"Rodeo Kabuki"


"The Rise of the Minotaur" is a well-written article by Craig Childs on the bull-riding phenomenon (HCN, 5/25/09). The subtitle is misleading, though: "Bull riding explodes from its Western roots into a modern spectacle." Bull riding was never part of life on a working ranch. It's an event created specifically for the rodeo arena, the intent of which is to put fannies in the seats, and provide vicarious thrills (and sometimes death) for an insensitive audience.

Bull riding, as the author notes, is a macho exercise in domination, Man Over Nature, Man Over Beast, with a subtext of sex. But if bull riding helps to relegate the rest of the rodeo's standard events to the dustbin of history, fine by me. For most of these animals, rodeo is merely a detour en route to the slaughterhouse.

To refer to this spectacle as a "sport" seems a bit of a stretch. Sport, by definition, implies a contest between willing, evenly matched contestants. Neither bull riding nor rodeo fits that description.

Consider these comments from author Larry McMurtry:

"Cowboys, sensing -- like gorillas -- that their time has passed, cling ever more desperately to anachronistic styles, not willing to admit that the myth has degenerated, the traditions eroded to a point where attempting to sustain them falls somewhere between silliness and the outright ridiculous."

And, "No one on a working ranch would ever have any reason (or desire) to ride a bull, Brahma or otherwise. ... Bull riding and barrel racing are rodeo kabuki -- their relation to anything that might happen on a ranch is confined to costume."

Eric Mills, coordinator
Action for Animals
Oakland, California