When I was a kid watching Family Ties, Alex P. Keaton was my hero. I wanted to be Alex when I grew up. I wanted to be a republican. This was no more a decision based on political belief than my 80s-era hatred of Communism, but, nevertheless, it’s interesting to look back and see how much that TV show did shape my malleable child’s opinion at the time. Alex was ambitious, an over-achiever and smart. I wanted to be like that. But the latter bit, being smart, in some way negates Alex’s current ability to participate in the GOP. Intellect has become a dirty word, and those with knowledge a dangerous commodity. It is as if, somewhere in the 90s, poor Alex was subsumed by Forrest Gump as the lovable embodiment of conservatism. Sure, Forrest comes off like an open minded fellow, but at the end of the day he is told.
How many other children of the 80s look back and remember Alex with the same fondness? How many look around them now and wonder, really, how things got even muddier since? The Keatons were part of the era of broadcast TV. We’re moving past that now into the long tail of niche programming. Our Walter Cronkrtes have been replaced by confirmation bias peddlers and our news, far from the real, is selected for the individual tastes of the user. In the Keaton’s house, Alex would be watching Fox News in the kitchen while Elyse and Steven watched MSNBC in the living room. Yes, they only had one TV, but surely they’d have two or three now. Flatscreen, DVR set for PBS, Bill O’Reilly and Tom Brokaw’s retrospective of the 60s on The History Channel.
The family we knew couldn’t exist in the narrow bandwidth world of today’s programming. Alex and his parents would be at each other’s throats. Or, if not, one of them would have to subsume the other. How does Alex defend the years of W.? Would he cherish them as he did the years of Richard Nixon, his prototypical hero?
I have trouble imagining Alex defending the stupidity of those years. He was, for all, an intellectual elitist. Can I imagine him stepping into line with his fellow conservatives and spinning for Bush? I really can’t. For Wall Street, maybe, and the ideal of greed and the pursuit of money, but not for stupidity and certainly not for racism. Alex pretended to be for the ERA to woo a girl once. In the end, he actually found some merit in their cause though he remained, at least, still wary. However, he bent through experience. His intellect did not allow him the luxury of absolutism. Alex P. Keaton couldn’t remain a slave to the current parties ideals.
And so, I imagine him at Goldman Sachs, having forgone politics in favor of the purer pursuit of the Platonic idea of money. Alex would be atop the pyramid scheme of international banking. His conscious bothering him now, much like it did his Uncle Ned’s when Ned [played by Tom Hanks] was faced with the reality of his singular pursuit of wealth. Perhaps Alex would be on the lam like Ned, hiding from the feds and the embezzled billions he managed to filch from Goldman. But would he be intent on hiding the money for the good of the people who had been bilked by big banking, or would he have funneled it to the Cayman’s where he’d retire next to the Romney clan? It’s hard to say, and the show, like all sitcoms, ended before the arcs of it’s characters played their final bow. But I move on, into what feels never-ending sitcom. The canned laughter of of an imaginary, populist audience keyed to the right notes of the animatronic Muppets spouting ideologies which the other talking heads will reinterpret later. The whole thing is a set, and an old one. The kind of set that had the fake matte painting to suggest an outside world separate from the bubble of TV time. There is a theme song there, cheesy lyrics I cant quite make out though the melody remains. As for Alex, deep in the corrupt world of imaginary economies and casino financing? He certainly wouldn’t be railing against gay rights, or birth control, or there being a black man in the White House. No, the Keatons raised him better. Sha-la-la-la.