the world, where the matador was repeatedly blasted as irresponsible.
Susana Parra Becerril, however, defended Rivera:
"I love bulls and the Fiesta. What happens is that in Spain, instead of feeling proud of ourselves and our customs, we are self-conscious and everything from the outside seems better. Aren't parents who drink and drive more dangerous? What about guns in the U.S.? Or domestic violence?" [Translated]
Virgilio27 equated Spain with bulls on eldiario.es:
(…) The problem is that bulls smell of Spain, and that bothers those who are anti-Spain. A society more and more hypocritical and false where people get wound up about seeing a bloody animal is a sick society that doesn't know what life is nor its value. Putting animals above humans is at best ignorant. [Translated]
Shortly after the scandal broke the Ombudsman of Andalucia alerted the public prosecutor of Sevilla — where the matador lives — to consider that the photo reflects “a situation of unnecessary risk to a child.”
The public prosecutor opened an investigation into the event filed under the category “for the protection of minors”, while Minister of Health, Social Services and Equality Alfonso Alonso advised the bullfighter to “reflect” claiming “it is not appropriate, under any circumstances, to endanger minors.”
Alonso did not feel that punitive measures towards Rivera were necessary, however.
The Popular Party in government to which Alonso belongs has been staunchly defensive of bullfighting, an activity that was declared a “cultural good” in 2013. The government has even bestowed the sport with fresh state grants during a period characterized by austerity and cuts. Despite this, polls show that fewer than one in five Spaniards support government funding for bullfights.
It is worth noting Fran Rivera is a matador well aware of the risk posed by angry bulls, given that he himself has suffered serious gorings in exercising his profession. As a child, Rivera lost his father, the famous matador Paquirri, who died in September 1984 after being gored by a bull.
This story was cross-posted from our partners at GlobalVoices, a network of hundreds of bloggers worldwide.