Alex P. Keaton
|Alex P. Keaton|
|Family Ties character|
|Last appearance||"Alex Doesn't Live Here Anymore"
|Created by||Gary David Goldberg|
|Portrayed by||Michael J. Fox|
|Full name||Alexander Proctor Keaton|
Alex P. Keaton is a fictional character on the American television sitcom Family Ties, which aired on NBC for seven seasons, from 1982 to 1989. Family Ties reflected the move in the United States away from the cultural liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s to the conservatism of the 1980s. This was particularly expressed through the relationship between Young Republican Alex (Michael J. Fox) and his hippie parents, Elyse and Steven Keaton (Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross). American president Ronald Reagan once stated that Family Ties was his favorite television show.
Alex (Michael J. Fox) is the oldest child of Elyse and Steven Keaton (Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross), who were Baby Boomers and Democrats during the early years of the Reagan administration. Married in 1964, Elyse, an independent architect, and Steven, a manager in a local public television station, were hippies during the 1960s. According to the episode, "A Christmas Story" in Season One, Alex was born in 1965 while his parents were on assignment in Africa, having been influenced by John F. Kennedy to participate in the Peace Corps. Although rarely mentioned, Alex's full middle name is "Proctor" but would normally be referred to by its first initial. Alex has two younger sisters, Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer (Tina Yothers). Mallory was born while her parents were students at the University of California, Berkeley in 1967, and Jennifer was born the night Richard Nixon won his second term in 1972. The family lives in suburban Columbus, Ohio.
At the beginning of the series, Alex is a high-school student who has a passion for economics and wealth. In particular, he is a proponent of supply-side economics. His heroes are Richard Nixon (going so far as to have a lunchbox with Nixon's likeness), William F. Buckley, Jr., Ronald Reagan, and Milton Friedman. His favorite television show is Wall $treet Week and he is an avid reader of The Wall Street Journal. He also enjoys music of the big band and swing era, but secretly enjoys rock music (as seen in the episode, "A, My Name is Alex"). Alex spends the first two seasons of the series preparing to attend Princeton University. While attending an on-campus interview, Mallory, who tagged along to pay a surprise visit to her boyfriend Jeff who was attending Princeton, has an emotional crisis when she finds Jeff is seeing another woman. Ultimately, Alex chooses to tend to Mallory rather than complete his interview, thus destroying any possibility of attending Princeton and getting into the Ivy League.
Alex receives a scholarship to fictional Leland University, which is located close enough for Alex to continue to live at home and commute. Keaton excels at Leland University and teaches an economics course as a teaching assistant. Alex also holds a disdain for nearby Grant College (which Mallory later attends), and goes as far as mocking their classes. While attending Leland, he has two serious girlfriends. His first was artist/feminist, Ellen Reed (Tracy Pollan, whom Fox later married). After they break up, Keaton pursues a liberal psychology student with feminist leanings, Lauren Miller, who was played by Courteney Cox. This relationship ends when he has an affair with music major Martie Brodie (played by Jane Adams) while Lauren is out of town. After graduation, Alex accepts a job on Wall Street.
Reception and influence
The humor of the series focused on a real cultural divide during the 1980s, between the baby boomers and Generation X. According to Stephen Kiehl, this was when the "Alex Keaton generation was rejecting the counterculture of the 1960s and embracing the wealth and power that came to define the '80s." While the youngest, Jennifer (an athletic tomboy) shares the values of her parents, Alex and Mallory embraced Reaganomics and consequent conservative values: Alex is a Young Republican and Mallory is a more traditional young woman in contrast to her feminist mother.
In the Museum of Broadcast Communications entry for Family Ties, Michael Saenz argues that few shows better demonstrate the resonance between collectively held fictional imagination and what cultural critic Raymond Williams called "the structure of feeling" of a historical moment than Family Ties. Airing on NBC from 1982 to 1989, this highly successful domestic comedy explored one of the intriguing cultural inversions characterizing the Reagan era: a conservative younger generation aspiring to wealth, business success, and traditional values, serves as inheritor to the politically liberal, presumably activist, culturally experimental generation of adults who had experienced the 1960s. The result was a decade, paradoxical by America's usual post-World War II standards, in which youthful ambition and social renovation became equated with pronounced political conservatism. "When else could a boy with a briefcase become a national hero?" queried Family Ties' creator, Gary David Goldberg, during the show's final year.
References in other media
When Michael J. Fox left his next series Spin City a decade after Family Ties, his final episodes (Goodbye: Part 1 & 2, Season 4, Episodes 25 and 26) made numerous allusions to Family Ties. Michael Gross (Alex's father Steven) portrays Michael Patrick Flaherty's (Fox) therapist and there is a reference to the therapist's unseen receptionist named "Mallory." After Flaherty becomes an environmental lobbyist in Washington, he meets the junior senator from Ohio, Alex P. Keaton. Actress Meredith Baxter, who played Alex Keaton's mother on Family Ties, also played Michael Flaherty's mother on Spin City.
Florida ska/punk band Victims of Circumstance's debut album Roll the Dice featured a track titled "Me and Alex P. Keaton". The lyrics parody a typical day spent with a modern, socially conservative Republican.
LFO's 1999 single "Summer Girls" name-checks "Alex P. Keaton" alongside other 1980s cultural references such as Footloose, Home Alone, (which was released in 1990) and New Edition's song "Candy Girl".
In the Family Guy episode "Movin' Out (Brian's Song)", after Brian gets dumped by Jillian when he admits he didn't want to move in with her, Stewie tries to help him get over her by comparing the situation to when Alex P. Keaton lost his own girlfriend before getting another one. Stewie also mentions the fact that Michael J. Fox has Parkinson's.
- The Museum of Broadcast Communications: Family Ties
- Nation's split is part of Ohio's fabric
- What he left behind: From Tom Clancy to Alex P. Keaton, Ronald Reagan's legacy extends beyond the political and into the cultural
- TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. p. 190. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9.
- Putting His Own Spin on ‘City’s’ Season Finale
- Shales, Tom. "Michael J. Fox, Playing 'Spin City' to a Fare-Thee-Well." Washington Post, May 24, 2000, C1.
- Michael J. Fox Database
- Fox, Michael J. (2002), Lucky Man: A Memoir, New York: Hyperion, ISBN 978-0-7868-6764-6
- Goldberg, Gary David. "Comedy Stop: What Would Alex Keaton Do?." New York Times, March 3, 2008.
- Haglund, David. "Reagan's Favorite Sitcom: How Family Ties spawned a conservative hero." Slate. March 2, 2007.
- Hurst, Alex. "Remembering an icon from the 'Me-Decade'." The Daily Pennsylvanian, April 24, 2001.
- Patterson, Thomas. "What would Alex P. Keaton do?." CNN, November 1, 2006.
- Saenz, Michael. "Family Ties." - Museum of Broadcast Communications
- Stewart, Susan. "The Parents Ate Sprouts; the Kid Stole the Show. New York Times, February 25, 2007.