Archive for December 12, 2015
The Suite Life of Zack and Cody is a television show that aired on Disney Channel from 2005 to 2008. The show features two twin boys living in a Boston hotel and causing various kinds of trouble. Two other main characters in the show are Maddie Fitzpatrick, played by Ashley Tisdale, and London Tipton, played by Brenda Song.
Brenda Song is an Asian American actress most famously known for her role as London Tipton in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. She is half Hmong and half Thai- two Asian ethnicities that usually do not have any representation in mainstream American media. However, in the show, London Tipton’s race is never mentioned. Her last name is not distinctly Asian in any way, and neither of her parents ever appear in the show. She is the daughter of the owner of the hotel in which the show takes place, so she is portrayed as extremely rich and spoiled. She is also extremely airheaded, doesn’t care about school, and loves clothes and shopping.
Some have argued that London Tipton is a positive representation of Asian Americans since she so actively defies the stereotype of the academic Asian. She is often portrayed as comically unintelligent, such as being unable to spell or count over 3 and referring to the gear shifts PRNDL as “the prindle” when learning how to drive. Others have argued that the portrayal of her as a character is be terrible regardless of race, so there’s no reason that her being Asian American would make it any better. In terms of her as and Asian American character, the intent behind her character’s representation is unclear.
Another element to take into consideration is the portrayal of other characters of color in the show. In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, one of the other main characters is Mr. Moseby. Mr. Moseby is black and his job is to oversee the hotel lobby. He speaks in a slight British accent and is portrayed as extremely uptight, always chastising the twins and ruining their fun. Again, his character is not stereotypical in terms of his race, but he is not portrayed as a likable character.
When I think about the London Tipton debate, I am reminded of the “dismantling stereotypes vs. refunctioning representation” debate as had in class. London Tipton certainly dismantles the smart Asian stereotype, but I don’t necessarily think that this makes her a positive representation. Especially because her race or ethnicity is never addressed, I am reminded of “multiculturalism” and wanting to avoid actively addressing race as an issue. I think that refunctioning representation is far more important because characters can then be portrayed as more complex instead of equally shallow but in a different way.
Jamie Chung has always interested in me, mostly because of her fashion style. She is routinely in best fashion style lists and because of her love for fashion, she created the successful lifestyle blog, What the Chung where she blogs about her favorite restaurants, fashion looks, and the like. Her day job is as an actress where she has played Lauren in The Hangover II and The Hangover III and Mulan in Once Upon a Time. She has had a relatively successful career as an actress; although, as far as I know she has had no major starring roles, which points out how there are really not that many female Asian Americans roles, especially as leading characters. But Chung has had a successful career as an Asian American actress, playing fairly diverse roles.
Chung is Korean American, meaning that she is a completely different ethnicity from her role as Mulan in Once Upon a Time. I truthfully have never seen this show, but I do know that Mulan is Chinese- not Korean. While it is most likely an important role (especially if she has been playing the same character since 2012), it is still sad that she is limited to playing roles that are not her own ethnicity. Her choices are so limited in who she is able to play. But she does not seem to care about that: “I really don’t see what difference it makes. I mean, I’m honored to play these roles and these characters, and I know quite a lot about the Japanese culture as well as Thai culture and Korean culture and Chinese culture, and they are all respectfully very different.”
Lastly I think it is interesting to note that Chung was originally on Real World: San Diego– a reality TV show that aired on MTV in 2004. She later starred in the off shoot of the show, The Challenge. So she obviously had had a successful, but short lived career, on reality TV. Chung is one of the only people I know of who’ve successfully transitioned from reality TV to a different medium and still stayed popular. While a person like Lauren Conrad, who has also had a successful career after MTV, still clings to her identity as a former reality TV star, Chung does not want to, in fact she in many ways avoids. I did not even know Chung had been on reality TV until years after I was introduced to her. Since the movement from reality television is rarely successful, I think that it is interesting that Chung, as a Korean American woman, was able to do it, especially since she was not a Lauren Conrad level of successful on reality television. In an interview, Chung commented, “But as an artist, it’s sad that we’re kind of limited. We’re already so segregated — Asian female actress — it sucks that it’s even more limiting if you think like that.” So it is interesting to know that she was able to make the jump from reality to film/television while becoming even more successful, especially since she is so limited in who she can play as an actress. Chung has been able to open doors for herself that weren’t there before.