Published Sep 17, 2021
Below Deck with Lower Decks: The Redshirt Club
It's not easy being red
By Dayton Ward
This week’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks has the Cerritos crew dealing with a Pakled spy (and all the jokes that come from the very idea of a Pakled spy). At the same time, Ensign Boimler has caught the attention of a group of ambitious junior officers who are looking to climb the Starfleet ladder.
This “club” is looking to add another member, and Boimler’s exploits on the U.S.S. Titan under Captain Riker have caught their attention. Hoping to get the attention of the Cerritos’ command staff, they work to help each other land cool assignments on the bridge and other high-profile locations where they’re liable to be noticed and considered for promotion. They even have a club name — “the Redshirts.”
Although the group thinks the name makes them sound “cool and invincible,” it seems blissfully unaware of the term’s “etymology.” So, you know…awkward. Sure, in the 24th Century, red uniforms designate officers assigned to Starfleet’s command division, a century earlier those in that branch wore gold. So, who wore red? Well, among other members of a starship’s operations division, security officers were the ones so honored. They were also the ones who died. A lot.
Or did they?
One of Star Trek’s enduring tropes is the idea of the hapless security officers assigned to landing parties and meeting all manner of untimely demises. In reality, “redshirt” is often used to label any character standing in a scene’s background, regardless of uniform color. Yes, said characters are often expendable, and yes, they can and do die. A lot.
Since the days of the original Star Trek series, the term “redshirt” has entered the pop culture lexicon. It’s been used in numerous television series as a way to describe someone who’s had (or is about to have) a really bad day. Noted science fiction author John Scalzi even wrote a book sending up the whole notion.
In the film Galaxy Quest, actor Sam Rockwell hilariously skewers the idea as he portrays Guy Fleegman, a character who once played expendable “Crewman Number 6” on an episode of the fictional television series that gives the movie its name. Closer to home, author Robb Pearlman gave us Star Trek: Redshirt’s Little Book of Doom, which pokes a lot of good-natured fun at the trope.
(Aside: When I was spell-checking this article, my word processor’s editor flagged “goldshirts,” but not “redshirts.” Thank you, Microsoft.)
However, there have been more than a few studies which have taken the idea to task and even debunking the myth, or at least letting some air out of it. Back in 2017, mathematician James Grime did the…um…math, reviewing each of The Original Series’ 79 episodes and coming away with a counterargument that it’s actually the “goldshirts” who are most likely to cash out early. I wish I could explain it as well as he did, but I was told there would be no math and I’m holding StarTrek.com to that promise because if a dude doesn’t stay true to his standards then where does that leave him?
Hopefully not joining “the Redshirts.”