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Alex P. Keaton


David Haglund has a really nice article at Slate reviewing the release of a Family Ties DVD set. On the cultural import of Alex P. Keaton:

Still, it’s tempting to conclude that Keaton’s near-iconic status requires more explanation. Last summer in the New Republic, Rick Perlstein, the left-leaning author of a book on Barry Goldwater, argued that, even now, after years of Republican rule, the “culture of conservatives still insists that it is being hemmed in on every side.” Having been “shaped in another era [the mid-1960s], one in which conservatives felt marginal and beleaguered,” conservative culture—Perlstein had in mind everything from “Goldwater kitsch” to Fox News—still feeds on this antagonism, reflecting a sense that righteousness is always at odds with the decadent mainstream.

Alex P. Keaton fits this vision perfectly. Throughout the show’s run, he was on his own: His parents were liberal, his sister was a ditz, and his one conservative ally, Uncle Ned, was a fugitive and then a drunk. Still, he persevered. If those 2006 midterms in which Fox memorably intervened were the harbinger of a major Democratic resurgence, then these long-delayed DVDs might be arriving at just the right time.

Right. Keaton was, no doubt, a hero for me in late 1980s, back when I fancied myself a young conservative. His most compelling quality was that he never “came around”; in spite of whatever the show threw at him (Uncle Ned, for example), he remained a chirpy, enthusiastic conservative.

I also quite love the episode in which he receives his first grade at college; “Anef”. Having spent years dealing with college freshmen who always got As in high school, then find themselves staring in befuddlement at a C-, I’ve often wanted to play that clip in class. Sadly, we’re reaching the point where none of them will have the faintest idea who Alex P. Keaton was.

…in comments, bloix makes a befuddling statement of his own, in reference to my claim that students who receive As in high school often receive Cs in college:

As the father of teenagers who will be attending college soon, I can tell you that I have nightmares about people like you:
insecure, untrained, uninterested teaching assistants who boost their own egos by cutting down those of their students.

Look, asshole, the first rule of any person in authority is to make clear what is expected of those under your authority. If you had years of students who were befuddled by your grading policy, then you spent years doing a shitty job of conveying your expectations.

Christ, I can hear the condescension in your voice as you sneer at those stupid 18-year olds confronted by the absolute power of you, the grand old man of 28.

I’m thirty-two, but whatever. As I respond in my own comment, the average high school GPA for an incoming freshman at UW is about 3.7, while the freshman average GPA is about 2.7, if I recall correctly. What this means is that new students, in their first year, will receive grades far lower than they are accustomed to. This is so commonsensical that one could hardly imagine the necessity of pointing it out. Moreover, those who have experience with college freshmen understand that this divergence between results and expectations is a very real challenge of early college instruction… thus the comment above about the pedagogical usefulness of the particular Family Ties episode.

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