October 13, 2006

Bullfight World
by Lyn Sherwood

The Debate Over Manuel Macias

Certainly the most controversial subject that has arisen during the current Tijuana bullfight season involves a young matador, Manuel Macias.

Although Macias’ performances have been highlighted by outrageous bravery, they have fallen short of technical knowledge and experience. Mostly, his actions have been tremendistic, lacking in plan, rhyme, or reason. He’s a greenhorn.

Still, some highly respected aficionados, such as Gary Sloan, Jim Verner, and Dean Rhineman, have looked beyond Macias’ current “style” (if one could call it that) and into the taurine psyche of the young matador, and have seen the makings of a potential future figura.

Which begs the question: In a perfect world, shouldn’t a torero who has received his alternativa of matadorship be considered a professional? After serving his time as an intern (novillero), shouldn’t he now be prepared and qualified to challenge others of his profession? After all, the public pays to see a full corrida, not a novillada. Shouldn’t they expect to witness professionals, at work with authentic toros bravos? Such has not been the case with Manuel Macias.

But, the current scene in bullfighting, especially in Mexico, is a long way from being a perfect world. Kids are thrown into the fray, to sink or swim. Unless the torero is the son of a successful matador, or has the backing of a ganadero or other wealthy benefactor, the only two roads to success are outrageous talent or outrageous bravery. Macias does not seem to reflect anything resembling outrageous talent. So, as many others before him, including Manuel Benitez “El Cordobés”, he has had to resort to tremendismo, which always gets a rise out of the majority of the crowds, but falls fat on genuine, knowledgeable aficionados.

“How can Sherwood write these things? He has never seen Macias perform.”

Point well taken. I can only depend on what others who I respect have said and written about him. Macias not alone; his case isn’t unique. There are many Manuel Maciaces, out there. I have seen Enrique Ponce only on videotape; yet, it has been obvious to me that he’s a truly great torero.

Macias seems determined to emulate El Cordobés’ famous quote, “…or, I’ll dress you in mourning”. But, can we really hold that against him? He is facing a lot more than bulls that can kill his body; he is facing political realities that can kill his dreams of ever becoming a successful matador de toros.

In Spain, beginners initiate their careers in the “económicas”, the bullfights that feature younger bulls (be-cerros), without picadores. Only after demonstrating success in such functions do they graduate to novilladas picadas, with larger bulls and picadores. Thereafter, depending on their success at that level, when and if they graduate to matadorship, they are considered professionals. Being green is no longer an excuse for incompetence.

But, in Mexico, there are no económicas. Aside from any experience that they may gain, on bull ranches, aspiring toreros are cast into a world in which most Spanish novilleros have already invested a long time to belong. Most young Mexican toreros must pay for all of their opportunities. They have to pay for their own bulls, their own expenses, and their own bribes to the greedy taurine critics.

So, unless you’re a natural-born torero, such as a Manolo Martinez, an Eloy Cavazos, an Antonio Lomelín, or a David Silveti, your chances of making it in the Mexican bullfight world is an expensive, tenuous, and very unlikely, proposition. Of 100 who begin, only one will make it.

So, toreros who aren’t born with natural talent, or raised within a taurine environment and have wealthy backers, toreros such as Manuel Macias must choose the tremendistic route of performance, depending on appealing to crowds who buy tickets, because they are anxious to see him, now, before a bull finally kills him. It’s an ugly reality, but nonetheless a reality.

Will the situation ever change? Not without divine intervention.

The bottom line is simple. This observer—who does not solicit or accept bribes from toreros or anybody else associated with La Fiesta does not appreciate the work of tremendistas. I believe that the only goal of the matador is to glorify the courage of the bull, that the bull deserves justification for its death, and such justification is discovered only in the pursuit of art. For the torero, that which he has between his legs is no substitute for that which he has between his ears.

But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize with toreros such as Manuel Macias. It doesn’t mean that I don’t encourage them to continue seeking success. But, neither does it mean that I must applaud performances that don’t rise to the levels of the bulls that they face, or that I should appreciate, rather than merely tolerate, trickery over artistry. I respect anybody who dons the suit of lights, but does that mean that I must overlook his shortcomings?

Does that make me a hypocrite? Could be. How do you feel about it?

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