Let’s say I were to tell you that this Christmas the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, adopted a nice young Jewish boy to prevent him from turning into a werewolf. Would you believe me? Probably not, right?
But not so most of the Western media. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz was one of the first to bite on the story that Kirchner had adopted 21-year-old Yair Tawil, the seventh son of an Argentinian rabbi. Tawil, the paper noted, was adopted as Kirchner’s godson per the terms of a law passed in the 1920s to undermine a legend that “the seventh son, born after six boys without any girls in-between, becomes a werewolf whose bite can turn others into a werewolf.” Under the terms of his adoption, Tawil received a medal, a scholarship, and the distinction of being the first Jewish recipient of the honor.
Though she made no mention of taking a fearsome werewolf off the streets of Buenos Aires through presidential decree, Kirchner tweeted out photos of the event, praising Tawil’s mother and calling young Yair a total sweetie.
Now comes the Guardian with a bracing bromide of skepticism. The myth of the lobizón, the Argentine version of the old werewolf story that describes how a seventh consecutive son morphs into the beastly creature, has in fact nothing to do with the presidential practice of adopting the country’s seventh sons (and daughters), the paper argues.
Quoting the Argentine historian Daniel Balmaceda, the paper traces the origin of the practice to a pair of German emigres from tsarist Russia who hoped to continue that practice. They asked the then-president of Argentina, José Figueroa Alcorta, to adopt their seventh son, and it soon became something of a tradition. According to the Guardian, Juan Perón accumulated just short of 2,000 godchildren during his three terms in office, and Kirchner now has around 700 godchildren herself.
How the legend of the lobizón became attached to this presidential tradition is itself something of a mystery. But how it came to be so widely disseminated and with such a lack of skepticism is not: The notion that Argentina’s president adopted a werewolf fits with the commonly accepted idea that Kirchner is an “erratic” leader whose populism trumps good reason. Of course she would adopt a werewolf! She’s crazy, right?!
It’s a kind of confirmation bias that would have one seeing werewolves everywhere. Now, if only the Latin American media would begin covering President Barack Obama’s Thanksgiving turkey pardons as an example of his classic soft on crime liberalism.
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