London Tipton: Combating Stereotypes or Promoting False Multiculturalism?

December 12, 2015 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

 

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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.

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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.

Nina Lee
PZ ’18

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