Monday, December 28, 2009

Queen of the Universe (Red vs. Blue)

(Crossposted from Halopedia)

Franklin Delano Donut is a main character in Rooster Teeth’s hit Halo machinima Red vs. Blue, a prominent aspect of the Halo community recognized and promoted by Bungie. Donut is most recognizable by his now characteristic pink armor, which he insistently refers to as “lightish red”. The character has undergone a transformation throughout the show’s course, changing from a generic red army newbie to a slighted cisgender straight guy taken for having feminine characteristics to a gay guy who thinks he’s a girl1, and this article is here to chronicle the transformation. It is a longer blog post, but it presents information in bite-sized paragraphs that should be easy to skim through. I’ll probably write a thorough analysis later.
Donut is first introduced in the third Blood Gulch Chronicles episode, entitled “The Rookies”. At this point Donut is a simplistic rookie character, intended as a counterpart to the blue army’s Caboose. He wears the red army’s regulation red armor primarily as way for Rooster Teeth to explain why the characters are wearing different colors. Because each multiplayer character model in Halo: Combat Evolved looks exactly the same save for color, color is thus used to distinguish individual characters, explained in context as the better soldiers getting sent slightly varied colored armors from command. Donut becomes an eager new guy looking to get his own color armor so he can look cool, setting the stage for his eventual disappointment.
In the eleventh episode, entitled “Knock knock. Who’s there? Pain.”, Tex tosses a plasma grenade onto Donut’s head, causing him significant injury. Donut is not seen back on the show until the sixteenth episode, “A Slightly Crueler Cruller”, when he arrives back from Red Command with his own color armor: pink, supposedly as a reward for capturing the blue flag. Grif and Simmons hesitate to tell him that his armor is pink, though Grif ultimately blurts it out. Donut denies that his armor is pink, instead asserting “lightish red”. The implication, of course, is that pink denotes femininity, a cultural meme everyone’s aware of and so is not yet explicitly referenced. When Sarge arrives, he teases Donut by calling him “Madam”, “Barbie”, and “Strawberry Shortcake”. All the while, Donut gets more and more insistent that his armor’s not pink; it’s lightish red.
Later in episode eighteen, “SPF 0”, the blue army is spying on the red army from halfway across the distance between their bases. Caboose, whose character is by now defined as the stupid guy, sees Donut and mistakes him for a girl. “Look! Pink armor!” In response, Tucker expresses a desire for their army to have a girly girl like the reds apparently have, instead of the tomboy Tex.
In the next episode (#19), “Last One Out, Hit the Lights”, Tex assaults the red base with the tank. When Donut comes out to see what’s going on, he expresses a desire to get revenge on her both for throwing a grenade on his head and for getting him stuck with his “light red armor”. At this point Grif cuts in to acknowledge that Donut is trying to “safeguard [his] masculinity” but that it is “a whole lot faster just to say pink”. Donut ignores him and sticks Tex with another plasma grenade, Tucker commenting that “that girl’s got a really good arm”.
By the season two opener “Everything Old Is New Again”, Donut has come to accept that Sarge calls him feminine nicknames. In the twenty-third episode “The Joy of Toggling”, Simmons insults Donut by reminding him that his armor’s pink, causing him to suggest later in the episode that they punish Doc, who had previously been helping the blues, by making him trade armors with Donut.
In the next episode (#24), “Sweet Ride”, we have our first gay joke. Unaware that Church has possessed the masculine robot Lopez, Sarge accuses Donut of “messing with [his] robot”. Donut is oblivious to what Sarge could be implying, as at this point still a straight guy. In the next episode (#25), “Last Words”, when it looks like Sarge is going to die, Donut declares dibs on his armor, still looking for a way out of the lightish red suit.
