Rainbow Fish Takes on Personal Branding

rainbowfishI accept that I might very well be overreacting, but ever since I first read Rainbow Fish, I have a deep well of anger toward the Swiss writer and illustrator Marcus Pfister and to some degree, his translator, J. Allison James who introduced Rainbow Fish to the U.S.

The story seems benign enough: Rainbow Fish was born with exquisitely colorful scales. The other fish are jealous and one day, a fish asks him to pull one off his skin and give it to him. When Rainbow Fish refuses he is viewed as “rude” and no one wants to play with him anymore.

The mob ices him and bullies him so severely, he asks his friend Octopus for help. Oddly, instead of admonishing the other fish for ill behavior, Octopus tells Rainbow Fish that he should pull off his exquisite scales and give them away to the parasites the other fish.

As Rainbow Fish follows Octopus’ advice and gives away all that makes him special (the scales that he was born with), everybody loves him.

I’ll let you determine the moral of the story. My point in bringing up the book is that too often we are taught as children that being proud of who we are is rude or talking about an award or race we’ve won makes us seem as if we’re bragging. Yet, as we get older, we are required to have cultivated skills to talk about ourselves in order to get into college, secure internships, jobs and more.

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3 thoughts on “Rainbow Fish Takes on Personal Branding

  1. Dutch

    There’s a sequel to this story where Rainbow Fish applies himself throughout life and works his way to a good, high paying job. The other fish rely on entitlements, handouts and things like the earned income tax credit. They see how Rainbow Fish drives a Maserati and vacations in The Maldives, and subsequently become jealous again. One day, the other fish ask Rainbow Fish to take some of his money and give it to them. When Rainbow Fish refuses he is viewed as “elitist” and the other fish gather together, along with some wandering homeless fish in the area, and start an occupy “movement” to publicly condemn him.

    The mob bullies him so severely, he once more asks his friend Octopus for help. Oddly, instead of admonishing the other fish for their envy and damning rhetoric, Octopus tells Rainbow Fish that he must give as much as 39.6% of his income, labeled a “tax,” to Octopus’ cronies theretofore known as the IRS. The IRS would then redistribute those funds to the other fish and other programs as Octopus saw fit.

    Rainbow Fish remembers where Octopus’ advice had got him last time and hastily rebuts, saying: “Why must I give so much when 43% of the other fish pay no federal tax?! Why not make it the same percentage for everyone? How is this fair for goodness sake?! I’ve worked hard and sacrificed things like cable and expensive smart phone plans early on to afford what I have now! Should I leave a sizable inheritance to my children when I die, you’ll take up to 40% of those monies as well?! I assume all of this is in addition to whatever taxes I face at the state-level, correct? Well, Octopus—you thieving crook—you can kiss my rear end! I’m swimming to Switzerland!”

    Octopus decides Rainbow Fish’s retort is criminally disobedient towards the establishment, and sends him to prison. Shortly thereafter, the IRS places a tax lien on Rainbow Fish’s property, and eventually seizes and liquidates his assets. Rainbow Fish’s wealth, along with his successful friends’ wealth, is then redistributed among the other fish until this attracts the attention of fish in neighboring seas. Thus, the welfare state grows 19%, somewhere to the tune of $1,000,000,000,000 (that’s TRILLION), under Octopus’ administration, and all the parasitic fish convince themselves that they have marginally better lives because of it. Then, somewhere down the line, they run out of other fish’s money and turn against Octopus.

    I’ll let you determine the moral of the story.

  2. cheeflo

    Well done, Dutch.

    In my mind, it’s not even about surrendering what makes you special, leaving you ill equipped to blow your own horn later in life, rather a shallow moral to take away. This story suggests that any claim made on you must be accommodated, even if it means self-immolation. The reward for sacrificing oneself is a lesser value than what is given. The message is not only to acquiesce, but to be happy, even grateful, doing so. It’s called the sanction of the victim.

    This is targeted at an audience of children? Terrifying.

  3. Kathy Scott Post author


    Yes, it is an odd book for children. It also became a television show, although I have to admit I never watched.

    Dutch, I am stunned at the horrible turn Rainbow Fish took. I think the moral of the story is: Never trust anything that’s cold-blooded with a huge brain and no backbone. Great posts.