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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. Michael J. Fox added the middle initial himself during an audition for the role, the creators liked it and so the name stuck. 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 himself embraces the concept of "Reaganomics."

Background[]

Alex 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; however, some other episodes give ages for Alex that suggest his birth year as 1966 instead, and A Tale of Two Cities: Part 2 mentions him being three in April 1968. When he was a baby, his parents nicknamed him Moon Muffin[9] and Moonbeam and dressed him in love beads and tie-dyed pajamas.[10]

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, by which point the family had moved to suburban Columbus, Ohio.

Alex's obsession with money and politics started early. When he was a baby, he had a mobile with dollar signs hanging from it[11] and a belt with a dollar sign on it.[12] His first word was "Money."[13] When he was a toddler, he would run around yelling "Mine! Mine!"[14] In nursery school, he could identify falling coins by sound.[15] When he was five, he started crying when he realized that WKS was a nonprofit.[16] In kindergarten, he drew a picture of a duckie and a horsey foreclosing on Old MacDonald's farm.[17] He had a House Un-American Activities coloring book and a Richard Nixon lunchbox.[18] In 1972, he tried to run away to Washington and live with the Nixons because his parents voted for McGovern.[19] Once he had to go to the hospital after swallowing a dollar. They pumped his stomach and found $11.30.[20] At some point during his childhood, he jumped naked into a bank vault.[21] During the Watergate scandal, he racked up a huge phone bill calling the White House to try to clear Nixon's name.[22] He lost the third grade spelling bee to James Jarrett by refusing to spell "Democrat." The next year, he won the fourth grade spelling bee with the word "foreclosure."[23]

Alex was a child prodigy who was doing long division in nursery school[24] and learned algebra before he started grade school.[25] He took night classes at Ohio State when he was in elementary school.[26] The entire time that he was in school, his report cards had nothing but As. [27] He won the Thomas Dewey award for best academic presentation three years in a row.[28] Despite his intelligence, he couldn't dress himself properly when he was eight.[29]

Alex used to take tap dancing lessons from Trudy Harris. He was extremely bad at it.[30] He was in Little League for three years despite having no aptitude for baseball.[31] He used to have a dog.[32]

He played Abe Lincoln in a high school play.[33] At some point in high school he ran for student council president. Skippy Handelman and Jane voted for him 300 times each, but he still lost.[34]

Personality[]

Alex is smart and attractive and has a passion for economics and wealth. In particular, he is a proponent of supply-side economics. His heroes (see Famous Conservatives) 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").

Season 1[]

In Season 1, Alex is a student at Harding High School who works for Adler's Grocery. He spends a few days as editor of the Harding Hurrah, but Mr. Winkler fires him after he runs a story that risks getting Mr. Winkler in trouble with Dr. Schulte.

Season 2[]

In Season 2, Alex is a high school senior who's eager to get into an Ivy League university, going so far as to take amphetamines to help him study in Speed Trap. His plans to get into Dartmouth are dashed in The Harder They Fall when he rips up a letter of recommendation from Ruben Tedesco, an obnoxious teacher whose cousin works there. While attending an on-campus interview at Princeton, Mallory, who tagged along to pay a surprise visit to her boyfriend Jeff Wakefield 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's GPA is 3.9874, and he scored in the top 3% nationwide on the SATs.[35] He's a National Merit Scholar.[36]

During this year, Alex works as a DJ for WHSH, Harding High School's radio station, where he plays big band music. He's co-editor of the school yearbook with Deena Marx and chairman of the prom committee. He also coaches Jennifer's baseball team, the Leopards, a job he takes far too seriously.

Season 3[]

Alex wins the McKinley scholarship to fictional Leland University, which is located close enough for Alex to continue to live at home and commute.[37] Alex excels at Leland. He joins the debating club and the Young Executive Club, although he quits the debating club in the spring.[38] He volunteers at a crisis hotline for school credit.[39] After a brief stint as a production assistant at WKS, he gets hired by Trade Bank of Ohio.[40]

In Family Ties Vacation, Alex wins a scholarship to study at Oxford over the summer.

Season 4[]

Alex starts dating Ellen Reed (Tracy Pollan, whom Fox later married). He becomes chairman of the Leland College Parent/Student Weekend Committee, a position that is filled by someone pulling a name out of a hat. He organizes Parents' Weekend, resulting in a disastrous reunion between Ellen and her father.[41] He is also invited back to Harding High School to deliver the homecoming address.[42] As of this season, he's the Leland chess champion and plays against Ivan Rozmirovich in a televised tournament.[43] He teaches an economics course as a teaching assistant under Professor Spanos.

Season 5[]

Before the beginning of the season, Ellen breaks up with Alex and goes to Paris to pursue a dance scholarship. Alex spends the next month crying in his room.[44]

Alex holds a disdain for nearby Grant College, which Mallory attends, and goes as far as mocking their classes.

Alex gets a job at the First Mercantile American Bank,[45] later referred to as Harding Trust.[46]

He's in a fraternity with Gregg Curran and even becomes a member of the Leland University Fraternity Council, although he gets kicked out of the frat for telling Skippy Handelman that the Grant College chapter was only pretending he had a chance of getting in so they could humiliate him.

By this season Alex has won the McKinley Award for grade point average and the Adams award for neatness and appearance.[47]

Season 6[]

After Alex and Ellen break up, Alex pursues a liberal psychology student with feminist leanings, Lauren Miller, who was played by Courteney Cox. By this point he has joined a new fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa. He's a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Club and the Young Businessmen's Club, and the president and sole member of the Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs and Young Businessmen. He's won the Rotary Scholarship, the Wilson Award,[48] the Wilson Scholarship, the Burke Scholarship, the Harrison Scholarship, and the Matthews Scholarship by this season.[49]

Alex works for WLEL, Leland's radio station, as the DJ of Syncopated Money, the only radio show that combines classic American music with in-depth analysis of the business scene.[50]

Season 7[]

Alex is now in graduate school.[51] He teaches a number of classes and seminars.[52] Sometime before this season, he and Paul Corman co-won the Newman Award for excellence in undergraduate economics.[53]

Alex and Lauren's relationship ends when he falls in love with music major Marty Brodie (played by Jane Adams) while Lauren is out of town. Alex realizes that he's fallen out of love with Lauren, and that a relationship with Marty wouldn't work out.

Alex graduates from Leland. He's the valedictorian of the class of '89.[54]

Alex is hired by O'Brien, Mathers & Clark, one of the biggest investment banking firms on Wall Street, at $75,000 a year. He will be the youngest executive in the history of the firm. In the final episode, Alex bids his family goodbye before he leaves for New York.

Reception and influence[]

Alex1

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.

In 1999 TV Guide ranked him number 17 on its '50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time' list.

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. Tracy Pollan (the real-life wife of Michael J. Fox), who played Alex Keaton's first college girlfriend Ellen Reed on Family Ties, also played Michael Flaherty's ex-high school sweetheart on Spin City. 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 FootlooseHome 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.

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