Later in the twenty-seventh episode “Nine-Tenths of the Law”, Donut is shown to be an annoying dork as he pesters Sarge with attempts at conversation, unable to take the hint when Sarge says nothing in response. At the end of the episode, he once more pesters Grif as he shares what Sarge supposedly talked about, including some things that could be considered feminine, such as home decorating, macramé, and recipes for soufflés. Technically, the point here is just to establish him as annoying and nerdy, but the more feminine activities probably helped set the stage for what Rooster Teeth would do with him in the future.
Then in the thirtieth episode, “I Dream of Meanie”, Sarge decides it’s a great idea to turn one of his men into a cyborg. The soldiers argue about who should have to be the one to do it, Donut throwing out that he’s already suffered enough for having a pink suit. This marks the first time that Donut acknowledges the color of his armor.
In the thirty-third episode “An Audience of Dumb”, we have our second gay joke. When it looks like Donut and Grif are about to be crushed by the tank, Donut tells Grif that there’s only one thing left for them to do. Grif says that if Donut says what he’s afraid he’ll say, then Grif will have to shoot himself, but Donut unexpectedly says that what they need to do is run. Again, the humor here is in other people thinking he’s gay, Donut himself not understanding.
In the same episode, we also see Caboose’s mental image of Donut, which is an extremely stereotypical girl who loves Caboose, talks about pretty dresses, and asks for tampons. This is more of a joke at the expense of Caboose. Church, who’s in Caboose’s mind, ridicules Caboose for failing to realize that Donut is male, as well as a number of other inaccuracies about the red army.
The next episode (#34), “Aftermath, Before Biology”, has Donut start to act in a stereotypically feminine manner. Sarge explains as Grif wakes up from surgery that Donut acted like a nurse, stroking Grif’s hand and keeping him company all night. Donut doesn’t deny this, and answers Grif’s question about which hand (the left), so it doesn’t seem like just Sarge’s teasing.
The thirty-seventh episode, “Dealer Incentive”, has Tucker and Donut interacting for the first time since he got his light red armor. Tucker thinks he’s female, to which Donut reacts highly negatively. Caboose interjects that the pink armor looks comfortable, and Donut responds that it actually is more comfortable than his regulation red. “The crotch in this pink one is surprisingly roomy!” After finding out about Donut’s capture, Sarge worries that he’ll betray secrets to the blues. Grif derisively replies, “Like what, where we keep his tampons?” When Church takes over his body, Church’s personality merges with Donut’s2, causing Church to suggest to Caboose that they braid each other’s hair. This episode is significant for touching on the whole issue of Donut’s perceived femininity, and even though Donut protests against this, it is ultimately enforced through Church’s comment.
The next episode (#38), “K.I.T. B.F.F.”, then has Sheila the tank telling Donut to stop staring at her treads. The implication is that her treads are a sexual aspect of her physical form as is the case with breasts of a human woman. This joke references Donut’s masculinity and heterosexuality. Almost immediately after, however, Tex’s ghost sees Donut and calls him “the girl that killed me”.
The next episode (#39), “The Best Laid Plans”, also the third season opener, has Donut once more displaying feminine characteristics when he complains to Tucker about having to listen to Tex and Sheila. Although he complains about their “chick stuff”, he notes that it’s not “fun chick stuff like rainbows and unicorns” and instead oppression and a hostile work environment. I’m not saying most guys would necessarily want to discuss the latter, but I think they would prefer it over the former.
In episode forty-two3, “You’re the Bomb, Yo”, Donut exclaims after successfully fixing the teleporter that his hands “aren’t just for manicuring, after all”, a decidedly femininely gendered activity. He then displays the first sign of being gay when he eagerly insists to Caboose that he help in cleaning Tucker’s armor by rubbing him all over. This is later emphasized when it is revealed that Donut spent a long time on Tucker’s codpiece. You know, while he was wearing it. “A three-coat waxing is just my way of saying I care.”
