Animal Studies Bibliography

Hawley, Fred. 1993. The moral and conceptual universe of cockfighters: Symbolism and rationalization. Society and Animals 1(2): 159-168.

This data is based on information gathered as an observer-participant, rather than as participant-observer in usual ethnographic technique, because of ethical considerations in becoming involved in an illegal activity. The main facets of cockfighting that became apparent were the hypermasculine worldview of the participants and their defensiveness and set of rationalizations to explain their participation in the illegal sport. Most cockfighters are rednecks--blue-collar, rural-oriented (even if city dwellers) white males. Cockfighters' ideology is more complex than some studies would suggest, with themes including gameness, individualism, authoritarianism, teleological totemism and vitalism, sexual animism, excitement, rationalization and proselytism (160). The most important of these themes is totemism/vitalism. The cock itself is of course the totem for the group, representing bravery and resistance in the face of insurmountable odds (161), traits which boys are encouraged to emulate. Fights between humans at cockfights are strongly taboo and such rowdies are immediately removed from the scene, partly because police often allow the cockfights to go on if no other crime or rowdiness occurs around them. (In fact, plainclothes and uniformed policemen are often present at cockfights.) Other evidence for the cock being used as a symbol of proper behavior include ancient generals using the cock as an example for troops and high school coaches teaching football. The important trait to emulate is to stay and fight, no matter the odds of your defeat; chickening out is the worst insult. Further evidence of the cock being used as totem includes the painting of frightening pictures of the cock on hats, cars, and license plates and in cock shrines in the home (among Catholic groups) or trophy/memorabilia areas and scrapbooks (in Protestant homes). In cockfighting press accounts and in conversation, owners and their cocks are compared, showing how the owner has the valued traits of the cock. Owners spend large amounts of time caring for their birds, and often appear sad or nostalgic about lost birds, but were never observed to think of their birds as friend or companion. The birds served only as fighters, as totem, emblem of bravery, sexual potency, and perhaps symbolic sacrifice (163). The cockfight resembles other practices throughout time in which onlookers identified with conflict in the arena, wagered, won and lost honor, and felt they were taking part in a sacred ritual. Cockfighters view the world as chaotic and stressful, and the cockfight serves as a ritual connection to tradition and a sacrifice to help perpetuate the world. Cockfighters offer as rationalizations for the activity Biblical reasoning (human dominion over animals; no explicit condemnation even though cockfighting existed in Biblical times; Augustine's support of the cockfight as symbol of humans' fight against their animal selves--paradoxical due to the sport's pagan origins); historical cockfighters (various presidents, Generals Lee and Grant, etc.); arguments that cockfighting builds character (training boys to have the rights traits, etc--women are only included in powder puff games--otherwise, it is an all-male space) and discipline due to the care the birds need; arguments that the cocks don't feel pain or feel it differently than other animals; and that assaults on cockfighting are just urban bias against rural lifestyles. Cockfighters are scornful of PETA and other groups, saying they don't understand the meaning of cockfighting. Through the 1980s cockfighting has come under increasing restrictive legislation, including fines to serve as deterrents. Cockfighters have participated in lobbying efforts and contribute to campaigns of officials who will protect the sport (by blocking legislation), particularly on the basis of rural heritage and cultural claims. Although this clash of cultures is unlikely to result in compromise, it may not need to. With increasing urbanization and better access to sports like boxing and football, cockfighting is dying out, as have other bloodsports like bearbaiting. It should be remembered, however, that cockfighting's existence this long indicates a deep need...for ritual affirmation of male bonding (167).



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