Redshirt (stock character)

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Kirk and Spock discover dead redshirts in the Star Trek episode "Obsession" (1967).

A "redshirt" is a stock character in fiction who dies soon after being introduced. The term originates from the original Star Trek (NBC, 1966–69) television series in which the red-shirted security personnel frequently die during episodes.[1] Redshirt deaths are often used to dramatize the potential peril that the main characters face.

Origin[edit]

In Star Trek, red-uniformed security officers and engineers who accompany the main characters on landing parties often suffer quick deaths.[2] The first instance of what now is an established trope can be seen in the episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" (1966).[3]

55 crew members were killed in the series, but in 15 of these fatalities the shirt color is unknown; of the remaining 40, a total of 24 (60%) were wearing red shirts, compared to 9 in gold shirts, and 7 in blue shirts. However, over half of the crew of the starship Enterprise (239 out of 430 crew members, those in engineering, operations, or security) wore red shirts, making the redshirt casualty rate just over 10% of the redshirted crew. The comparable death rate for goldshirts was higher at 13.4%, despite the stereotype that redshirts are in the most danger (blueshirts are the safest, at 5.1%).[4] Analysis of the numbers also shows that it is actually the redshirted security personnel who are at high risk, not their redshirted crewmates in engineering and operations.[5]

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book Legends of the Ferengi says Starfleet security personnel "rarely survive beyond the second act break".[6] An episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine titled "Valiant" (1998) also references red as a sort of bad luck omen, in which the plot centers around a group of cadets calling themselves "Red Squad", almost all of whom die in the episode.[7] The 2009 cinematic reboot of the franchise features a character named Olson (portrayed by Greg Ellis) who dies early on during a mission; he wears a red uniform in homage to the trope from the original series.[8]

Usage[edit]

In other media, the term "redshirt" and images of characters wearing red shirts has come to represent disposable characters destined for suffering or death.[9][10]

The trope, and its particular usage in Star Trek, has been parodied and deconstructed in other media. Parodies include Galaxy Quest (1999), a comedy about actors from a defunct science-fiction television series serving on a real starship, which includes an actor who is terrified that he's going to die because his only appearance in the show was as an unnamed character who was killed early in the episode.[11] The novel Redshirts by John Scalzi satirizes the trope, as does the video game Redshirt.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bly, Robert W. (1996). Why You Should Never Beam Down in a Red Shirt: And 749 More Answers to Questions About Star Trek. ISBN 0-06-273384-2.
  2. ^ Itzkoff, David (14 May 2006). "On 'Lost,' the Castaway Who Stands Out Without Even Trying". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  3. ^ DeCandido, Keith (12 May 2015). "Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"". Tor.com. Tor Books. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  4. ^ Kooser, Amanda. "Surprise! 'Star Trek' gold shirts more deadly than red shirts". CNET.
  5. ^ Official Star Trek website: https://www.startrek.com/article/did-redshirts-really-die-more-often-on-tos
  6. ^ Behr, Ira Steven; Robert Hewitt Wolfe (1997). Legends of the Ferengi. ISBN 0-671-00728-9.
  7. ^ Jermaine, H (30 January 2015). "The Star Trek Red Shirt: A Mysterious In-Show Omen?". Allposters.com Blog. Allposters. Archived from the original on 5 April 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  8. ^ "To Boldly Go", Star Trek (DVD release) featurette
  9. ^ Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling edited by Monica Valentinelli, Jaym Gates
  10. ^ The Nowhere Bible: Utopia, Dystopia, Science Fiction By Frauke Uhlenbruch, page 176
  11. ^ "Galaxy Quest (1999) Movie Review". Beyond Hollywood. 7 November 2002. Archived from the original on 3 October 2012. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  12. ^ "Redshirt on GOG.com". www.gog.com.

External links[edit]