Episode forty-seven, “It’s a Biological Fact”, contains another couple of jokes that indicate Donut to be gay. The red army travels to O’Malley’s fortress in a Warthog Puma without enough seats, forcing some of them to ride in others’ laps. After the fact, Donut says his favorite part was when Grif tried to change gears and accidentally… “Ugh, please! Let’s not tell the story,” Grif cuts in. “Is there some place I can wash my hands?” Later, the red army hires Tex in exchange for doing her a favor somewhere down the line. Grif sees this as alarmingly vague, and presses her on what they’d have to do, eventually asking her to rule out “gay stuff”. Donut then pops in and complains that he never gets to help. This is probably the most explicit indication that Donut’s gay, which is a long way away from what he originally was portrayed to be in the first season.
In the next episode (#48), “Heavy Metal”, Donut reveals that he’s been crossdressing. As Caboose struggles to lift the bomb, Donut suggests lending him some supportive undergarments. “I’m thinking something with lace. Lace is totally in right now!” This, I suppose, references the fact that gay men may be drag queens, and may be an extension of the idea that he wears feminine clothing (i.e. the pink armor). It’s very unusual when you consider that Donut never wanted pink armor, and rejected his perceived femininity in earlier seasons.
The next episode (#49), “Roaming Charges”, has a bit of gay innuendo from Donut, the first of many. When Tucker tells his story about inadvertently finding the energy sword in a pit, Donut says that he never found anything that exciting in a “hole”. “And I’ve explored just about every hole you can think of!” I’m not touching this one.
The next episode (#50), “Silver Lining”, retcons the first season by sticking an allusion to Donut’s homosexuality in the same time period as “Knock knock. Who’s there? Pain.”. Donut annoys Grif by chatting about how interesting Blood Gulch is compared to back home. He mentions that all there was to do back there was sit back, think about things, and then repress those thoughts immediately. I suppose an implication of this is that he was always gay but in denial, and it took the pink armor to get him to come out of his shell.
In episode fifty-three, “Let’s Come to Order”, Donut distracts the blues by telling them a story about how he “saved Christmas”. We don’t hear the actual story, but apparently it involved the North Pole being in San Francisco and Santa wearing a leather biker’s outfit. It could just be some random details, but I can see them as being references to Donut’s gayness. San Francisco is a very gay-friendly place, and Donut’s “Santa” could be a leatherman (gay S&M biker guy).
The next episode (#54), “Hello My Name Is Andrew”, involves the red army receiving a distress signal apparently from some other reds. Donut interjects that maybe it’s not a distress signal, but rather a distress signal. “Maybe it’s an open invitation to some formal ball!” I’m not sure I get the exact joke here. I assume that Donut hears “dis dress”, as in “this dress”, but I don’t know. In any case, it’s another gay joke.
The next episode (#55), “Defusing the Situation”, has another sexual gay joke. Simmons describes an anecdote where Grif’s distraction seriously backfired, ending with them getting quarantined. “My ass still hurts from all the shots we got.” Donut interjects that his does too… even though he wasn’t there… he thought they were just sharing stuff.
The next episode (#56), “Calm Before the Storm”, has another ‘Donut is feminine’ joke. In preparation for battle, Sarge hands out (silly) orders to everyone. He tells Donut to scream like a woman, which he eagerly takes on, and Donut runs around in the background for the remainder of the scene doing such. “I’m too pretty to die! I haven’t even seen Paris yet!” Sarge additionally promises a “Pink Heart” to Donut.
Later in episode sixty, “Fight or Fright”, Simmons tries to convince Sarge he saw Sheila still roaming Blood Gulch. Sarge is disbelieving, saying that it’s irrational for him to believe that an enormous tank could have appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as suddenly. “And you’re the only one who can see it,” he adds. “Just like traces of Donut’s heterosexuality.” Donut doesn’t react to this, and it’s possible he doesn’t understand it, but it would seem from this that Rooster Teeth doesn’t consider him heterosexual. In the next episode (#61), “Fair Competition”, Donut shares that in high school he was voted Most Likely to be Fabulous. The word fabulous certainly has become associated with gay men, so… yeah.
