Sunday, June 23, 2013

Literature Tropes #3: Red Shirts

This is one of my favorite tropes to mock:  the poor doomed Red Shirts.  Originally from Star Trek (the original series), this refers to the hapless extra crew members (usually wearing red) who were invited on dangerous away missions for the express purpose of becoming cannon fodder, because somebody has to die, and it can't be any of the main characters.

Now, I love Star Trek in most all of its reincarnations, but the Red Shirt trope is so bad that whenever someone we don't know gets involved in anything, we all go "uh-oh.  He's toast."  You see it a lot in other science fiction and in fantasy, thrillers, action movies, horror, etc.  It's also cleverly spoofed in many good parodies.  

I have to admit, though, that I prefer the "Red Shirt" problem to the "Everyone's a Red Shirt" phenomena in grim works like Game of Thrones or Shakespeare tragedies, where no one's safe and anyone can die.  Readers and viewers grow attached to their favorite characters.  They don't want them dying all over the place, even if it's more realistic.      

Click on to see their classic photo of a Red Shirt in its natural state.  And as this great website warns in its entry on Mauve Shirts (those Red Shirts who have had good lines or enough personality for us to get slightly attached), whatever you do, if you're a Red Shirt, don't show anyone a picture of your baby.  You'll die for sure then.


  1. But didn't Captain Picard wear a red shirt? He never died. But on second thought, I think I missed the series finale. Oh no! Captain Picard dies at the end?! this is terrible! Your blog has too many spoilers in it! Aren't you supposed to warn people about spoilers?

    - Obnoxious Troll

  2. Worry not, Captain Picard doesn't die at the end. And yes, the color of shirts on Star Trek changed from series to series, making it all the more confusing. "Red shirt" is figurative. There are red shirts wearing all sorts of actual clothing in all sorts of genres.