Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

This Teen Girl Is Fine, But What of the Seagull?

This feminist "Leda and the Swan" reboot fails to fully consider avian trauma

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Image for article titled This Teen Girl Is Fine, But What of the Seagull?
Illustration: Wellcome Collection (Fair Use)

Of course, we all know how the story typically goes: swan sees girl, swan grabs girl, girl possibly tries on swan’s knowledge with his power. Tale nearly as old as tales get. However, in a clever retelling of the classic “Leda and the Swan” myth immortalized by the Yeats poem, a clever teenage auteur in New Jersey has asked what if the swan was a seagull; ancient Greece was a boardwalk slingshot ride; and instead of hatching Helen, Clytemnestra, Castor, and Pollux in the aftermath of the bird attack, the teenager simply swatted the offensive bird away?

Truly, it’s a poignant retelling of a classic myth with a modern bent: 13-year-old Katie Holman, celebrating a friend’s birthday by projecting herself high into the air via the slingshot ride at Wildwood, New Jersey’s Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Water Park, fatefully collides with bird. But unlike the myth, in which an Earth-tethered Leda is must depend on a momentarily intrigued but ultimately cruel God for a brief, awful moment of terrifying levity before crashing toward cold terrain, it is Holman who flies of her own volition, Holman who inadvertently catches the seagull’s bill in her nape, and Holman who finally plucks the terrified, vague bird, made hapless in this reconstruction, becoming the master, rather than the mastered, as the bird is remade into the indifferently dropped.

All told, it’s a feminist masterpiece, especially from a storyteller so young. However, as a literary and cultural critic, I do have one minor complaint with this new, Gen Z reset of the traditional bird assault narrative: What of the seagull? If we are reframing Leda as a character with the agency to indifferently disregard the bird, is this a commentary on the seagull’s ultimate fragility? While Zeus in the form of a swan in the original myth and especially Yeats’s retelling highlights the casual savagery of total patriarchy instilling trauma passed through generations, does this new, easily disposable, and thus more vulnerable bird symbolize something else? What does the gull put on when the teenagers’ indifferent fingers let it drop? How does this bird feel or unfeel Katie’s strange heart beating where it lies? Ultimately, this feminist “Leda and the Swan” reboot fails to fully explore its total role reversal by considering avian trauma, and it’s possible that the vignette could have been made all the more powerful for that exploration.

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