By episode sixty-seven, “Setting a High Bar”, Donut has come to outwardly appreciate the color pink, even though he still doesn’t generally call his armor that color. When Sarge dismisses his suggestions by saying that he needs to submit a hundred-word written request, Donut completes it in less than a week and dots the ‘i’s with hearts (a very girly thing). Donut shares that his suggestions include embracing the color mauve, which he defends by stating that mauve is a form of red (lightish red). Sarge realizes he has to rescue Grif, something he dreads, if he wants to keep Donut’s aesthetics from taking over, and he asks Donut to come up with a fancy way of saying choosing between two things you don’t want to do. Donut suggests “conundrum”, “dilemma”, and “threesome with cheerleaders”.
The next episode (#68), “Getting All Misty”, continues the joke from the previous episode about Donut’s sense of aesthetics. Donut pitches a plant idea, a fountain in the armory, using Grif’s helmet as a decorative bird bath, and something involving Chantilly lace. Then there’s a gay sexual joke where Sarge and Donut overhear Simmons trying to keep Grif from playing with the shaft thing in the base that takes you from ground level to top. (Is there a name for that thing?) “Simmons, I am having a blast going in and out of your hole!” Donut declares that’s his cue, and eagerly continues the rescue mission.
The next episode (#69), “Talk of the Town”, has Simmons capturing Donut and Sarge. Sarge is unconscious, and Simmons tries to get Donut to help move Sarge. “Grab the ankles,” he tells Donut, only to quickly clarify that he meant Sarge’s ankles. Presumably Donut grabbed his own so he could be spanked, I guess.
Later in episode seventy-three, “Under the Weather”, there’s another “chick stuff” joke. Grif doesn’t want Simmons to be let back into the red army. Donut adds that if they let blues join then pretty soon they’d have to let women join. “And who wants them?” Grif agrees, saying that women would want to talk about home decorating and reality TV shows all day. Donut responds that it ruins his point when Grif only mentions the good stuff.
In episode seventy-five, “Things Are Looking Down”, the reds devise a plan to steal Andy to translate the Spanish message recorded in Lopez, who currently is just a head. Sarge instructs Donut to grab Lopez’ cabeza (head). We don’t see what happens, but Sarge tells Donut “that’s not the cabeza” and “that’s not Lopez!” Presumably Donut groped Sarge or someone else.
In episode seventy-seven, “The Arrival”, it’s revealed that the alien impregnated Tucker by implanting him with a parasitic embryo. Over the radio, Tucker gives birth to his gross alien baby, who honks loudly. Church runs back to base to assess the situation. Donut hurries after him, eager to see what he assumes is a cute baby. This is a feminine trait, a lot of ladies liking to check out babies. For Rooster Teeth, it serves the purpose of moving Donut out into the open by himself so Sister’s ship can crash on top of him.
In the next episode (#78), season five opener “You Can’t Park Here”, the reds gather at what looks like the site of Donut’s death to grieve for their fellow soldier. Simmons shares that he’ll miss Donut “like a sister”. Sarge starts to agree, but quickly says that he doesn’t want to reflect on whatever relationship they had. Grif says he’s not comfortable with them talking about their feelings for Donut. The next episode (#79), “Got Your Back”, continues this with Church remarking that he actually liked Donut4, Grif repeating that he’s not comfortable with this.
Also in “Got Your Back”, Sarge thinks tapping coming from the ship is Donut trying to communicate using Morse Morris code, so he tries to rescue Donut using a completely rational plan: getting Donut angry enough that he’ll acquire incredible strength like the Hulk and escape from underneath the ship. The things the reds think of to yell to Donut include telling him that according to Donut’s fashion magazines pink is no longer the new black, that Donut’s imported lilac-scented hand creams were used to clean off rust, the latest celebrity break-ups, that daytime TV was canceled5, that Command rejected Donut’s proposed definition for “fire in the hole”, that the Winter Olympics would place more of an emphasis on snowboarding than last year, and that Grif has been using Donut’s paisley thong as a slingshot. Grif feels his masculinity challenged by all this, and he decides to watch some football to reassert his heterosexuality.
