Monday, October 14, 2013

The Bull That Has Had Its Day

There has been a good deal of discussion in Andratx about bulls. One in particular. The Osborne bull. Last year the town hall came up with the bright idea to mark the twinning between Andratx and Elche de la Sierra in the province of Albacete in Castile-La Mancha by placing an image identical to the Osborne bull on a plinth which draws attention to this twinning arrangement. It seemed a pretty odd thing to do. Elche, or so it appeared to me, had little to do with the bull. (Perhaps someone knows otherwise.) Nevertheless, the bull it was until a few months later when it was removed. It has now been decided that it will not be returning to the plinth. In fact, it is a decision guided by the fact that the town hall didn't have permission to use the image; it was a breach of copyright.

While the bull affair down Andratx way has been one of the legality or otherwise of using the image, there is a far broader debate as to the use of the image of the Osborne bull and indeed the image of the bull (any old bull) full stop. The Osborne bull has over the years acquired a status as the unofficial national emblem of Spain; it has been a case of brandy branding the country.

Once upon a time, this branding was seen as an advantage. Back in the day, had the man on the Clapham omnibus been asked to name one image that represented Spain more than any other, the answer would have been the bull, or more accurately the bullfight. Those were the days, remember, when the man on the Clapham omnibus's kids would have listened to Uncle Mac play Tommy Steele's "Little White Bull". The matador, the red cape, the snorting bull; these were the images of Spain embedded firmly in the minds of foreigners who required a familiar but still novel brand mark in order to make an association with that foreign place to which they would be "going foreign" for the first time.

The bull was a powerful brand image. It still is and it still may be the first image that comes to mind to many a potential visitor. But it comes to mind for very different reasons than it did in less-aware eras in the past. Despite this, the national government is due to grant the bullfight a form of protected status as an intangible of national culture. As far as the Osborne bull is concerned, various towns in Murcia, where there is no giant bull like the one to be found in Mallorca, would like there to be one.

The Osborne bull isn't of course the same as the bullfight. It does have cultural symbolism that doesn't have to mean that it is associated with the bullfight, and it doesn't have anything to do with matadors or white hankies being waved. All the same, it could be perceived as being associated, hence questions being asked about the image of the bull in its different guises as a means of promoting Spain in a contemporary international tourist market.

The baffling decision, now reversed, by Andratx town hall to use the Osborne bull and the wishes of towns in Murcia to get a statue of the bull can be seen as no more than a benign invoking of what is a well-loved symbol, but can one read more into this embracing of an image which is of the past? As with the government's wish to protect the bullfight, there is a sense of regression as opposed to progression. Is this indicative of a general attitude in Spain?

It is possible that it is. The national government appears intent on turning the clock back, an example of this being the emphasis on religion in the new education bill. Yet this, as with support for the bullfight, is a turning the clock back to days that should now be buried in Spain's present. Neither symbolise a Spain that is moving forward. Both are political manoeuvres but they are perhaps also representative of how a society, reeling from the uncertainties and humiliations that have come with economic crisis, seeks refuge in past certainties. For tourism, however, as this remains the future, the image of the bull, be it Osborne or in the bullring, is out of step with this future. Continuity with the past is fine but not when it presents an image that conflicts with a vastly more aware and socially conscious public overseas.

* Photo: Osborne Bull from Wikipedia.

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