Friday, July 2, 2010

Aside: Star Trek Redshirts And Other Stuff

I've been watching the original Star Trek, and have been thinking about the "redshirt" phenomenon. It has become a recurring pop culture joke that crewmen wearing a red top tend to die. They even played with it in the recent reboot movie. But I don't get why this is a joke. It is true that 75% of all Enterprise crewmen who died in the original Star Trek wore red uniforms. However, that's because red is the color of security officers, the people you would expect to get killed. They are the ones patrolling areas, holding positions, guarding prisoners and doing other dangerous stuff. You would hope for an even higher percentage of red.

Where exactly is the joke here? People assigned dangerous, combat-related jobs tend to die more? I guess people might not know what a red uniform signifies. Actually, it can also mean engineering and tactical, but check out the list above: a "redshirt" almost always means security officer. I think there's a perception that red = ensign, which is untrue.

Spock, McCoy, Kirk and ensign Ricky go down to the planet. Guess who's not coming back? Let's see... the guy who's not one of the main stars? Would people prefer that science officers be killed in greater numbers?

Anyway... another thing that bothers me is the ever popular Murphy's Law, "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." The purpose of Murphy's Law is to remind that taking care to consider a wide range of contingencies is a good precaution. That's all well and good, but the statement, as it stands, is either false or defines "can go wrong" so narrowly as to be a tautology. According to Murphy's Law, "what can go wrong" is identical in meaning to "what will go wrong."

This is not as bad as Finagle's Law, "Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment." Really? Sad, sad pessimism.

Another annoyance: after someone says, "it's always in the last place you look," people love to say, "Duh! Why would you look anywhere else after you found it?" But the full sentiment behind the saying is, "it's always in the last place you would think to look." Which is also a false statement, but expresses the common experience of finding something after you've exhausted your other options. If it was just "the last place you looked," no one would comment on it. So, here are two useful expressions that are syntactically false, and result in annoyance to me. But that's human language, I guess.