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Family Ties- Television in the 1980s

Family Ties is an American sitcom that aired from September of 1982 until May of 1989; it centers on the Keaton family: Ex-hippie parents Steve, Elyse their conservative son Alex, and daughters Mallory and Jennifer.  Family Ties is set in and aired in the 1980s and much of it keys in on differences between the younger generations of the 80s rejection of the counter culture from the 1960s-1970s and their embrace of more conservative politics. (Wikipedia:

For the purpose of this blog, I viewed at the pilot episode of Family Ties.  This episode focuses on Alex pursuing a girl named Kimberly Blanton; she is from a rich family and Alex’s sister describes her as Barbie with and yellow convertible.  In the first scene of the episode Alex is anxiously waiting for Kimberly to call him on the house phone.  The phone rings a few times and when it is for his younger sister both times he starts to get angry because he doe not want her on the phone when Kimberly calls.  There was no such thing as cell phones and not many people had second telephone lines in their houses.  At this point in time, communication over distances was much more complicated than it is now.  This fact comes into play later in the episode.

When Kimberly is coming over for dinner Alex is frantically running around the house trying to make sure everything is perfect.  His mom says to him, “Alex, if Kimberly doesn’t like you or your family for who you are, then maybe she isn’t worth caring for at all…” to which Alex replies, “are you gonna wear your hair like that, or are you going to put it up?”  He wants to make at good impression on her at the risk of not being true to himself.  This is further magnified when Alex opens the door for Kimberly; he says, “sorry I had to answer the door myself, our butler is off tonight.”  He is self conscious of his family’s socioeconomic standing in light of Kimberly’s family.  He is attempting to sound rich to her because he is afraid that his real family standing will not be good enough for her.  Later at dinner he says to his dad, “So dad, are we going to sail around the world this summer?”  Alex is creating a lie to impress Kimberly.  It is not of consequence to him that even if a relationship with her worked out, it would be built on lies.  Some of this action by Alex is promoted by consumer culture; Alex sees his worth in how much he has or does, so to impress Kimberly, a girl coming from a family of means, he tries to pretend that his family is rich.  In his mind, if he has any shot with Kimberly Blanton, he has to seem rich.

Eventually, Steve goes to speak with Alex at the private country club that Kimberly’s family took him to dinner.  He wanted to ask him to come home, but could not get a hold of him over the phone.  Today, all he would have needed to do was sent Alex a text message explaining why he wanted him home, instead, he had to drive all the way to the club, walk in and embarrass his son.  Means of communicating in the 80’s was much different than it is now.  They did not have access to a phone, text messaging or a full web browser in their pockets like youth today.

The main point of this episode is Alex trying to win over Kimberly by being something that he is not.  The message that this could promote is that pretending to be something or someone that you are not can work out in your favor.  Alex ends up spending more time with Kimberly.  Youth in the early 80s were concerned with their image; particularly they wanted to put forth the image that they had as much as the next kid.  This is still relevant today as youth strive to have the next iPhone or to wear the cool hipster clothing.  As a pastor it is important to remember that this consumer culture that tells youth that what they have is a reflection of who they are is still very relevant.  We have the responsibility to speak truth into the lives of students regarding their worth, aside from what they have.


3 responses to “Family Ties- Television in the 1980s

  1. The episode of “Family Ties” mentioned reminds me of an episode of the Cosby show; which also started in the 80s. In the episode, Theo (son) comes home from shopping at the mall. When he shows them the only shirt he bought they love. But then they ask him how much it cost; and he starts talking about a bunch of stuff, like the quality and who made it. When he finally tells them the price, they are shocked and make him return it. The reason why Theo bought such an expensive shirt, and tried to hide it from his parents, was so that he could impress a girl. We still see things like this in today’s society. We see people buy Jordans, and other top name brands so that we can impress other people. It’s sad to see how people want to impress others so much; that they are willing to act like something they’re not. A person can go from being a nice person, to a jerk.

  2. acobafamily1 ⋅

    I have not seen Family Ties before but I have heard of it. Family Ties seems to follow the same general motif of the classic family television shows. Your point of consumerism is important to focus on. I appreciate that you also bring up the issue of wanting what others have. Envy and coveting are poisonous concoctions that can definitely tempt us towards consumerism. I agree that as pastors we need to be aware of this, because you are right to say that this is nothing new for our youth. We can learn from successful techniques used in the past to help guide the youth of today. I am wondering how the episode ends. I know that most family shows will have a character do something stupid to rise up or point out an issue, but by the end of the episode the character has realized that they made a mistake in acting the way they did. I am curious if they showed reward him for his actions or shamed him. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. fredgenther13 ⋅

    I love old TV shows like family ties, the Cosby show, and full house. The part that I enjoy about them besides that fact that they are funny is that every episode has a theme, or a positive message. Most shows would try and deal with family issues or issues that young people face and bring them to light. I appreciate that, the writers had morals and ideals in mind not just trying to sell another season of episodes. I think that as pastors it is important to keep in mind the TV show that our young people are watching today. I actually have no clue what kinds are watching today but I do know that the popular cartoons are pretty much a bunch of silly nonsense. Or they seem to be shows similar to Glee, which are pushing the boundaries in our culture. I am not trying to say that the old shows holy and God inspired but they seem to have a common goal in teaching young people some morals.

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