Disney channel teencoms (Even Stevens, Hannah Montana, The Wizards of Waverly Place) can be queered even more easily than Nickelodeon teencoms (Drake and Josh, ICarly). Same-sex desire and romance always lie just beneath the surface, as if the producers are deliberately trying to come as close as possible to including gay people without actually Saying the Word.
Cole Sprouse), who live in an upscale hotel (or later on an upscale cruise ship). It became one of the most popular teencoms of all time, lasting for an unprecedented 83 episodes before spinning off into The Suite Life on Deck (2008-2011). And it offers an unprecedented look at the strategies of Not Saying the Word.
1. All of the teen characters express heterosexual interest, but spoiled heiress London Tipton (Brenda Song) and working-class candy-counter girl Maddie (Ashley Tisdale) form a strong Betty-and-Veronica style bond. They become partners for a school parenting assignment; upon quarreling, London cries "I want a divorce!" They dance together. They break up and reconcile.
3. Everyone behaves as if same-sex dating and romance is an ordinary part of their world. Mr. Moseby pretends to "date" Zack. At a party, two boys are obviously dancing together. Zack and Cody pair up for a dance contest.
When Zack asks Cody to come along on his date with a popular girl, Cody believes that he has an ulterior motive: “I’m not dating her creepy sister, or her brother. . ." He pauses. The laugh track is silent; he is not joking. He concludes: "Or her dog." Now the laugh track goes into hysterics. This is the punchline, the absurdity. Gay dating is perfectly ordinary; Zack might indeed expect Cody to date a boy.
Visiting teen idol Jesse McCarthy (left), playing himself, ignores the girls fawning over him and eagerly courts Zack. His enthusiasm surprises everyone and suggests an emotional investment that cannot easily be explained as “male bonding.”
In the episode “Kept Man” Zack is courted by a rich boy named Theo (Mike Weinberg), who tries to buy his affection with expensive gifts. The term “Kept Boy” refers to a young man who receives gifts and money in exchange for sex.
When Cody goes out with a girl that Zack likes, he decides to snoop on their date. Looking for a confederate, he telephones his friend Bob (Charlie Stewart, right) and asks “Would you like to go to the Teen Club tonight? . . .No, not as a date!”
But even so apprised, Bob misinterprets their evening out. When Zack ignores him, he pouts. “Next time you’re taking me to a movie!”
“It’s not a date!” Zack exclaims in frustration.
In the sequel, The Suite Life on Deck, it is Zack who has frequent homoromantic crushes on boys. When Bob visits, Zack rushes across the room, leaps into his arms, and hugs him ferociously. The bewildered Bob says “Nice to see you, buddy,” as if to inform Zack that they are buddies, not lovers. Apparently Zack had his chance, and now Bob has moved on.
Did they really need to Say the Word?
To see what they've been up to lately, check this post.