In episode eighty-one, “Sibling Arrivalries”, it is revealed that the ship was piloted by Grif’s sister. Sister mentions that their family comes from the circus, instantly making Simmons’ insults 45% more effective. Sarge asks her if their mother is a “flaming sword swallower” because they need someone to replace Donut.
In episode eighty-three, “In Memoriam”, the reds have a funeral for Sarge even though he’s still alive because Sarge is unable to accept the possibility that Command could be wrong about the blues needing to be eliminated, and thus prepares his men to bury him alive. Grif stands up to give his eulogy, and instead starts making a bunch of insulting jokes. One of them insinuates that Sarge had sex with Donut.
Later in episode eighty-eight, “Spelunked”, all of red team ends up in the cavern. Simmons tries to get Sarge to meet up with him and Grif on “some kind of peninsular outcropping”. Sarge and Grif think he said penis-something. Donut says that all the rocks look exactly alike, but when Sarge mentions that the others are at a “penis nular”, Donut knows exactly where that is.
The next episode (#89), “The Haystack”, has another joke about Donut’s interior decorating interests. Sarge says that two blue corpses improve the look of the cavern, which causes Donut to start throwing out ideas like hanging drapes, and putting out wicker chairs.
In episode ninety-three, “Biting the Hand”, the reds wander into the secret computer room that Vic uses to spy on Blood Gulch. Donut points out the camera views of his room, the locker room, and the showers, and he says, “So many good memories.” Ironically, Donut later says “That’s gay,” in response to Simmons’ suggestion that the equipment belonged to an ancient enigmatic alien race that disappeared only to leave advanced technology behind in their wake.
In the next episode (#94), “Tucker Knows Best”, the reds study the screens that reveal the interior of Blue Base. Grif freaks out because they show his sister naked. Simmons openly leers and makes crude comments about her sexual appeal. Grif insists he can’t look, and Simmons asks why Donut gets to look. Donut then starts remarking on the base’s lighting and how much better it is than theirs, making Grif’s point for him. Donut doesn’t care because he’s not into women. What he is into here is interior decoration, a gay stereotype.
In the last episode of the Blood Gulch Chronicles (#100), “Why Were We Here?”, Tucker explains to the reds about Tex’s evil plan to become “Queen of the Universe or some shit”. Donut gasps, “Queen of the Universe? No one even told me we were having a competition!” When O’Malley possesses Donut, he starts acting like he’s female – not a gay man, mind you – and makes references to modern feminism, like demanding equal pay for equal work, reproductive freedom, and criticizing the patriarchal institution for underestimating O’Malley6.
Yeah, um, gay guys don’t think they’re female. They may be considered feminine and have feminine traits, but they know they’re guys. It’s more about adoring masculinity than thinking you’re female. It doesn’t even make sense for male-to-female transgender persons, as they’re well aware they don’t have female bodies. That is, you wouldn’t see one saying she personally has a right to an abortion, as opposed to women in general. This is a stupid homophobic meme that needs to die.
There are seven different endings to the episode. In one, Sarge destroys the universe, and we see the characters reboot as Halo 2 players on Xbox Live. Donut here is a guy who somehow got pink armor without noticing, and he pledges to change it for the next map. In another, everyone kills each other. As Donut prepares to run over Caboose with the Ghost, he says, “Now, it’s time to pound some Caboose!” In another, we get little descriptions of what happened to the characters after the war. Donut apparently married an exotic dancer named Tiffany and they had twelve children. The humor in this comes from the complete 180 degree turn from what everyone expects of Donut. At this point we think of him as gay, so it’s funny to think of him as marrying an attractive woman and sleeping with her a lot.
