The Rainbow Fish, originally published in German by Swiss author and illustrator Marcus Pfister, is an underwater fable that has delighted children for 30 years while teaching them a valuable lesson about generosity. The titular fish, covered in glittering, many-hued scales, takes pride in his appearance and at first refuses to bestow his vibrant colors on anyone else.
But after this selfishness costs him friends and leaves him lonely, he realizes the joy of sharing, and gives all but one of his scales away — so that everyone in the ocean has a bit of finery.
While this bestselling book is suitable for kids aged two and up, Rainbow Fish’s Twitter presence is most assuredly not. This sea creature has posted about cum, shit, pussy, death, existential pain, the gig economy, 9/11, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and… art.
The reckless, thrilling candor of @RAINBOWFlSH is that of an employee gone rogue — someone who got the keys to a brand and refuses to give them back. The joyride has lasted more than a year so far, much to the horror of parents who expect the fish to model compassion and kindness for young readers. The joke, of course, is on them: The Rainbow Fish thinks the story about how he ripped out “chunks of my opalescent flesh” to make others feel better “absolutely sucked.” Rainbow Fish doesn’t want to foster community — he wants to get railed. Almost nothing he says or does is defensible, but it doesn’t matter. He is wild and free.
Any rational adult might stop to think that a fish from a children’s book series and a short-lived TV show doesn’t need an official social media presence — that whoever is shitposting and bullying six-year-olds as this character might be a comedian. Yet we live in the age of “goblin mode,” “skeleton brunch” and “the Snickers dick vein,” when Photoshopped headlines somehow become real news. And so, even those who know better go along with the pretense that @RAINBOWFlSH was once a verified account within the purview of a corporate entity, preferring to overlook, among other things, the lowercase “L” masquerading as a capital “I” in the user handle. The gimmick is more fun this way. To paraphrase Agent Mulder of The X-Files: we want to believe. Twitter is nothing without the outlaws daring enough to redeem its failure.
Of course, you can’t just provoke. That would get old. You need some mystique. To that end, Rainbow Fish often deletes their content — necessitating the archival work of @RAINBOWFlSH2, who collects screenshots of the memory-holed material. He’ll also spend a week or two not tweeting at all, lulling you into a false calm that he dashes with a sudden, outrageous return to the platform. It’s as though he’s staying one step ahead of an account suspension or copyright infringement notice, too slippery for those nets. In this way, he enhances his legend and remains camouflaged by the greater ecosystem of unhinged types.
How long can the Rainbow Fish survive a dull establishment that has no tolerance for surrealism and ambiguity? Might he be subsumed in the entropy of his own making? If we had the answers, he wouldn’t be such an electrifying presence — a watercolor troll who fears no comeuppance and keeps forgetting that he’s gay. For the moment, at least, he swims among us, and we can rest assured he won’t be peddling some treacly horseshit about spreading love and the power of good deeds. While his book offers children a fantasy, @RAINBOWFlSH speaks only the truth, gross and alarming as it may be. Heed his words… or else.