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"Scrooge, Don Draper, and Patrick Bateman Walk Into a Bar... "

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This seemingly strange, unrelated trio do indeed share an evolutionary line: Ebenezer Scrooge, Don Draper (Mad Men), and Patrick Bateman (American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis). Dickens' portrayal in bleak 19th-century London oddly is the most optimistic. Marley's ghost sounds the trumpet: "Mankind was my business." We still hear echoes in today's public discourse of Scrooge's "decreasing the surplus population." Pronouncements like "mankind was my business" and dramatic resolutions such as Scrooge lavishing gifts on the poverty-stricken Cratchits could, removed from its sentimental Christmas framing, be viewed as "rank" socialism today. Why should Scrooge buy the Christmas goose? No one (Bob Cratchit works for him) helped him gain his wealth. Sound familiar?

The connecting thread between the three (pre-transformational Scrooge) is Emptiness, the void or abyss. On the surface, Don Draper is the solid, upstanding paragon of society, but who sells neither tangible product or service. At the end of the day, his quest (if he was even looking) for meaning must logically go unfulfilled. Patrick Bateman may be viewed as the spiritual progeny of Draper. If Draper pretends that he has meaning and substance, all pretense of meaning is eschewed by Bateman. Early on, Bateman tells us, "... there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there."

Along the way, Bateman also reduces the surplus population as he murders the homeless and hookers and even wealthy peers he doesn't like. If Don Draper pretends substance, Bateman embraces the Abyss, plunging headlong into the inevitable blackness that awaits him.

Scrooge was headed for a spiritual abyss, but was stopped and redirected by supernatural forces, and it warms our hearts because Dickens claims there is hope and we can't say no to stories of redemption. Don Draper is a snapshot of a period in our cultural history where there was less than met the eye. He'd pour and refill your drinks, but look right through you. The audience must also wonder when Draper looks in the mirror, what if anything, does he see. Bateman will pour your drinks, but watch out for that shiny axe.

Early Scrooge and Draper appear "normal" enough, if unsavory, to be representative of mainstream society, yet we are aware of a low-grade pathology at work. Bateman would drive off the cliff, laughing maniacally. Even though Ellis' tale takes place in the 1980s, the predatory, self-destructive, irrational behavior in the corporate world, continues unabated.

Bateman has another distant literary ancestor, one who faces the Emptiness and basically implodes: Melville's Bartleby (perhaps the bartender in this gathering), who shuts down all participation with his famous, "I'd prefer not to." Bateman very much prefers to and much more as he chooses the opposite path and lashes out fatally at a whim, perhaps like another Melville character who would "strike the sun if it insulted [him]," Captain Ahab, but that comparison is another story.