"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

rodeo and larry mcmurtry
eric mills
eric mills
Jun 08, 2009 05:28 PM
In my 6/1/09 letter to the editor regarding bull riding, I failed to note the source for the two quotes from Larry McMurtry. Both (and many others) appear in the 1994 book, RODEO, with photographs and text by Louise L. Serpa, text by Larry McMurtry (Aperture Books, New York).

Here's another provocative one: "She [Serpa] sees cowboys as noble men--indeed, a few of them are noble. I see them as physically competent but emotionalloy limited men who are in most cases sexist, chauvinist, xenophobic, quasi-fascistic, and not infrequently dull."

The book features a first-rate collection of rodeo photos and commentary by famed photographer Serpa (recently retired). The comments by Mr. McMurtry provide an intriguing and quite different view of rodeo. Highly recommended.

Eric Mills, coordinator
Oakland, CA
  email - afa@mcn.org