As a child growing up in the 1980’s, I had limited TV to choose from. It’s not like today where kids have 300 channels, and a dozen with non-stop cartoons twenty four hours a day. When I got home from school, I could choose between watching Bewitched re-runs, or Family Ties. After watching a couple of episodes, and falling in love with the character of Alex P. Keaton (Played by Michael J. Fox), the decision was made – I was a Family Ties man.
The character of Alex P. Keaton interested me, because he wasn’t a traditional rebel. He wore a suit and tie to school, occasionally a polo shirt, carried a briefcase, and was an unabashed unapologetic conservative Republican. Alex worshipped Milton Friedman, referencing that he was his favorite economist several times on the show. He also resisted hippy indoctrination by his free-love parents who seemed forever trapped in the 1960’s.
So why has the character of Alex P. Keaton become a conservative hero of the past, and a role model to so many of us? Perhaps it was the perfect storm of growing up in the 1980’s surrounded by the perfect storm of free market capitalism, Reaganism, and Barry Goldwater style conservatism. They say that Family Ties was actually Ronald Reagan’s favorite TV show, and Reagan even offered to make an appearance on the show, but the producers never were able to make it work out.
One of my favorite episodes of the show travelled back in time to the time of Alex’s little sisters birth when he was probably 9 years old. His hippy parents were in the hospital room watching the election returns as their beloved George McGovern was annihilated by Richard Nixon for the office of President. While the parents were complete distraught, I remember a young Alex walking down the halls of the hospital with his fingers held in the air as V’s for victory, just as so many iconic Nixon photos show the man himself doing. Just something about the hip parent’s reaction to their square kid made me truly enjoy Alex’s rebellious nature and unapologetic love for conservatism.
If you go back and watch the show, you can definitely tell that it was a different time we were living in. There was no talk of religion, for example, when Alex talked about being a Republican. His justifications were all centered on free market economics, and the theories of Milton Friedman. Alex was a Barry Goldwater type of conservative, who believed in cutting government waste and eliminating spending wherever possible in order to grow the economy with tax cuts. There was even one episode where Alex was asked by a psychologist if he believed in god, and Alex replied, “”The analytical side of me says no,” he replies. “On a straight cost-efficiency basis, you can’t prove it. There’s no annual report. There’s no pictures of the board of directors. I mean recent ones.” For Alex, being a Republican had nothing to do with the neocon beliefs that seem to be trying to hijack the party today.
As I grew up and went to high school, I remembered many of the lessons that Alex Keaton had taught me in my younger years. When other kids would wear scruffy t-shirts, I would wear a shirt and a tie whenever I could. I would occasionally slum it with a polo shirt if I wanted a more casual look, but there was never a doubt from my appearance that I was ready for business. I carried a briefcase like Alex Keaton did, and worked my padding my resume and getting into a good college much like he did at the end of the show. I remembered the lesson learned that to be young, to be full of promise, to have goals, and to want to become rich and successful in the United States meant to BE A REPUBLICAN.
Kids today seem to be missing great role models like Alex Keaton in their TV shows and lives. If we allow them to spend time watching reality TV shows like the Kardashians, we are teaching our kids that you really don’t have to work hard or do anything that special to get by in life. Watching Alex Keaton on Family Ties gave me drive to be successful, and made me want to duplicate the way he carried himself to success. I feel sorry for my own kids today that they are growing up in a time when Alex P. Keaton won’t be a part of their lives, every day when they come home from school and flip on the TV.