Jewish World Review July 4, 2003 / 4 Tamuz, 5763
In search of anti-Americanism and the perfect bullfight
MALAGA, Spain -- I have been tooling around the south of Spain
in search of anti-Americanism and the perfect bullfight. The
anti-Americanism does not seem to be much in evidence. There was a homuncule
waiter in Seville who became unpleasantly abrupt when my tip did not live up
to his expectations -- expectations that perhaps become a bit elevated when
a yank swaggers in. Yet, that is about it.
Of course, I have been in the company of ordinary Spaniards, not
university professors or parlor intellectuals, and those are the types that
incubate such brilliant ideas as anti-Americanism.
In a very interesting article in this summer's issue of The
Public Interest, James W. Ceaser, a professor of politics at the University
of Virginia, reminds us that anti-Americanism began in the 18th century from
the musings of such eggheads as the aptly named Count de Buffon, the leading
biologist of his day and, I presume, a Frenchman.
According to Buffon and his associates, America was a dank
continent where all life degenerated owing to the climate, particularly its
humidity. Well, anyone living as I do in Washington would have to agree with
the simple-minded count that the humidity in Washington is killing. Yet even
in the count's day, intelligent life simply vacated Washington for more
clement regions during the humid season. The only degenerate forms of life
that remained were probably French spies and European freeloaders.
Nonetheless, what Ceaser calls the "degeneracy thesis" of
America became as important to many European intellectuals in the 18th
century as balmy Marxism became for their successors in the 20th century.
European intellectuals (and, for that matter, many of their American
equivalents) are easily enraptured by academic daydreams about reality. The
superior intellectuals (European and American alike) seek to explain reality
by empirical investigations, and three of America's best known
empiricists -- A. Hamilton, T. Jefferson and B. Franklin -- slaughtered the
"degeneracy thesis" with cool reason.
According to the Buffon theory, as Hamilton explained it in The
Federalist Papers, "all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate
in America ... even dogs cease to bark after having breathed awhile in our
Well, it was no problem for the three Americans to summon up
whole neighborhoods filled with barking dogs, and in Jefferson's "Notes on
the State of Virginia," the master of Monticello pointed out other thriving
American phenomena that put the laugh to Buffon the buffoon. Franklin went
beyond barking dogs and America's obviously vigorous commerce to demonstrate
his own stupendous vigor in the very salons of Paris and London.
Nonetheless anti-Americanism merely picked up steam, claiming at
first that the Founding Father's notion of universal rights would lead to
weak government, that American entrepreneurship would lead to bacchanal and
that commerce made people stupid. Today, a review of the constituent
elements of the anti-American rant reveals it as nothing more than a sour
mixture of jealousy, stupidity and fear of tomorrow. Here in Spain, I have
encountered little of it.
Yet, as I say, I have been with normal everyday Spaniards. They
are a dignified people. Their language is elegant. They are honest and have
a famous code of honor. Frankly, I, as an admirer of Italy, do not know why
I did not come upon Spain sooner. The Costa del Sol, Spain's southwest
Mediterranean coast, certainly puts me in mind of Italy's sunny coasts, and
if the food is not quite up to Italian standards, it is good enough. Yes,
the Spaniard is more restrained than the Italian, but given the Italian's
incomparable exuberance, what else could one expect? The Spanish character
is sufficiently lively for me. The artifacts seen throughout Spain testify
to its grandeur and momentous history.
As I said in the vestibule of this column, I have been pursuing
the perfect bullfight. Actually that was a flight of rhetoric, for I would
not recognize a perfect bullfight anymore than I would recognize a perfect
matzo ball, and I have read Papa Hemingway's "Death in the Afternoon" twice.
It is a study of Spanish bullfighting, but sitting here in the bullrings of
Spain I am still not really sure what makes the crowds applaud. The applause
is not rowdy or bloodthirsty. In fact, compared to the crowds at a New York
City baseball game, the Spanish bullfight aficionados are downright demure.
Many Americans are in attendance at these bullfights, a
surprisingly large number of them young women. At least three of the types
of participants in the fight are very gifted athletes, the
banderilleros, the cuadrillas and of course
the matadors. The fat picadores sitting on their
embattled horses and poking lances into the bull are, to my mind, repulsive,
and Hemingway felt that of all the participants, the ones most deserving of
pity were the horses. The bulls are very handsome, have enormous strength
and accelerate like huge Mercedes sedans across the ring. I would not want
to be in one's path. Most end up on someone's dinner table -- often, I am
told, at a shelter for the homeless.
Possibly this is just public relations fluff, provided by
aficionados of the bullring, but I have fallen for it. Now I, too, am an
aficionado, and I am returning to America to begin the Humanitarian
Association for the Advancement of Bullfighting in Beverly Hills, Calif. It
is time the Hollywood stars do something more for the homeless than merely
harass Republican presidents.
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JWR contributor Bob Tyrrell is editor in chief of The American Spectator. Comment by clicking here.
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