“It used to be that everyone was entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore… Keep your ‘facts’, I’m going with the truth”. (Stephen Colbert)
“As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities”. (Voltaire)
Some people will believe anything, especially if it appears in some mainstream news outlet. Never mind the fact that 90% of the media in this country is owned and controlled by just six corporations. As a result we are bombarded with an ongoing blend of state sponsored propaganda, celebrity gossip infotainment, violence and disaster-porn, cover-ups, half-truths and outright lies. As a recent case in point, we might consider the multiple headline stories reporting that Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner had adopted a Jewish boy in order to prevent him from becoming a werewolf, vampire or paranormal creature of that ilk. And no, I am not making this up; it wasn’t posted on the satirical Onion; you can fact check this for yourself. And, I hope that you will take the time and trouble to do that because this is good practice for those of us who still care about truth. Here in the U.S. this blatantly misleading, hyped up nonsense, was featured in the Huffington Post, and in the UK Independent; picked up by Haaretz, Buzzfeed and then went viral as echo chamber outlets around the world ran with this bizarre fable. Any number of pundits and online bloggers were quick to make use of this opportunity to poke fun at Mrs. Kirchner, Argentine politics and the Latin continent’s rich tradition of magical-realism.
Few of these popular outlets bothered to post an update or make any effort to set the record straight since the real story is much less sensational. First of all Mrs. Kirchner did not and has not adopted anyone and there are no Jewish vampires or werewolves either. As Argentine journalist Uki Goni (The Real Odessa) explained: by tradition, the 7th consecutive son or 7th consecutive daughter born to an Argentine family is eligible to become the godchild of the president. Not all qualify, since the honor is restricted to families with children born without babies of the opposite gender arriving anywhere in between. Until this month, this honor has only been bestowed on Christian babies, which also includes a gold medal and a fully paid educational scholarship.
Yair Tawail’s parents, Shlomo and Nehama, applied for this Argentine state benefit when he was born in 1993 and they were denied on the basis of their religion. When these rules were changed in 2009 to include Jews, this 7th son a rabbi, now 21, was finally accepted. In her role as the current Argentine President, Cristina Kirchner made a well-publicized visit to their home in time to help the family light their Hanukah candles. Earlier this year she set another precedent by accepting the child of a Lesbian couple as a presidential godchild.
According to historian Daniel Balmaceda, this presidential custom began in Argentina in 1907 when Volga German immigrants from south-eastern Russia asked then President Jose Figueroa Alcorta to become godfather to their son. This couple wanted to maintain a custom from Tsarist Russia, where the Tsar was said to become godfather to the seventh of consecutive sons; and the New World Argentine president accepted this Old World responsibility. This practice soon became law, and as Argentina’s first woman president, Isabel Peron, widow of strongman, General Juan Peron, extended these benefits to 7th consecutive daughters, as well. While there was a time in Catholic Argentina when large families were common, present day couples usually bear only two or three offspring; significantly reducing the threat of werewolves being born into the local population.
So how did this tabloid press version of werewolves and Jewish vampires get tangled up with this story of a long standing, changing with the times, apparently harmless, Argentine tradition? In case you are wondering, being a Celt I am not averse to the paranormal, but I do not believe in vampires or werewolves. Nevertheless, I did so enjoy that movie with Frank Langella hanging out at “Dracula’s Castle” carefully planning his shape shifting agenda with the beautiful young ladies residing at the nearby, fog enshrouded manor house. This version of the immortal demon lover was filmed in Cornwall out on St. Michael’s Mount, not all that far from my family’s ancestral home in St. Just . And still, I recognize the need to remain mindful ,while history has made clear that fiction and folklore often intersect and blur, over and over again; and we can expect no end to this ongoing process, which may be exploited during any number of current and future political agendas.
So now, it seems that something like a conflation-dynamic has probably transpired in this recent mass-misperception of events in Argentina; carried world-wide with the irresponsible, sensation-seeking media. As always, there is a backstory available for those willing to dig at least somewhat deeper into this over–amped, global, media travesty. Apparently, there was a time when East European superstitions included a belief that seventh consecutive sons were cursed to become werewolves or vampires and a similar belief held that 7th consecutive daughters were doomed to become witches. These doomed sons were expected to transform into werewolves on the first Friday after their 13th birthday. Reportedly, this superstition was strong enough to result in many seventh born being rejected, adopted out, abandoned or even killed at birth. As a result, frightened parents sought the protection of the Tsar.
Somehow or other, by a process best left to cultural historians, these old East European superstitions were conflated with totally unrelated Guarani indigenous folklore which persists out and around the Argentine cattle raising Pampas. Should you wander out into these far-flung territories in Patagonia, local gauchos may spin some tall-tales of their lobizon, a human which transforms into a pig or dog every Tuesday or Friday night, not just once a month under a full Moon. Unlike other werewolf legends, the lobizon does not transmit its curse through a bite but rather by passing through the legs of its unfortunate victims. Enough said and you have been duly warned!
President Cristina Fernadez Kirchner has now become godmother to some 700 children since taking office in 2007. And, it does seem that presidential protection may be working after all since there have been no authenticated reports of Jewish or any other ethnically specific werewolves or vampires anywhere throughout Argentine history, although I am not so sure about witches.