I am moderate in my political views, Canadian by nationality, mild-mannered by nature and an urbanite by dwelling. These traits, combined with my love of sweeping generalizations, do not often go hand in hand with rodeo fandom and thus it wasn't until this summer that I attended my first live rodeo. I certainly had moments where I was entertained, and I could understand at least some of the charm of a rodeo, but by and large, seeing a rodeo made realize how happy I am that man has evolved to a point where the skills of a cowboy are relegated to a sideshow and are no longer necessary for day to day life. There is a reason the Wild West days are over and that's because for the most part, they were really, really stupid.
I realize that if you boil any sport down to its essence, it ends up being a dumb game. Nine men standing around and watching one man try to hit a little white ball coming at them at 90 miles an hour is really dumb out of context (and quite boring in context). Two men punching each other in the face until one of them falls down probably isn't overly intelligent and bestowing the moniker, 'the sweet science,' to that sport is even more laughable. However, in any sport all parties have decided to be there. Football players may be getting concussed but they are playing because they want to and because they are being compensated. They want to put in the time and effort needed to attempt to win the game at hand.
But the calf in a calf-roping competition has made none of these decisions. The calf just wants to eat, sleep and shit; maybe grow old enough to mate with the prettiest cow at Bovine University. I don't profess to know what a calf is thinking at all times (shocking, I know) but I am certain that they have no desire to be roped around the neck and tackled for no apparent reason. That little baby cow knows literally nothing, not even how delicious it tastes.
Before we go any further I should point out that I am not a vegetarian and I do not support most of what PETA does. Of course there have been certain ad campaigns like this and this that I fully, enthusiastically support -- not out of the goodness of my heart but out of the overwhelming power my genitals have on my decision-making. Although I am completely against animal cruelty, I at least understand it when it serves a purpose. For instance, steak is delicious. Milk makes my cookies taste better. My butt looks amazing in leather. The extraction of steak or milk or leather is quite unpleasant for the animal but it does serve a purpose for humanity. What stunned me about the rodeo is that no one else in a stadium of thousands seemed to realize that roping a baby calf and almost snapping its neck serves no purpose in any way.
Gandhi once said that 'the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.' I don't believe this quote should be used to shut down rodeos, but I do believe it should be used to cut out all the battles where the animal has no chance to put up a fair fight.
I enjoyed the bull riding and the bronco riding due solely to the fact that I believe it is a pretty fair fight. Those bulls and broncs really do want to kill those riders and they have the capacity to do it. I do not condone anyone tying anything to any creature's testicles as they do in bull riding, but at the very least the riders have the common decency to give the bull a chance to murder them as punishment for their ball squeezing sin.
I found myself cheering for the animal every single time and as soon as I thought it made me a bad person I would think a little harder and realize that the cowboy I was watching consciously decided to dedicate his life to art of squeezing a one-ton bull's testicles so hard that the bull would try to kill him. Should the bull successfully kill him I don't think that cowboy deserves my sympathy.
As dumb in theory as a sport contingent on literal bull ball busting may be, I found myself riveted by the spectacle of it all. It did not offend me because it was the rare rodeo event where that cowboy is going in just as scared as the animal. In the Roman coliseum, (and I couldn't help but think this is the closest thing to Gladiator battles as we have in North America) Russell Crowe didn't go voluntarily to fight tigers and give awesome speeches for Jay-Z to sample; as a slave he was forced to fight. In the modern-day rodeo, men of free will and fully functioning brain capacity do indeed voluntarily enter the arena to battle these dangerous beasts. And by battle I mean sit on top of them for 8 seconds but still, the specter of danger is most certainly in the air.
As I watched the more off-putting events like calf roping and steer wrestling I couldn't help but feel like I was watching a group of people who didn't realize that society has evolved past them. Every moment I spent at the rodeo made me increasingly more joyous that we as humans have evolved over the past centuries to a point where increased brainpower can trump farm-related skills. I am completely incapable of any of the brave, extraordinarily difficult and incredibly moronic tasks I witnessed at the rodeo but luckily Tombstone isn't an accurate representation of America anymore. Despite being devoid of any rodeo skills or knowledge I will still be able to live, find food (thanks Trader Joe's!) and live a life where I only wear plaid and giant belt buckles ironically.