Even if you’re not a “Star Trek” fan, you’ve probably heard jokes about how often red-shirted officers are introduced to the show, only for them to quickly die during away missions. For a period of time, the term “red shirt” became a dirty word in the “Star Trek” world; it’s gone on to take on a larger cultural significance, indicating that a person is a disposable background element easy to get rid of. And yet many of the show’s red-toting characters are the franchise’s longest-lasting individuals. The class encompasses the engineering, security, and communication staff positions on the Enterprise. Lt. Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan) are among the most prominent crew members who wear scarlet hues. To wear red on the bridge is definitely a high honor.
Are ‘red shirts’ more doomed than their counterparts? Mathematician James Grime weighed in on the subject during a talk at New York’s Museum of Mathematics in 2017. A simple statistical calculation revealed that 10% of the show’s red-shirted denizens die during the original show’s run — compared to 18 percent of golden-shirted characters. “There is some truth in the old ‘Star Trek’ myth if you look at security officers … 20 percent of security officers died. So I think the moral of the story is, if you’re on the starship Enterprise and you want to survive, be a scientist,” he said.
Ironically, crimson red was eventually used to denote a position of authority on the ship; the uniforms that debuted in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” place the crew in scarlet togs, with no color divisions to mark them.