Photo credit: Zhengtao Tang via Unsplash
The first and only fish I ever had was called Rainbow. I figured that I had named him that for pretty obvious reasons: he had scales of all colors, like a rainbow. Then, I remembered a character from a book I read throughout my childhood, one that I often read before going to sleep at night, or rather, one that was often read to me, called “The Rainbow Fish.”
Not long after, I was running down the rows of glass aquariums in the pet store, searching for a fish like the one in my book. When I saw him, I was captivated. We bought him an aquarium. When I think of it now, all I can think about is how small the aquarium was. I spent hours looking at Rainbow, struck with a feeling that I did not yet understand: I wanted him to be safe, for nothing bad to happen to him. Without realizing it, it was the eight-year-old me causing him harm. I held a jar of fish food over the tiny aquarium and poured it in, overfeeding him. I was eight years old, and I killed my fish. I did not intend to, of course, but still did.
“All this trouble and harm so a child could have a Nemo-looking fish, to watch him go around in circles in his tiny aquarium all day.”
This week, I thought of Rainbow when I spoke to my partner about my new job. Every week, I write about violence against animals to help inform the public on animal cruelty. He told me about a documentary he saw when he was younger that talked about how representations of animals in animated movies impact animal populations. For example, the movie Nemo endangered an entire species of fish, known as Ocellaris Clownfish, because the demand for the fish increased exponentially after the movie was released. Several divers almost died catching these fish for pet stores because they had overall poor equipment and working conditions. All this trouble and harm so a child could have a Nemo-looking fish, to watch him go around in circles in his tiny aquarium all day.
But the movie isn’t the problem. It’s how people interpreted it to satisfy their own desires. The production company created a persona around Nemo, like a celebrity. But ultimately, they wanted to educate viewers on fish in captivity: that they aren’t happy in a tiny aquarium and want to be free. Everything was there to get the message across, but somewhere, it got stuck.
I think of the Japanese animated films by Studio Ghibli, where it is rare to see an animal this way. In these films, animals are often imaginary creatures like in the movies “My Neighbor Totoro” or “Ponyo.” It makes me wonder what impact these movies had on the children who watched them, and if they made the same connections with imaginary creatures compared to the cute animal characters in Disney or Pixar films. In almost every Disney or Pixar animated film, a cute animal accompanies the protagonist on their adventure, demonstrating the friendship, respect, and love humans should have towards animals. But instead, what humans have done with animals is treat them like objects: we put them in cages to see them better and fulfill our own selfish wants. We cannot blame the children for their desire to see Disney and Pixar animals in person, nor the films for showing them. People are the problem—those who use this crack in the door to shove it open wider.
When I think of Rainbow, I find it sad to realize that his existence was only for a day of my pleasure, for which I cried a day after because I lost him. I think this is an example of a bigger problem. We must change the way we see animals, and stop this vicious cycle by getting to the root of the problem. From a young age, we need to start thinking critically about our relationship with animals before we endanger them.
This column was written based on the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the ideas of the organization.