Twins in Media: Zack and Cody

Screenshot of Cole and Dylan Sprouse in ‘Suite Life of Zack and Cody’. Copyright goes to It’s a Laugh Productions and Disney Channel.

Hey! Hallie here!

Well, there was no way we’d be able to do this series for long without mentioning the twins that made up all of our childhoods. Zack and Cody were THE twins growing up. Anytime someone identified my sister and I as twins, we instantly expected the inevitable comparison to these two. We didn’t mind it either! We liked these two a lot, and any of the other sets of twins we knew when we were little liked them too. So was our love of Zack and Cody justified? Or are they just another example of media’s misunderstanding of twins?

The Bad:

  • Opposite personalities: I’ve talked about this trope before, but I’d argue that Zack and Cody are the biggest example of this so far. While this is nice in the way that it allows both Zack and Cody to have different personalities, it falls short on it’s heavy reliance on this trope. The problem with this trope as a whole is that it thinks that the twin characters have to be absolute opposites in order to convince the audience that they’re not the same person. Everything Zack and Cody like or do is shown to be absolutely different from their twin. Zack is a troublemaker who bullies Cody for his admiration of rules. Zack is a ladies man while Cody is bookish and awkward. As a real twin, I actually have a lot in common with my sister. Keep in mind the similarities between regular siblings, because twins are basically just regular siblings who look similar. Normal siblings may have large differences, but they grow up in the same household, likely consuming and experiencing a lot of the same things. As a result they grow up with some similarities. Twins do as well. While giving twins two separate personalities is much more realistic than giving them the same personality, giving them opposite interests is also extremely unrealistic.
  • Simultaneous speaking: This just doesn’t happen consistently. Sometimes it happens on accident, but that’s a rare occasion. ‘Suite Life of Zack and Cody’ didn’t do this all the time, if they had the show would have gotten old very quickly, but it does happen nearly once an episode for comedic purposes. Almost every show that involves twins has some form of this at some point, so I guess I’m just glad that this show cuts down on it a bit more. The point is; it would be nice if everyone would just stop with this trope altogether. Zack and Cody don’t do anything to help this goal along.
  • Twin telepathy: This is only hinted at on occasion in this show, but it’s here anyways. On one occasion Zack claims to share twin telepathy with Cody because he felt when Cody broke his arm, although this is instantly challenged and proved untrue. There’s also one occasion where Zack and Cody share a dream. This one is more problematic because it’s never challenged. It’s just there as a weird supernatural element to an otherwise real-life based show. Not that this was the only supernatural element, but it’s still harmful that they just left this one alone. Twin telepathy isn’t a thing. It just isn’t. I have never had a dream mildly similar to my sister’s. And we absolutely can’t feel each others pain. This is just an odd trope used to try to make twins seem like they share a brain.

The Good:

  • Different lives: We bring this one up a lot but it’s really important to show in every piece of media. Twins lead very different lives, even when they’re in similar situations. Zack has different friends than Cody. The residents of the hotel treat Zack and Cody differently based on their personalities. There’s even an episode that entirely avoids the whole ‘interchangeable’ trope. Yes, I’m talking about the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ episode. Cody has a girlfriend who, upon being cast opposite Zack, begins to develop feelings for him. At no point does Zack reciprocate these feelings. In fact, he feels weird about it and brushes her off. Meanwhile the girl Zack has a crush on develops a crush on Cody. While this is more understandable because she isn’t shown to like Zack at all, it’s still nice that Cody doesn’t reciprocate these feelings. The most problematic character in this entire scenario is Cody’s girlfriend, who is at no point rewarded for her behavior. In fact, by the end of the episode, both Zack and Cody are no longer in romantic relationships. It’s nice to see when writers tackle situations that can easily incorporate twin tropes, but ultimately decide not to go in that direction.
  • Different actors: Dylan and Cole Sprouse are actually twins! They look similar, but you can absolutely tell the difference between them. This makes a world of difference. To twins, it’s painfully obvious when you’re using one person to play two twin roles. There are always differences between twins, even if you can’t see them at first. Dylan and Cole Sprouse are a great example of that. They might have the same strange bowl cut in the show, but I can always tell the difference between them regardless of what they’re wearing. Audiences were able to tell the difference as well as the show went on. As a kid, it was nice for me to see these twins grow up and audiences notice their differences as they aged. It felt like everyone was finally making an effort to tell a set of twins apart.
  • A lack of tropes: Honestly, for a show about twins, Zack and Cody are written with a serious lack of harmful tropes. Zack and Cody do a lot of the same things but have very different interests. They fight a lot, but overall they like to hang out together. They aren’t connected by something special or supernatural. They grew up in the same household and still demonstrated very different personalities. In the writing of Zack and Cody I see both a heavy reliance on their opposite personalities and an otherwise light sprinkling of other tropes. They were written as two separate characters that any pair of siblings could relate to. It makes them a pretty refreshing representation of twins.

So are Zack and Cody a good representation of twins? I’d actually say yes! They aren’t perfect by any means. ‘Suite Life of Zack and Cody’ does use twin tropes for laughs throughout the show. They also spread the belief that twins have to be exact opposites for audiences to connect with them as separate characters. But the amount of times they use twin tropes is pretty small compared to some movies I’ve seen, and ‘Suite Life of Zack and Cody’ encompasses two different TV series. The writers had a lot of time to mess things up for these boys and they chose not to. I appreciate that. I’d appreciate it more if Janice and Jessica didn’t exist, but I don’t need to talk about that any more than it’s already been talked about. Zack and Cody are by no means the best twin representation in media we’ve covered, but they accomplished more than many others did.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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