Of course, Blood Gulch Chronicles isn’t the only Red vs. Blue show. Out of Mind, Recovery One, Reconstruction, Relocated, and Recreation eventually followed. Donut doesn’t pop up until the end of Relocated, and then it’s just to give a cryptic clue before collapsing. He wakes up in Recreation and becomes a main character again.
In chapter four of Recreation, “Catching Up”, we see a flashback of Donut getting psychologically examined/interrogated by a UNSC counselor. Donut refers to his armor as “lightish red”, and the counselor questions if he means pink, to which Donut asserts that he means “lightish red”. Seems kind of weird he’d still be uptight about the color of his armor at this point, but I guess it’s become a defining aspect of his character.
In chapter six, “One New Message”, Simmons decides to stay behind with Donut while the others go on a mission. Donut becomes excited, saying it’ll be like a sleepover and they can redecorate the place. He gets his wallpaper book and tells Simmons to think about paint colors.
In the next chapter (#7), “Bon Voyage”, Grif hears Caboose say what he thinks is an innuendo about sleeping with Donut. Sarge threatens to kill Grif for the umpteenth time, and asks if anyone wants Grif jerky. Caboose rejects the offer because he already had donuts for breakfast. Grif does a double-take because of the homophone “donuts” shares with “Donut’s” (i.e. breakfast food vs. gay character). Later, Donut shares that his favorite part of going on vacation is the full cavity search at airport security.
In chapter twelve, “Well Hello”, Donut acts particularly feminine once again. Donut muses to himself about whether or not he wants to have children. His lines sound more suitable for an aging woman than a man, and he does note that he sounds like his mother.
In chapter seventeen, “Trust Issues”, Donut makes a couple obvious double entendres. Simmons, Lopez and Donut need to make a run for the Meta’s vehicle. Simmons says that he and Lopez will go first, and Donut cheerfully adds that he’ll “handle [their] rears”. Put off by that comment, Simmons decides to send Lopez first, followed by Donut, and then him. Donut is just fine with this change of plans and he says, “It’ll be a Donut sandwich. Mmm, mmm, mmm!”
Finally, in chapter nineteen, “Think You Know Someone”, the last chapter of Recreation, Agent Washington shoots both Lopez and Donut. In a serious moment, Donut collapses apparently dead.7 Simmons cries out in horror at the loss of his fellow soldiers.
So, that’s it, then. Donut starts out as an ordinary guy, a little dumb but basically normal straight guy. He ends up becoming this obviously gay guy with overly feminine tendencies. The above paragraphs plot Donut’s transformation throughout the show. I expect I’ll write a proper analysis later, but here’s the basic info. To all the guys who commented on my last Red vs. Blue post to tell me Donut isn’t gay: How do you like them donuts?

  1. No, not really transgender. Misunderstanding of transgender folk looks different. I’m pretty sure this is just misunderstanding of gay guys. Like, “If he’s feminine he must think he’s a girl!” Or something. In any case, that’s why I’m calling him a guy who thinks he’s a girl, and not necessarily transgender.
  2. According to the episode audio commentary, this is something Rooster Teeth tried out and later discarded.
  3. The question of life, the universe, and everything: In which Red vs. Blue episode does Donut show the first signs of being gay?
  4. Odd, given that he spent forever trying to kill Donut in the past in order to save Tex. Add that to the continuity error list.
  5. I thought we were in an apocalyptic future?
  6. Technically, O’Malley isn’t really male. We think of it as male because it first talked from Caboose’s body and spends most of the time in male bodies, but I think it has no gender. It is Om-Ali or Omega. Omega merged its name with Allison (Tex), as she was its human counterpart. It sort of makes sense for Omega to be female. But this is Red vs. Blue, so things never really make perfect sense.
  7. I really hope Rooster Teeth brings him back, though. Donut’s my second favorite character, after Tucker. 

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