Loads of bull

In a tapas bar in Spain (well, ok, Marbella) last weekend, I saw this poster for Fundador, a Domecq brandy that was my mother\’s favourite tipple on family holidays in the seventies and eighties.

The poster shows an angry-looking bull rearing over a fence, on the other side of which a young man lies sprawled in the grass, his capote de brega (bullfighter\’s cape) half-covering his legs. He has been trying his luck with the bull, we infer, and has been chased over the fence by it. AL Kennedy writes, in her elegant study of bullfighting, that it was not unusual (though definitely discouraged) for aspirant toreros to steal onto rural granaderos (cattle ranches) by night to hone their skills.

Bulls are a popular motif for Spanish brandies. Domecq\’s previous advertising for Fundador had included a poster of a young picnicker chased up a tree. Don Alvaro Domecq y Diéz, who ran the family company from 1937, was a bull-fighter and -breeder. And Osborne\’s bull signs, seen on hilltops in silhouette against the harsh Spanish sun, have become one of the most instantly recognisable symbols of the country.

But I couldn\’t help thinking there was something else going on here, perhaps because I\’ve been reading Giles Tremlett\’s excellent book on Spain and its carefully curated amnesia.

The poster dates from 1968, the tail end of the Francoist era, when its harsh Catholic Nationalist ideology was increasingly under siege, not least from the bikini-clad holiday makers who were starting to arrive in Benidorm and points south. Does the poster reflect the anxieties of the beleaguered?

The young man is not dressed in traditional Spanish peasant clothes, let alone in a bullfighter\’s traje de luces. Rather, he is wearing jeans and a leather jacket, and his hair may have seen some pomade. His boots even look like they might have a cuban heel. He looks more like a rocker than a bull-fighter, a symbol of the threat to Spanish values posed by teenage rebellion and delinquency. In which case, perhaps the bull represents his nemesis, Spain\’s eternal Francoist essence – virile, macho, tied to the land, \’natural\’.

A Domecq poster representing the triumph of traditionalism and machismo over coiffed modernist degeneracy would, I suspect, have fitted with the boss\’s politics. Don Alvaro was not only a bull-fighter. but more significantly a keen Francoist, fighting for the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War and being appointed Mayor of Jerez by Franco, and also a member of the conservative Catholic sect Opus Dei.

But I wonder whether there\’s something more. As the young man sprawls helplessly in the grass (his legs at very odd angles, but that\’s another story) and the bull eyes him, it all looks a bit \’Tom of Finland\’. Is the bull after a bit more than just goring (as Zeus was when he appeared as a bull to rape Europa in Greek myth)? Is it a sly joke, or a subconscious reference? Or is it simply advertising? Sometimes, as Freud never said, a bull is just a bull.

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